This article was funded by LebTown donors as part of our Civic Impact Reporting Project.

Giving new life to vacant and under-utilized buildings was Lebanon City Council’s main focus at its monthly meeting on Monday evening, March 25, and at its pre-council planning meeting on Thursday, March 21.

At last Thursday’s pre-council meeting, Evan Reinhardt of West Chester-based Common Craft Development told council that he wants to convert a 30,000-square-foot former Bethlehem Steel building at 121 Schneider Drive into a multi-tenant “artisan industrial space” space, eventually to be occupied by 15 to 25 small businesses that would “benefit from co-location.”

Despite the Schneider Drive address, the property fronts on Lincoln Avenue, just south of the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

The property is owned by West Chester-based Second Sail, LLC. Reinhardt is a principal in both companies.

Reinhardt said he has already received commitments from three businesses, including a woodworking shop.

The first order of business, Reinhardt said, was funding to remove asbestos and lead from the century-old brick and timber structure.

Common Craft Development, LLC wants to convert this vacant Bethlehem Steel building on North Lincoln Avenue into spaces for 15 to 25 small businesses. (LebTown)
Aerial view of the building at 121 Schneider Drive. (Provided photo)
Interior of the building at 121 Schneider Drive. (Provided photo)

Council members expressed enthusiasm for the “Lebanon Steel Works” project, and on Monday evening they unanimously approved a resolution authorizing city administrators to file an application with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Financing Authority for a Business in Our Sites grant and loan in the total amount of $2,408,248.

The city will act as an intermediary in the process. If approved, $671,563 of the amount would be a grant, and the remaining $1,736,685 would be a loan, secured by a first mortgage on the property that Second Sail would be responsible for repaying.

Council also heard at Thursday pre-council from Paul Robertson, a representative of Rob-Fam Inc.

Rob-Fam, of which Robertson and his mother Lori Smith are principals, wants approval of an intermunicipal restaurant liquor license transfer from Union Township to the city.

Robertson, a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board retail wine specialist, told council that Rob-Fam wants to use the license, currently in escrow and owned by Lickdale General Store, to open a wine tasting and pairing restaurant on the second floor of 629 Cumberland St., downtown. The space at one time housed the Lebanon Democratic Club, which went out of business about 20 years ago. It has since been converted to apartments.

Robertson said the the proposed restaurant would initially emphasize light fare and wine pairings, such as “smaller things, flatbread and naan with maybe pear and gorgonzola to go with a flight of white wines” or “watermelon and feta with a flight of rosés.”

One half of the first floor of the property is occupied by the William Penn Restaurant. The other half housed the defunct William Penn Tavern, which has been closed since 2019, when the LCB revoked its owner’s license after repeated violations of laws and regulations.

Robertson emphasized that Rob-Fam’s application has nothing to do with the former William Penn Tavern or any liquor license associated with it.

City Council has been asked to approve the intermunicipal transfer of a restaurant liquor license to be used for a wine tasting bar on the second floor of this building at 629 Cumberland St., formerly the Lebanon Democratic Club. (LebTown)

Mayor Sherry Capello expressed concerns at pre-council about the physical condition of the building, noting that deteriorated structural supports and roof trusses were found in 2008, and that it was unclear whether repair work was completed at the time. She said she was not aware of any building code or zoning inspections since then, and that the city’s zoning officer had questioned whether the building was compliant back in 2010.

Council had originally planned to vote on the license transfer at Monday’s meeting, but decided to table the matter until April’s meeting to allow time to answer the building code and zoning questions.

Other business

  • Capello reported that through Feb. 29, with the budget year 17% complete, city revenues were at 15% of 2024 budget projections and expenditures at 10%. Real estate tax receipts haven’t started coming in, which she said explains the slight revenue lag.
  • The mayor has appointed Wayne Tarvin, a registered architect, to fill an unexpired term on the zoning hearing board, effective March 6. Tarvin had been serving as an alternate ZHB member. The spot has been vacant since the recent death of long-time board member Michael Barrett.
  • Council gave final approval to an ordinance amending the city’s traffic control map to establish a “No Parking Zone” on the west side of North Ninth Street, from Water Street to a point 55 feet to the south.
  • Council gave final approval to a second ordinance amending the city’s traffic control map to make Water Street one-way eastbound between Ninth and Tenth streets.
  • Both traffic control map changes were necessitated by the private development and conversion of the former Northwest Elementary school at 9th & Maple streets into a mini storage facility and the construction of a medical office building on the site. The costs involved will be borne by the developer.
  • Council approved the appointment of attorney Morgan Madden as city solicitor at an annual salary of $36,000. The solicitor is the city’s chief legal adviser. Madden is an associate with the Harrisburg law firm Eckert, Seamans. She succeeds Tricia Springer, who was appointed solicitor in December to succeed Donna Long Brightbill, who had become a Common Pleas Court judge. Springer has taken a position outside Lebanon County.

Next Lebanon City Council meetings

City Council’s next pre-council planning meeting will be on Thursday, April 18, at 4:45 p.m. The next regular monthly council meeting will be on Monday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m.

City Council meetings are open to the public. They are held in the City Hall multi-purpose room, 735 Cumberland St., first floor, Lebanon.

Meetings are also streamed live on YouTube, here.

UPDATE: This article was updated on Mar. 26 at 8:30 a.m. to correctly name the owner and developer of the vacant Bethlehem Steel property at 121 Schneider Drive, and again at 1:00 p.m. to show a correct photo of the property.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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