The city of Bethlehem has not withdrawn its bid to buy the city’s three churches and parking lot, officials said Tuesday.
At the city council meeting Tuesday night, Mayor J. William Reynolds read aloud the city’s letter to the congregations of St. John’s Windish Lutheran Evangelical Church, Light of Christ Lutheran Church, and St. Peter’s Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Church. I urge you to consider bidding. property.
The three churches announced plans to sell their properties and merge into one congregation late last year. The joint congregation was set to vote on the sale on January 8th.
But their plans were put on hold in early January when the Bethlehem Parking Authority threatened to seize the St. John’s Windish car park in an eminent domain.
Parking officials have since withdrawn their threats, but church officials said final sales are currently on hold as the joint congregation develops new plans.
Three churches have received property purchase bids from Lehigh University and the city. Bethlehem originally bid for $3.5 million and Lehigh University for her $3.7 million, but the city later announced it would match Lehigh University’s proposal.
Reynolds said the city’s mission was to use the property for public community use, but that it was “lost or misunderstood in the process.”
“As a local government, the city is best suited to ensure a transparent community planning process,” said Reynolds. “Cities respond to citizens in ways that private institutions do not.”
Reynolds said that if the city succeeds in acquiring the church, it will launch a community engagement initiative to solicit residents’ feedback on how the space should be used.
He said the city is likely to use the church’s space for affordable housing.
Reynolds said the city’s housing situation was “in a crisis” as rents and property sales prices have skyrocketed over the past few years. He argued that buying churches and turning them into affordable housing could be the first step to alleviating the problem.
Officials at Lehigh University have not provided details on how the space will be used, but said the school is working on a “community-driven process” when it acquires properties.
Several city council members agreed with Reynolds’ comments and urged members of the congregation who were not present at the meeting to sell the building to the city.
Some referred to Lehigh University’s expansion south of Bethlehem, which it said hurt residents of the city. In the 1950s, Lehigh University used federal urban renewal policies to destroy the South Bethlehem district and expand its campus.
“I think they are doing great things for the community,” said council vice-president Grace Crumpsey-Smith, referring to the university. When I speak, my children’s grandparents and great-grandparents were part of a lost neighborhood.When Lehi moved them, they lost their homes on Vine and Summit streets.”
“We hope that whoever buys the church does the right thing for the community with the community in mind, both in their hearts and minds,” she added.
Church officials have yet to announce a new timeline for the sale of the church.
https://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-st-johns-windish-sale-merger-20230118-csaubyxnq5fdjlyeclu3vqf5cu-story.html#ed=rss_www.mcall.com/arcio/rss/category/news/local/ Bethlehem Mayor Reynolds Urges Three Churches to Choose Bethlehem City over Lehi in Selling Buildings, Parking – The Morning Call