Bethlehem City Council met on Sept. 15. The council discussed the search for a new police chief and a proposed zoning amendment. (Mannan Mehta/B&W Staff)

Rapid rundown: Bethlehem council starts search for new police chief, debates zoning amendment

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Bethlehem City Council met on Sept. 15 to discuss the resignation of former Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio and a key zoning amendment, among other items. 

Bethlehem plans search for new police chief 

Business Administrator Eric Evans told city council members that a committee has been formed in the search of a new police chief. Former Chief Mark DiLuzio resigned two weeks ago after posting a controversial Facebook meme. 

Under city code, the search will be conducted internally. Evans said there are four strong candidates that will be interviewed this week. Evans said there is no good reason to conduct a national search. 

“The Bethlehem Police Department is not dysfunctional,” Evans said. “There’s not any corruption within the ranks.” 

The committee will include Mayor Robert Donchez, Evans, former Upper Macungie Police Chief Edgardo Colon and other city officials. Evans said that the committee recruited Colon to have a non-biased police expert opinion. 

Donchez plans to make an announcement on Sept. 21, and council will vote on Oct. 6. 

Proposed zoning map amendment: 2105 Creek Road

A lengthy discussion unfolded over a developer’s request to build an independent living center off Creek Road. The building would consist of 40 living units and 60 parking spaces.

The site is currently zoned as rural residential. Enn Technology Consulting, LLC, wants to rezone that property as residential retirement.  

The main argument in favor of the facility is the aging demographic of Bethlehem with little housing specifically recognizing seniors. Primary oppositions include environmental protections, traffic concerns and maintaining the character of the area. 

A representative from Keystone Consulting Engineers argued that this development is a critical investment for the city to make. 

“Demographics in the city are growing over age 65,” he said. “There’s going to be more people looking for senior apartments in the city so that they can retire. There is no other place in the city to put this facility.” 

He also said the facility will foster synergy with Saucon Valley Manor, an assisted living facility in Hellertown, which would benefit both communities and the future residents. Saucon Valley Manor and the potential Creek Road site are less than a mile apart from each other, or about a 15-minute walk. 

Sheila Cunnings, a Creek Road resident, spoke strongly against the plan, along with many of her neighbors that she said are also in opposition. 

“Adjacent to this property are the Hellertown wetlands, the Old Mill House and several other historic homes,” Cunnings said. “We must commit to preserving the scenic environment of Bethlehem.” 

Beth Behrend, a member of Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council, stood behind residents’ concerns. She said the floodplain is crucial for stormwater management. 

“As climate change causes rain events to become more severe, it’s critical that we prioritize plans that align with the climate action plan the city is currently constructing,” Behrend said.

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