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April 19, 2005 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 – 7:30 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President J. Michael Schweder called the meeting to order. Reverend Edith Roberts, of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Ismael Arcelay, Jean Belinski, Robert J. Donchez, Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Magdalena F. Szabo, and J. Michael Schweder, 6. Gordon B. Mowrer was absent, 1.
Rezoning Easton Avenue Vicinity – RG and RT – Residential to CL – Limited Commercial
Prior to the consideration of the regular Agenda items, President Schweder called to order a Public Hearing to consider a request to rezone from RG – Residential District and RT – Residential District to CL – Limited Commercial District properties in the City of Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania in the 14th and 15th Wards bounded on the north by Pyatt Street, on the east by East Boulevard and Rodgers Street, on the south by the southern lot lines of properties fronting on the south side of Easton Avenue, and on the west by Hart Street and West Boulevard.
7 A. Lehigh Valley Planning Commission – Rezoning Easton Avenue Vicinity – RG and RT – Residential to CL – Limited Commercial
The Clerk read a letter dated April 1, 2005 from Frederic H. Brock, Assistant Director, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, in which it was stated that the referenced amendment to the Bethlehem Zoning Map was reviewed at the Commission’s meeting on March 31, 2005 and the Commission believes the selection of zoning districts is a matter of local choice in this case.
Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, recounted that the Bureau has been reviewing different sections of the City Zoning Map to try to make corrections to have the Zoning Map and Zoning Ordinance more consistent with neighborhoods that currently exist in various areas of the City. Ms. Heller affirmed that, at the November 11, 2004 Planning Commission meeting, the Commission voted 5 to 0 to forward this rezoning proposal to City Council that takes some sections of the RG and RT Residential zoning districts along Easton Avenue and proposes to rezone them to CL Limited Commercial, which is a neighborhood commercial zone. Ms. Heller explained the proposal is felt appropriate because there are largely commercial uses that exist along the corridor now. She continued on to say there are 21 or 22 properties within the area of which 5 or 6 are residential, and the bulk are clearly commercial. Some of the properties were previously single family homes or twins that were converted to office or other uses, but most are clearly commercial uses along the corridor. Ms. Heller read from the Zoning Ordinance that the purpose of the CL Zoning District is to provide for the continued commercial use of certain areas where many of the original residential structures and lots have been converted to commercial use, and for limited new commercial uses. The permitted uses are restricted to those providing for the day to day needs of the immediate neighborhood. Affirming that is what the CL zone is designed to do, Ms. Heller said that is what it is believed it would do along the corridor. When the Zoning Hearing Board has been seeing continued appeals along the corridor, typically they are special exception appeals to change from one non-conforming use to another non-conforming use. Typically, they are approved, and the Zoning Hearing Board is also reviewing the sign applications that accompany the use. In a residential zone, it is not permitted to have a sign. Ms. Heller pointed out the proposal would eliminate the need for those zoning appeals. Ms. Heller expressed “we think that the CL zone is a logical transition here.” Pointing to the map, Ms. Heller stated the largest area in orange are the residential zones. The commercial areas are in red. To the north and the east the area proposed to be rezoned would end where Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard meet that is clearly a highly intensive commercial area. Ms. Heller informed the assembly that the area proposed to be rezoned would provide a transition between the very intense commercial area, and the residential areas farther down Easton Avenue. Ms. Heller further stated that the uses within the CL zone were reviewed and they typically are uses that would be considered neighborhood commercial uses. Recounting there were some miscellaneous zoning amendments that were passed in the last few months, Ms. Heller advised that uses within the CL zone were amended. Ms. Heller informed the assembly that the CL zoning district now includes banks, credit unions and savings and loans, but not check cashing establishments or pawn shops, office of a business, institution or profession, retail uses excluding dispensing of gasoline and other fuels. Ms. Heller affirmed that some of the uses that exist in the area now would continue to be non-conforming in some respects because there are gas stations there and uses that are larger than would be permitted in the CL zone. Ms. Heller expressed it is felt this is a fair compromise between not rezoning at all, and rezoning to a more intense commercial use such as CG Commercial.
Ms. Heller, pointing to the map, showed the location of Stefko Boulevard most of which is CL and CG Commercial. On the northern edge is Easton Avenue, the CS Shopping Center District, and the former Valley Farm Market site that is also zoned CS. To the north and south of Easton Avenue, the residential zone is RG which is a mid-density. The area proposed to be rezoned would include only those lots that front on Easton Avenue, from Rodgers Street or East Boulevard on the eastern end, and to West Boulevard or Hart Street on the western end. Ms. Heller, noting the lots are clearly commercial in nature, said there are a few residential properties to the eastern end, some have a professional office in half of the building, and the other half is still residential. There is one residential property at the eastern end at Hart Street and Easton Avenue.
President Schweder, referring to Ms. Heller’s comment that there are 21 properties in an area that currently is zoned residential, queried whether there are only 5 residential properties left. Ms. Heller replied yes. President Schweder, further referring to Ms. Heller’s comment, noted that some of the current uses are there by special exception . Ms. Heller highlighted the fact that some of the uses had been there prior to the City’s adoption of the 1970 Zoning Ordinance, and were non-residential uses for a long time. President Schweder observed that some of the uses would not be allowed under the new zoning classification for this area, but they would remain there as non-conforming uses. President Schweder asked what could someone do in the future with a property that is now a gas station, for example. Ms. Heller, affirming that if the properties continue to be non-conforming they would be grandfathered, continued on to explain the use can continue as long as the use exists. If the use is proposed to be changed, then the Zoning Hearing Board would decide whether the new use proposed is greater in impact or less in impact. Ms. Heller restated the use would be permitted to continue until the proposed use on the lot is changed.
