Thursday, March 29, 2007

Easton Riverwalk heated discussion rages on

The opposition to the Riverwalk condominium project hit a crescendo Wednesday when Easton City Council agreed to wait nearly a month before voting on whether the 12-story building belongs in the local historic district.

The vote to table a resolution to award a certificate of historical appropriateness came after City Council heard a barrage of complaints about the project's potential impact on flooding, city finances and the neighborhood of mostly two-story homes.

It was an emotionally charged meeting with Councilwoman Carole Heffley, the only elected official to publicly oppose the project, receiving a standing ovation after an almost tearful plea to her fellow council members.

''Tonight could be the darkest night of the city's history,'' Heffley said. ''Some may be dazzled because it's big and new, and some may be tempted by the promise of retail.''

But Heffley, like several of the 15 residents who spoke, warned of its detrimental consequences, comparing it to the now ill-fated decisions made in the 1960s to demolish entire downtown neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal.

Now, it's economic development Mayor Phil Mitman is after and the promise of luring high income New Yorkers to live and spend in Easton's downtown.

Heffley was surprised to receive support from Councilman Ken Brown, who after hearing from the public, decided council needed to gather more information before voting.

Council voted 4-0 to table the resolution until its April 28 meeting. Councilwoman Pam Panto was absent because of a death in her family.

Councilman Dan Corpora stressed the only issue before council is whether the building would be appropriate for the historic district.

Mitman said the delay means the Easton Parking Authority will have to wait to advertise for bids, which will be the only way to determine whether the project is financially feasible.

Residents have been predicting for months that Riverwalk has the potential to bankrupt the city.

As they have at past meetings, they said the high-rise could become a low-income housing project if the real estate market continues to falter. The viability of second-floor retail spaces also was questioned.

Because the complex is being built on Riverside Drive in the Delaware River's flood plain, the first floor will be used only for parking and bus traffic. The bus station and retail shops will be on the second floor.

A representative from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network presented a letter urging City Council to vote against the certificate until it can determine its impact on flooding and until all of the appropriate state and federal agencies have reviewed it.

About 50 people attended the meeting, and resident Maurice Luker presented a petition signed by 269 people against Riverwalk.

No one spoke in favor of it.

An no one involved in the project spoke either.

The Parking Authority has been working with a private developer, Arcadia Properties of Bethlehem, to build about 150 condominiums on top of its five-story parking garage and bus terminal.

Funding for the bus terminal is coming from a federal grant the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority received.

Although there were representatives from the authority, LANTA and Arcadia at the meeting, none of them spoke. Representatives from Arcadia declined comment outside the meeting.

The project, estimated to cost $50 million to $55 million, is similar to The Majestic condominiums being proposed for S. Third Street by Ashley Development Corp. The Majestic, though, has escaped criticism because only a fraction of the project is in a flood plain and it is not being built with a large infusion of tax dollars.

Riverwalk has received nearly $9 million in public grants, plus the city Parking Authority has borrowed $5.2 million.

Dennis Lieb, who has been the lead spokesman for residents opposed to the project, said after that meeting that City Council's decision to delay was a victory because it gives other agencies an opportunity to intervene.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading the environmental assessment commissioned by LANTA helps understand the lack of vision of this project. (

The logical choice is the same made by every European community when integrating a parking facility into an historic downtown - under Center Square. Up and Down ramps could be easily accommodated, and the intermodal aspects could be accommodated either in the facility (underground) or with a small very kiosk in the circle, or in one of the quadrants. Conversely, the underground parking could be used in lieu of the City Parking Garage, leaving the Garage for use as the intermodal facility. (I.e. swap the uses). The goal should be long range planning to best provide needed parking AND intermodal, but that solution does not need to be accommodated by one project. I have had private discussions with high level staff of LANTA, who have stated that by merely re-working Ferry Street to allow a one way lane in the left (north) most lane would permit buses to enter the garage from Thrid Street; the garage would amply meet their needs.