Opposition to Retail Mall at Durkee Site Succeeds!
The Bethlehem City Council held a crucial vote that refused to change the zoning. Had the change been allowed, it would have affected the city and the entire region. The proposed changes in the zoning law would have allowed the construction of a large shopping center on the former Durkee plant site in West Bethlehem.
The city's comprehensive plan and existing zoning law designates the site for light industry. The Sierra Club believes that the environmentally sound choice for the city and for the region is to oppose the zoning change.
The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club opposed the change in zoning because of its negative impacts on West Bethlehem neighborhoods. A suburban-style retail shopping center on the site would have caused heavy increases in traffic and congestion, documented by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, and added to air and noise pollution in Bethlehem. Preserving strong urban communities (like West Bethlehem) reduces suburban sprawl.
Using and rehabilitating urban industrial sites to provide development and employment in the cities is a goal long advocated by the Sierra Club. However, extraordinary zoning changes to create another big shopping center would only take trade away from other local retail areas and create little net gain in terms of economic development or good jobs. New retailers should be encouraged, instead, to reuse and redevelop existing vacant or underutilized shopping malls.
The Sierra Club urges citizens to support strong city neighborhoods and promote clean industry in the city. The Durkee site is well suited to light industry and we agree with the decision of city officials to keep the existing zoning and direct development efforts to clean industry and good jobs. Citizens should contact their council members (610-865-7130) and thank them for opposing the zoning change.
David K. McGuire, Ph.D., Chair and Al Wurth, Political Chair, Sierra Club, Lehigh Valley Group