President Schweder, observing what has happened is that the area continues to be degraded, pointed out if that is done one moves further down the chain from residential to commercial, and there are uses that do not even fit into what it is being zoned for now. President Schweder, querying if it is less stringent for someone to change a non-conforming use property to something even less that what it is now because the zoning changed from residential to commercial, asked is it easier and does it provide more exceptions. Ms. Heller, communicating it was felt that CL was the most appropriate because it does provide relief, explained it provides relief in a way that does not negatively impact the abutting properties. Ms. Heller noted that other commercial uses have less in setbacks, allow greater building coverages, and there would be more development that would be permitted on the lots. While CL would allow commercial uses, it would keep setbacks that are similar to the residential zoning districts, and it limits building coverage more. Ms. Heller added one thing unique about the CL zone as compared with others is that it limits the size of the non-residential use, and read that each non-residential use shall be enclosed within a building and shall have a maximum of 2,500 square feet. Ms. Heller noted, if there were a non-conforming use that would still be commercial, such as a gas station, and the request went to the Zoning Hearing Board for a different use, the question would still be the same: is the proposed use of lesser impact or greater impact than the existing use. In further response to President Schweder, Ms. Heller advised that the threshold would be based on the existing use.
Mr. Donchez stated the reason the matter is at this point today is because of the fact that special exceptions or variances were given by the Zoning Hearing Board to take a residential area and create a commercial area. Ms. Heller noted some were created by variances years ago, and some were existing non-residential uses even before the 1970 Zoning Ordinance. Once they are a non-conforming use then they become a special exception and that same question is asked by the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Donchez queried what it would do to the property values of people on the inside of Easton Avenue, such as Hart Street, going from a residential neighborhood into creating more commercial on the strip. Ms. Heller, pointing out the uses are there, said clearly they are commercial uses, and this part of the corridor clearly is a commercial corridor. Affirming that condition exists now, Ms. Heller stated the CL zoning is not going to allow greater commercial density of development. It would just bring more of the properties into conformance with the zoning.
Mr. Donchez asked if the CS zoned property at the former Valley Farm Market stops on Clermont Street. Ms. Heller replied in the affirmative.
Mrs. Belinski said her understanding is that if something happens with any of the properties within the CL area it would relieve people from coming to the Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception, and asked if that is the point of the proposal. It would be less likely that people would have to come to the Zoning Hearing Board and ask for a special exception because in most instances whatever the use would be as defined in CL it would most likely be in line with the zoning district. Consequently, the petitioner would not have to go to the Zoning Hearing Board and pay a $300 fee. Ms. Heller explained that a special exception is a permitted use but it is permitted by special exception by the Zoning Hearing Board rather than the Zoning Officer. It would allow a current property owner to have a change in use through the Zoning Office rather than the Zoning Hearing Board. In addition, noting that signs are not permitted in a residential zone, Ms. Heller said whenever a business changes hands the sign request goes to the Zoning Hearing Board as well.
Mr. Arcelay asked what would be the impact if the zoning is left the way it is. Ms. Heller responded it would be the quantity of zoning appeals, and necessity of them. Ms. Heller explained if there is an area or a type of zoning appeal that continues to go to the Zoning Hearing Board, and continues to be rampant because there is a hardship due to a unique situation, then that tells the Bureau that the Zoning Ordinance is not in keeping with the existing conditions in the community. That is when a change needs to be made to bring the map or Ordinance into compliance with existing conditions.
Ms. Szabo, noting that citizens have come to the meeting in order to hear about the matter, pointed out they cannot hear because the speaker does not have a microphone. Ms. Szabo thought that funding should be found for the purpose. Mayor Callahan, noting that the easel was positioned so that the Members of Council could see it, acknowledged that the citizens could not see it. Mayor Callahan added he was assured by Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, that in revamping City Hall which is contained in the 2005 Bond Issue, such items will be addressed.
Ms. Szabo asked how the owners of the five houses could sell them if they are not compatible to be turned into a business. Ms. Heller, noting that most of the residences are to the eastern end to the block closest to the commercial zone, said there is one at the very far western end, but there are five further to the east closer to Stefko Boulevard that would be feeling the impact of commercial uses.
Ms. Szabo asked, with the remaining land all commercial, what is to stop something that is undesirable if the use is not required to be approved by the Zoning Hearing Board. Ms. Heller advised it would still have to be a use that is permitted in the CL zone, such as a restaurant without a drive-in facility, grocery store, shoe repair shop, professional office, doctor office, dentist office. If the proposed use is not on the list, the request would still have to go to the Zoning Hearing Board asking for relief. Ms. Heller communicated it is felt the uses that are permitted in the CL zone are appropriate uses for that corridor.
Mr. Arcelay, referring to the pictures, noted most of the businesses seem to be small in property size. Mr. Arcelay asked if someone wanted to buy two or three properties for development could that be done. Ms. Heller, commenting the City cannot stop someone from consolidating lots, pointed out it is clear that in the CL zone a non-residential use must be within a building, and have a maximum floor area of 2,500 square feet. Mr. Arcelay asked if the rezoning would facilitate that. Ms. Heller responded someone could be prohibited from having a non-residential use on a lot with greater than 2,500 square feet.
President Schweder remarked he does not understand why this is being done now. President Schweder highlighted the fact that the area has been degraded over a long period of time by exceptions being given to people, whether it started 35 years ago or not. Mr. Schweder pointed out this tends to further allow that to happen which means the next logical progression, if something is not done about the overall Zoning Map, is it works its way farther down Easton Avenue. President Schweder noted he received a telephone call today from a resident who said quite frankly the people who live on Easton Avenue do not want Easton Avenue to turn into another Stefko Boulevard. President Schweder suggested that, before the matter proceeds, the entire Zoning Map of the City needs to be reviewed and determinations made about what is wanted where. President Schweder, pointing out that examples like this have continued to come up over the last year, said he understands what is attempted to be done by the Zoning Hearing Board and he sympathizes with them. President Schweder continued on to say there are so many exceptions that have been granted along the way that they are almost forced into continuing to do it. President Schweder communicated the Board is pleading with Council to stop this. President Schweder stated that perhaps all these proposals stop until the parties sit down as a City and determine what they want the entire Zoning Map to look like in the City of Bethlehem.
Ms. Heller said, if they are concerned because they continue to get requests for non-conforming uses within the corridor, the solution is take a close look at the corridor, find out why there are non-conforming uses there, and then rezone it so that the land uses are compatible with the current zoning map. Ms. Heller, advising that is what the Bureau is trying to do, commented she thinks this is a solution to that frustration.
President Schweder thought it is something that people need to step back from. President Schweder, noting there are citizens here to talk about it this evening, said it has to do with the Wawa on Easton Avenue that is the classic “bait and switch” the City was given by the developer. President Schweder, pointing out that is not the first time this happened when exceptions are granted, recounted Council is told that one use is going to take place such as was seen at Route 412 and Route 78 and then it was later pulled. A request for rezoning is presented as if some use is going to go in. Then, after the zoning change is granted, the use becomes something else. Expressing his understanding that with the laws there is some difficulty in trying to enforce things, President Schweder said “we should be a lot more stringent.” President Schweder, recalling he has said it many times, stated the City needs to find the money to do an entire rezoning of the City, and to look at neighborhoods and decide to preserve them.
Mr. Leeson, recalling that on a number of previous occasions President Schweder raised the issue of a piecemeal approach towards dealing with zoning problems in the City, said he thinks President Schweder is right that a more comprehensive approach is needed. Mr. Leeson stated what troubles him is the encroachment of the commercial zones stretching down Easton Avenue which he thought sends the wrong message philosophically that the City is now officially endorsing commercial encroachment in residential areas. Mr. Leeson communicated that one of the quality of life issues that has always been held to high standard in Bethlehem is to preserve the residential areas and to retain their integrity. Acknowledging the comments about the reality of the area, Mr. Leeson noted that cannot be changed. However, Mr. Leeson restated he thinks the proposal sends the wrong message regarding “what we are about as a City, and what we’re endorsing as far as expansion down the street.” Mr. Leeson observed that, if the proposal passes, the next thing to happen will occur further down Easton Avenue where people will want to have commercial as well. Mr. Leeson thought that is the wrong way to go.
Ms. Szabo, pointing out that too often the properties behind
a proposed rezoning are not taken into consideration, noted
there are properties south and north of Easton Avenue that
would be affected. Ms. Szabo continued on to advise she received
a telephone call from a person who has property directly behind
a newly allowed business on Easton Avenue and the person has
already had to install a fence and address other matters.
Ms. Szabo highlighted the fact that too often that is not
thought of, not only in the case of Easton Avenue, but other
streets as well. Ms. Szabo stressed too often the City does
not notify people who are not right up against a building
that there are going to be changes, while the person behind
them is just as apt to be affected as the person next door
to what is being proposed.
Mrs. Belinski said she also received a telephone call from a person who was very upset, and advised the general tone of the neighbors was that they do not want this change. The neighbors are worried that ultimately they will have adult bookstores and end up just like Stefko Boulevard. Mrs. Belinski further remarked where there is a Wawa gangs and drugs could collect.
Mr. Arcelay noted there have been complaints about the car wash and the music shop on Stefko Boulevard that have not all been able to be resolved. Mr. Arcelay pointed out that some people sold their houses. Mr. Arcelay expressed he does not think the proposal is a good thing, and this will keep moving down the road.
Mr. Donchez stated the main problem he has with the proposal is that, if it were to be approved, he thinks commercialism will be seen moving down towards Jennings Street and expanding. Mr. Donchez continued on to point out that would be the natural effect with the proposal. Mr. Donchez stressed he does not think the City wants to see Easton Avenue become a Stefko Boulevard. Focusing on the Zoning Hearing Board, Mr. Donchez thought that variances and special exceptions many times become the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Adding that the Zoning Hearing Board grants variances and special exceptions with a very liberal interpretation, Mr. Donchez thought many times this is not in the interest of the neighbors and the neighborhood and then there are situations such as this facing City officials. Mr. Donchez commented that many Members have called for a comprehensive plan for the rezoning of the whole City in view of the fact that the Zoning Ordinance goes back to 1970 and a piece by piece approach is being taken. Mr. Donchez, communicating that he feels very uncomfortable with the proposal, pointed out that Easton Avenue is a very beautiful, residential street. Mr. Donchez continued on to say that under the proposal the natural inclination would be for the commercial district to expand and there would be a domino or ripple effect going towards Jennings Street. Mr. Donchez added that there should be a strict interpretation of zoning laws by the Zoning Hearing Board so there are not these types of situations.
Kenneth Achey, 2135 Rodgers Street, noted he lives right behind Easton Avenue. Mr. Achey questioned whether the Planning and Zoning Director would want her house to be commercial. Mr. Achey, stressing that any residential land should remain residential, pointed out there is enough commercial land in the City. Explaining he is not saying the City does not need business, Mr. Achey reiterated that residential land should remain residential, and the business districts should be used for commercial uses. Mr. Achey advised that, with the small businesses in the area, the side streets now are tough to park on. Mr. Achey questioned where will people park if bigger businesses are located in the area, and queried whether they will also try to park on the side streets. Noting there are other problems in the area that have not been solved, Mr. Achey notified the assembly that garbage at a hair salon has been left out since Sunday. Mr. Achey pointed out that, turning into McDonald’s restaurant from Easton Avenue to the right, there are junk cars and the lawn is dug up, and added this is in a residential area. Further, Mr. Achey stated near his house there are junk cars that have been there for about a year. Mr. Achey informed City officials that down the street from his residence was a tarot card reader where there were drugs, prostitution, and alcohol that he has seen from his home. Mr. Achey questioned, when his nephews and nieces come to visit, what should he tell them when they ask what is going on there. Mr. Achey advised that the individuals were eventually caught in New Jersey and left his neighborhood; otherwise, they would still be there. Consequently, Mr. Achey pointed out that small business is not the best thing either. Mr. Achey, querying whether he can obtain a variance for his house and have a small business there, wondered is that what the proposal comes to so that someone can take residential land, turn it into a small business, and then the owner can turn it into a big business thereby changing the neighborhood into commercial. Mr. Achey, questioning whether the five people who have residences are going to be driven out of their homes, remarked if they do not have the money to pay for taxes for commercial land their only choice is to sell and more residences will be lost.
Keith Johnson, 2536 Easton Avenue, advised his house is
one of the five residences on the corner of Easton Avenue
and Boyd Street. Informing the Members that he moved to Bethlehem
from Allentown 21 years ago because he liked Bethlehem and
the neighborhood and neighbors are nice, Mr. Johnson noted
that most of the neighbors have lived there for as long as
he has. Questioning “where does this end”, Mr.
Johnson further asked “where do we go. I like my house.
I don’t want to go [someplace else]. Yet, people want
to buy my house because of where it is situated. It’s
a corner lot.” Questioning again where does this all
end, Mr. Johnson wondered how far the commercial will extend
down Easton Avenue. Mr. Johnson felt the proposal would be
a bad one to pass.
Marijane Johnson, 2536 Easton Avenue, advised she can count sitting behind her at least a dozen faces of neighbors who have lived there the entire time she and her husband have for the past 21 years, or family members of neighbors who have since passed away. Mrs. Johnson stated she and her husband chose the neighborhood because they did not want to live in Allentown, the schools were good, and they felt Bethlehem had the kind of community they wanted to live in for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Johnson pointed out she and her husband intended to stay there when they bought their house, did not intend to move anywhere else, or be forced out. Mrs. Johnson informed the Members that over the past three years, she and her husband have been approached on numerous occasions directly and indirectly with offers to buy their property because it is located on a corner. Mrs. Johnson affirmed she has no desire to sell. Mrs. Johnson noted a flyer was placed on her door yesterday stating that “we as neighbors have to speak up and make ourselves heard at this meeting. We’re getting the facts and making sure that City Council is acting in the best interests of the citizens of Bethlehem…and does no harm. As public servants on City Council, you need to act on the interests of the majority, not a select few, and I think in this case we are looking at a select few who want to have this land that’s now been deemed as residential all these years, and yes we have had the variances, that’s true. But like many of you have said tonight, you start here and it’s just going to keep going down towards Jennings Street, and we’re going to have another Stefko Boulevard on our hands.” Mrs. Johnson asked that City Council act in the interest of the majority, not the few. Mrs. Johnson thought, once a variance is granted for particular property, when that need or property is no longer being used for that need, that should be taken away, and the property should go back to what it was before. Referring to the question addressed earlier to Ms. Heller about how the property values of the residents are going to be affected, Mrs. Johnson pointed out that 40 minutes later she still does not have an answer as to how those property values are going to be affected. Turning to Ms. Heller’s assumption that residents are already feeling the impact of the commercial invasion, Mrs. Johnson stressed that the residents are feeling a negative impact and, if the proposal goes though, the neighbors will feel even more commercialization and negative impacts. Mrs. Johnson said “let’s stop it where it is, and rethink it.”
Richard Kresge, 2036 Hart Street, affirmed that the area in question has been designated residential and has been for years. Mr. Kresge advised that the flower shop, doctor’s office, etc. all were exceptions to the residential designation. Mr. Kresge, continuing on to remark that the Zoning Hearing Board apparently went along with everything one sees there, said “now they want to disrespect us to the ultimate by changing the residential designation to commercial designation and effectively eliminating our input and wishes.” Mr. Kresge communicated that in view of zoning for business after business in the residential designated area he dreads to think where the Board will take the residential area with a commercial designation such as perhaps adult book stores, palm readers, or massage parlors. Highlighting the fact that the Board has said there are plenty of commercial sites around the City, Mr. Kresge questioned, if this is true, then why is this neighborhood needed as a commercial area. Mr. Kresge remarked “let’s not dumb down our residential neighborhoods for business interests that will do anything for a buck. I implore City Council to do no harm. It’s a residential neighborhood, and that’s the way we like it.”
Mr. Kresge read a letter from William Parks, 2145 East Boulevard, who could not attend the meeting, in which Mr. Parks noted “there appears to be a push to change the area of northeast Bethlehem along Easton Avenue into a commercial area similar to Stefko Boulevard. We residents find this highly objectionable. There is a sufficient commercial area on Stefko [Boulevard], and commercialization of Easton Avenue has already advanced too far. The recent bait and switch at the [former] Valley Farm Market which asked for a size variance to put up a 24 hour Eckerd Drug and has now been converted into a 24 hour Wawa with a gas station is a perfect example of why these proposed areas should not change their zoning. While it is true that many small businesses currently have variances in this area, each was separately approved, and a change of business could not automatically say well it’s zoned commercial so we can put anything in there that meets with the compliance of that zoning as happened with Wawa. As an overall plan, the government should be more controlled by the Board than just blanket approvals. Also, when a variance is granted it should be for a specific cause so that when the cause for a variance changes the variance should require a redress. Our citizens demand upon the Zoning commission to have a master plan for the growth and well-being of Bethlehem as a viable community with appealing areas to live in, and not just unfettered business growth. Between Stefko Boulevard and Route 191, and the advent of the mega-business area at Route 33, haven’t we enough business area. Our community and our zoning board should be concerned with the maintenance and improvement of the beautiful Bethlehem residential areas, not just an appeasement to those developers who want to put up more businesses. There are sufficient commercial grounds within the Bethlehem purveyance for development. Lord knows that Bethlehem Steel’s closing has provided enough blighted lands that are in dire need for development. I would suggest that these areas should be the focus of the Zoning Board and that the Board should take a hard-line approach to variances and rezoning which change the overall tenure of residential life.
Curtis Jobson, 2330 Easton Avenue, advised he is one of the affected properties. Acknowledging that City Council has to make a decision one way or the other about what will be done in this section of the City, communicated that Council must draw a line. Mr. Jobson stressed there is no consistency with the exceptions to the zoning in the area. Advising he has been to the Zoning Hearing Board hearings, Mr. Jobson confirmed he has observed when the Board reversed themselves. Mr. Jobson notified the Members he was never notified of this meeting or of the last exception for the property next to his which is the former Holiday Hair business. Expressing he has no problem with commercial development since he does business in the City, Mr. Jobson stated he agrees with what has been said about determining a plan for the City because he would like to hear it. Mr. Jobson informed the Members that he came to Bethlehem from Philadelphia about 20 years ago, he likes the City, and wants to see what is best for the City. Stressing there needs to be some straightforward direction, Mr. Jobson communicated that decisions must be made with respect to RG Residential zoning and the City cannot keep grandfathering exceptions over and over again, nor should the Board be allowed to say no one time and then turn around and reverse itself six months later. Mr. Jobson asserted that is not right for the people who live here, and there should be some consistency but there is not. Mr. Jobson, pointing out that the neighbors do not like the proposal, restated that City officials must come up with a plan that is going to work, and not allow a use such as the Square One gas station in a residential neighborhood in view of the fact that the use cannot be undone. Mr. Jobson expressed the hope that all will agree with what has been said concerning the need for an overall plan for zoning in the City, which needs to be presented to the residents, and should not be done piecemeal. Pointing out that the proposal affects him, Mr. Jobson stressed that he likes the neighborhood and likes northeast Bethlehem. Mr. Jobson advised that when he moved to his residence there was a business next to his house that has since closed. Mr. Jobson highlighted the fact that the character of the area is being changed. Mr. Jobson reiterated that there must be a workable plan for the people who live in the neighborhood and who have invested in the City.
Ludwig Unger, 2045 Mary Street, noted he lives on a corner lot behind the Lincoln Fire House. Mr. Unger, recounting he bought his building lots around 1952, informed the Members the lots were zoned Residential A that meant only homes could be located there and no businesses were allowed. Mr. Unger, relating that the City issued a permit for a drugstore to be built at the corner of Easton Avenue and Mary Street, recalled the residents objected but City Council said they could not do anything about it. The residents took the case to court, and the Northampton County court judge ruled the City was in error, and the building had to be torn down. Mr. Unger pointed out that spot rezoning has led to many variances. Focusing on the five residential lots included in the proposal, Mr. Unger highlighted the fact that there were more beautiful homes there but they were torn down in order to build a gas station across from the fire house. Mr. Unger informed the Members that the lights from the Square One gas station are so bright that he cannot sit on his back porch at nighttime. Since the gas station was open 24 hours a day, he and his wife had to put curtains over the kitchen drapes to keep the lights from coming in their house during the night. Mr. Unger stressed that spot rezoning is what seeds the area to deteriorate. Mr. Unger remarked now the City wants to compound it by expanding it to a larger commercial area. Mr. Unger asserted that the City owes it to people in the area to go back to what it was supposed to be originally that is a residential area. Mr. Unger stated that what the City Council did 52 years ago can be rectified by ignoring the request for making the area commercial. Advising that 60 years ago he spent three years in the South Pacific, Mr. Unger communicated he did not intend to come home to a place where in his last two or three years he would have someone build garbage dumps in his backyard. Mr. Unger expressed he is aggravated and very upset about what has been going on over the years, and it has gotten nothing but progressively worse. Mr. Unger restated the worse thing a City can do for an area is spot rezone it. Mr. Unger noted that, when the area was laid out, Stefko Boulevard was a commercial area, and it was known a shopping center was to be built there. Mr. Unger said when he bought his property he knew the Lincoln Fire House was going to be built next door to his house, but he did not expect anything else to be built. He enumerated there is a flower shop, there was a gas station at the corner of Michael Street that was formerly a beauty parlor, and now something else is to be built there. Mr. Unger advised it has gotten out of hand, the situation gets worse and worse when the area is spot rezoned, and it will never get better.
Rebecca Dean, 2215 Rodgers Street, said seven months ago her family helped her scrape together enough money to buy her first home that she bought from the previous owner who lived there since 1955. Ms. Dean, communicating how proud she is to be in her house, noted she kept the bathroom in vintage condition, and her house is perfect for one person. Ms. Dean advised when she bought her house she was told there was going to be an Eckerd Drug Store on the other side of her back fence that was formerly the site of Valley Farm Market. Ms. Dean communicated she could live with an Eckerd Drug Store that would close at 9:00 PM because there was a business there already. However, Ms. Dean stressed “and now, indeed, the Stefko-ization has begun.” Ms. Dean expressed she is at the meeting to show support for her neighbors who are fighting for their side of Easton Avenue. Ms. Dean, informing the Members this is a lovely area filled with children, stressed “we don’t want garbage, we don’t want more drugs, and more crime…”. Ms. Dean, thanking the Members of Council for showing their support of the neighbors, advised “many of us are just shocked.” Ms. Dean stated she was at the Zoning Hearing Board meeting, and sitting behind her were a number of people who did not stop whispering at the meeting. Explaining that the people were not behaving as adults, Ms. Dean advised they were representatives for Wawa and she overheard them saying such things as “I think we can get out of building a privacy fence,” “we’ll tell them the tankers will pull in after midnight.” Ms. Dean highlighted the fact that “this is the kind of mentality that we’re fighting, and we intend to fight. We want to maintain our neighborhood. We love our neighborhood.” Ms. Dean, notifying the Members she moved from Bethlehem Township because she did not want to be part of what is happening there and in all of the townships with the eating up of open space, said she left Bethlehem Township to invest in the City and wants her tax dollars in the City. Ms. Dean stressed she does not want to move back out of the City, and does not want to be driven out. Ms. Dean pointed out that many of the speakers are talking about how this proposal drives people out of the City into the townships who take their tax dollars with them, and turn around and say to the City “we’ve got sewage for you.” Ms. Dean, advising that in her backyard is a tree assessed to be 250 years old by a biologist, stated it was a sapling when Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard were cowpaths. Ms. Dean asserted that trees like this in the neighborhood are testaments to what Bethlehem is all about. Ms. Dean thanked Council for the support they are showing. Stating that at the Zoning Hearing Board meeting it was suggested by a member of the Board that Wawa sit down with the neighbors and discuss how they might negotiate for a better situation with the neighbors, Ms. Dean said “they refused, point blank. We know that we have a fight ahead of us. But we intend to stand up for our neighborhood.”
Carolyn VanDyke, 2056 Mary Street, noted she is a neighbor of Mr. Unger. Ms. VanDyke expressed she is concerned about the development that has already been seen that degrades the quality of life in the neighborhood. Ms. VanDyke stated she is particularly concerned about the fire station that would be extremely attractive as a commercial property. Ms. VanDyke, referring to the list of permitted uses in CL that Ms. Heller noted has been modified, questioned whether Article 1312 that is listed on the City’s website is outdated. Ms. Heller responded that the website should be current. Ms. VanDyke noted that includes some uses not mentioned by Ms. Heller such as a bar and a magazine shop that Ms. VanDyke thought could be liberally interpreted to be an adult bookstore. Ms. Heller affirmed she did not list all of the uses.
Jose Rivera, 2129 East Boulevard, noted his mother in law lives at 2127 East Boulevard. Advising that he bought the two condominiums about two years ago, said he put a lot of money into them. Mr. Rivera noted he picks up the garbage from McDonald’s restaurant at the corner. Mr. Rivera, pointing out there will be a Wawa right in front of his house, requested that the area be kept residential.
Michelle Gibbons, 2124 Boyd Street, informed the Members that her property would abut what is proposed to be commercial. Ms. Gibbons remarked she prays that her neighbors do not sell so that she does not wake up one day and have a magazine shop next door. Ms. Gibbons, observing that commercial has been encroaching into the neighborhood her whole life, stated she grew up in the neighborhood. Recalling there first were woods in the vicinity, then there was a McDonald’s in the area, Ms. Gibbons highlighted the fact that commercial has been moved up to the further end of Stefko Boulevard. Ms. Gibbons pointed out that no one ever talks about the end streets that are affected by all of this. Ms. Gibbons, commenting that years ago people such as her parents may have thought their neighborhoods would not be directly affected because the commercial development was occurring far enough away, communicated it then all degrades the quality of life in the residential area. Ms. Gibbons, expressing her appreciation for what Council said tonight, acknowledged she was shocked and added that the neighborhood is really going downhill. Ms. Gibbons continued on to stress once those properties are bought and sold for commercial development, the quality of life that was originally that neighborhood is lost. Ms. Gibbons advised she is at the meeting because it may not be tomorrow that a commercial development is located right next to her but she can see it happening if the right decisions are not made tonight.
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, commented if the area were to be rezoned to CL this would be a validation of the zoning variances. Mr. Scheirer continued on to say before rezoning it, Council has to consider the zoning variances that have been granted and where they wanted to.
Wayne Maura, 826 West Union Boulevard, asked how does something like this proposal get started, who originated the proposal, and why. Ms. Heller responded the proposal was originated through the Planning Bureau, and it was originally discussed whether or not a rezoning would be appropriate in the area because there were a recurring number of special exceptions that were submitted to the Zoning Hearing Board for the corridor. Ms. Heller advised that the requests had to be approved because the special exceptions were from one non-conforming use to another. Mr. Maura observed somebody decided to take a look at what the variances have been over a period of the last number of years, and independently came to the conclusion that this perhaps might be something that the City should do. Ms. Heller explained the existing uses in the corridor do not match the existing zoning.
The Public Hearing was adjourned at 8:45 p.m.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Ordinance will be placed on the May 3, 2005 City Council Agenda.
Mr. Leeson, noting this is one of the rare occasions when almost all the Members of Council expressed similar sentiments about the proposal, wondered whether it would be appropriate to inquire if there was any Member of Council who desired the matter to proceed to a vote. If there is no one, Mr. Leeson queried whether the Administration would want to withdraw the proposal so that further time is not spent on the matter.
President Schweder, noting the thought crossed his mind as well, advised the question would need to be researched to determine whether that could be done.
President Schweder stated that, after consultation with the City Council Solicitor, it seems there would not be two sponsors as is required for the proposal. President Schweder suggested that Ms. Heller could be given the opportunity to withdraw the proposal, remove it from Council’s Agenda of May 3, and consider the action of the withdrawal as the defeat of the proposal.
Tony Hanna, Director of Community and Economic Development, thought the Planning Commission would have to withdraw the proposal since it was a communication from the Planning Commission to City Council about the matter on which the Planning Commission voted. Mr. Hanna added he thought an opinion would need to be obtained from the Planning Commission Solicitor on the withdrawal. Mr. Hanna further stated the Municipalities Planning Code would need to be checked to find out the procedure for withdrawal.
Christopher Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, noting the Planning Commission is advisory to the governing body, commented they can ignore, follow, or otherwise deal with the recommendation and he would not see that as an impediment.
Ms. Szabo asked what is the advantage of asking the Planning Commission to withdraw their proposal instead of taking it to the next Council Meeting.
President Schweder commented the advantage would be that a lot of interested citizens would not have to come back to the City Council Meeting in two weeks to see the proposal defeated. President Schweder, noting that Mr. Hanna is reviewing the State law, advised that he will continue with the proceedings, and will revert back to the matter when Mr. Hanna returns.
4. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The minutes of April 5, 2005 were approved.
5. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (for public comment on ordinances
and resolutions to be voted on by Council this evening)
Rezoning Union Boulevard and Center Street Vicinity - CB Commercial Business District to RM and RT Residential Districts
Greg Lauray, 611 Center Street, advised he owns the building that he purchased about one and a half years ago, and has his Certified Public Accountant practice there. Mr. Lauray, referring to the request made by Carol Ann Krasley (Communication 7 G) to rezone an area on Center Street between Raspberry Street and New Street from CB Commercial Business District to RT Residential, commented that would present a problem for him. Mr. Lauray, noting when he purchased the property it was zoned Commercial, communicated if it were to be changed he understands he would have a non-conforming use and it would be grandfathered. Mr. Lauray expressed his concern about the requested rezoning is the impact on the value of his property if he sold it later, in addition to the fact that if he rented the excess space in his building to another business then he would have to go to the Zoning Hearing Board to obtain a variance. Mr. Lauray pointed out in the block there is a 7-11 across the street, around the corner there is a tax preparation service, and there is a travel agency so the area is strictly commercial. Mr. Lauray observed it is the opposite of what was discussed previously in that he is in the commercial district and it is being requested to be changed to residential. Mr. Lauray said he is imploring Council to consider the manifest and fairness that would impact on his business and his real estate if that were to occur. Mr. Lauray asked if the requested rezoning of the block can actually be done.
Attorney Spadoni advised there are procedures for amendments to occur to motions. Attorney Spadoni, affirming there are stringent rules as to how amendments are considered, noted that would be addressed this evening by the Chair.
William Fitzpatrick, 732 Center Street, advised he is speaking with regard to Bill No. 18 and without prejudice to the communication seeking to amend it. Commenting that he listened with great interest to the objections and concerns raised during the Public Hearing, Mr. Fitzpatrick commended the Members of Council for expressing sincere concerns for the residents and the impacts on their neighborhoods. Mr. Fitzpatrick said the reason he feels so strongly that Council should, by the same token, support the passage of Bill No. 18 is for the very same reasons. Mr. Fitzpatrick explained that roughly 30 years ago, the neighborhoods in question, which are truly residential, were in the residents’ minds incorrectly zoned as commercial. Mr. Fitzpatrick expressed what the Bill seeks to do is redress that injury that has been caused to the residents of those particular neighborhoods, mostly prominently those of the members of the Neighbors on Watch Block Watch. Mr. Fitzpatrick, encouraging City Council to consider the suggested amendments with good conscience and the expertise they would normally bring to such matters, communicated “but please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. The residents there really need some help on this, and I encourage you to pass Bill No. 18.”
James Tyler, 15 West Garrison Street, stated his is one of the properties proposed to be rezoned from CB Commercial Business District to RM Residential District. Mr. Tyler stated he received a copy of a letter (Communication 7 B) written by Dennis Connell who wishes to make an exception and to keep 11 and 15 West Garrison Street zoned as CB Commercial Business. Mr. Tyler, affirming he is the owner of 15 West Garrison Street and lives there, said the house has been in his family for over 50 years. Mr. Tyler, advising that he runs a small business out of his house that specializes in fine art letter press printing known as Broad Street Press, noted that he understands the desirability of having small businesses in predominately residential neighborhoods. Mr. Tyler said he is opposed to Mr. Connell’s request because it appears to open the way to larger businesses that would disrupt the residential neighborhood. Mr. Tyler, advising that he spoke with several of his neighbors, informed the Members that all are opposed to Mr. Connell’s request. Adding that some of the neighbors are owners and some are tenants, Mr. Tyler noted all live in the immediate neighborhood and all have lived there for many years. Mr. Tyler further notified the Members that some of the neighbors have signed a statement that he brought with him to the Meeting. Turning to Mr. Connell’s letter, Mr. Tyler stated that two points require correction. Regarding the statement that Mr. Connell’s reasons for his request are unique, Mr. Tyler said, on the contrary, sections of the map of the area proposed for rezoning to RM and RT will show that along the east side of North New Street and the south side of East Union Boulevard there are many properties such as Mr. Connell’s that will remain designated CB while having residential properties behind them. Concerning the statement that Mr. Connell is negotiating purchase of 709 to 711 North New Street, Mr. Tyler commented as far as he can discover there is no address 711 North New Street, and concluded that Mr. Connell may have in mind 707 to 709 North New Street. Mr. Tyler said, in Mr. Connell’s statement that acquiring a parcel that fronts on West Garrison Street would allow for a driveway access to parking behind his New Street property, Mr. Connell neglects to mention that he already has a parking lot behind 713 North New Street with driveway access to New Street. Mr. Tyler continued on to note that in Mr. Connell’s letter he speaks of a small parcel that fronts on West Garrison Street that he hopes to purchase, but he fails to state that this parcel is 11 West Garrison Street that he is asking remain CB zoning and is next door to Mr. Tyler’s property at 15 West Garrison Street. Mr. Tyler continued on to say that since Mr. Connell has already identified this parcel as 11 West Garrison Street in paragraph one of his letter, Mr. Connell’s failure to be specific in paragraph 5 suggests that Mr. Connell is not eager for the reader to recognize which parcel he means. Mr. Tyler said, if Mr. Connell’s plans include purchase of 11 West Garrison Street in order to install a driveway, it would seem that Mr. Connell might intend to demolish the house since the lot is narrow. Removal of the house at 11 West Garrison Street and installing a parking lot would increase the flow of traffic, noise, and fumes and would not be beneficial to the neighborhood. Mr. Tyler communicated that, speaking for himself, in place of a quiet back yard and a neighborhood of grass and trees, he would have driveways and parking lots less than 10 feet from his kitchen door. Mr. Tyler pointed out that, as a result of the parking lot behind 713 West New Street immediately adjacent to part of his back yard, snow goes into his back yard from use of the snow blower to clear the parking lot. Mr. Tyler explained that his neighbors share similar quality of life concerns and are unanimously opposed to Mr. Connell’s request. Mr. Tyler communicated “our feeling is, in part, that if the City needs commercial development in the area there is still plenty of room for it on Broad Street and there is no need to begin a new phase of it in the 701 to 719 block of North New Street by damaging a stable residential neighborhood.”
Rezoning Easton Avenue Vicinity – RG and RT – Residential to CL – Limited Commercial
President Schweder stated that, in the consultation Attorney Spadoni has had with Mr. Hanna, the Administration in deference to the Planning Commission will not withdraw the proposal. Therefore, the proposal will remain on the Agenda for the May 3 City Council Meeting, and if it is not withdrawn by the Planning Commission then City Council will vote on it at its May 3 Meeting. In response to Mrs. Belinski, President Schweder advised, as it stands now, the Bill will remain on the May 3 Agenda for consideration if there is sponsorship for it.
Rezoning Union Boulevard and Center Street Vicinity - CB Commercial Business District to RM and RT Residential Districts – Withdrawal of Request for Amendment
Dennis Connell, affirming he is the author of the letter (Communication 7 B) referred to by Mr. Tyler, said he certainly would not wish for Council to consider any amendment over the objection of Mr. Tyler. That being the case, Mr. Connell stated he was not aware of Mr. Tyler’s concerns. Mr. Connell informed the Members he would like to withdraw his amendment requesting that 11 and 15 West Garrison Street not be rezoned to RM – Residential as recommended by the Planning Commission and remain CB – Commercial Business District, as stated in his letter. Mr. Connell, expressing that he apologizes to Mr. Tyler, said he did not mean to cause him any angst.
Rezoning Easton Avenue Vicinity – RG and RT – Residential to CL – Limited Commercial
Andrea Wurth, 40 East North Street, noted that is in the area of the parcels proposed to be rezoned from CB to RG and RT. Ms. Wurth, expressing appreciation for Council’s support of the hard work of William Fitzpatrick, further expressed the hope that Council does the right thing and passes the Bill as is. Ms. Wurth commented it is an excellent proposal as is, and pointed out that Ms. Heller has worked very hard on it. Turning to those who would be affected by the rezoning, Ms. Wurth pointed out that rezoning is not the final word on what happens in the neighborhood. Ms. Wurth stressed that residents have to be constantly vigilant about what is happening concerning zoning and with variances. Ms. Wurth, observing that a number of variances have slipped in during the last few weeks, stated that has caused her great concern. Ms. Wurth, restating that the neighbors still need to be careful about what actually happens, highlighted the fact that there are many ways in which people can develop properties that residents find reprehensible. Ms. Wurth said the neighbors are very concerned as a whole in getting more owners and fewer situations where properties are rented because they have experienced that rented properties are not maintained the way they should be. Ms. Wurth, thanking the residents of the Easton Avenue area, said whatever happens with the proposal the residents have to keep fighting. Ms. Wurth pointed out that the Easton Avenue area is an example of what can happen when residents do not pay attention to what happens with zoning.
6. OLD BUSINESS
President Schweder affirmed that, since Mr. Connell has withdrawn his request, there is no necessity to read Communication 7 B.
C. City Solicitor – Records Destruction – Police Department
The Clerk read a memorandum dated April 12, 2005 from John F. Spirk, Jr., City Solicitor, to which was attached a proposed resolution to destroy records from the Department of Police according to the previously adopted Municipal Records Retention Act.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Resolution can be placed on the May 3 Agenda.
D. City Solicitor – Use Permit Agreement – 2005 Borinquenfest
The Clerk read a memorandum dated April 12, 2005 from John F. Spirk, Jr. City Solicitor, to which was attached a proposed Use Permit Agreement between the City and the Puerto Rican Cultural Coalition, Inc. for use of the area beneath the Hill-to-Hill Bridge for the 2005 Borinquenfest for the time period June 20, 2005 through June 30, 2005, according to the terms and conditions of the Agreement.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Resolution can be placed on the May 3 Agenda.
E. Director of Purchasing – Vehicle and Surplus Property List – Auction
The Clerk read a memorandum dated April 15, 2005 from Mary Jo Reed, Director of Purchasing, requesting approval for the items on the attached listing to be sold at the City Auction on Saturday, May 7, 2005. Northampton County owned cars and used Library Equipment will be sold, and both the County and the Library will receive proceeds less expenses from the sale of their items.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Resolution can be placed on the May 3 Agenda.
F. Director of Planning and Zoning – Petition to Vacate a Portion of Brodhead Avenue
The Clerk read a memorandum dated April 15, 2005 from Darlene L. Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, advising that the Planning Commission, at their April 14 meeting, recommended approval of the vacation of the portion of Brodhead Avenue extending from its intersection with Summit Street to a point 275 feet south with the following conditions: (1) a legal description of the area shall be provided by the petitioner; (2) access shall remain open to the public on this portion of Brodhead Avenue; and (3) any comments from the Public Works Department shall also be addressed.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Ordinance will be considered when all responses concerning utilities have been received and easements have been obtained.
G. Carol Ann Krasley – Rezoning Union Boulevard and
Center Street Vicinity - CB
Commercial Business District to RM and RT Residential Districts – Request for Amendment
The Clerk read a letter dated April 15, 2005 from Carol Ann Krasley requesting that 611, 613, 615, and 617 Center Street be included in the City of Bethlehem’s proposal and be rezoned to RT – Residential from the present CB – Commercial Business District. Mrs. Krasley expressed that the exclusion represents concern only with present conditions. The letter was accompanied by photographs showing that structures in the block were designed to provide single family housing. Mrs. Krasley felt the fact that uses have changed for these structures does not preclude what was originally intended, by including the block it will force users to return to more traditional residential uses, by not including this block it will continued to remain unprotected and defeat the purpose of the rezoning effort, and a commercial reuse such as the 7-11 immediately across the street would be possible.
President Schweder stated that, after consultation with the Council Solicitor, he advised Mrs. Krasley that the request was significant in nature and Council could not consider it as part of Bill No. 18 – 2005, and it would require another public hearing pursuant to public notice.
8 . REPORTS
A. President of Council
President Schweder announced a Committee of the Whole Meeting scheduled on Tuesday, May 3, 2005 at 6:30 PM in Town Hall to receive a presentation by the Chamber of Commerce.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
A. Bill No. 18 – 2005 – Rezoning Union Boulevard and Center Street Vicinity – CB Commercial Business to RM and RT – Residential
The Clerk read Bill No. 18 – 2005, Rezoning Union Boulevard and Center Street Vicinity – CB Commercial Business District to RM and RT – Residential Districts, on Final Reading.
Mr. Arcelay queried how is the proposal going to affect Mr. Lauray’s business. President Schweder noted if it were changed to a different zoning designation it would be a non-conforming use. Noting there is a great deal of concern for the surrounding properties and the reason they were purchased, Mr. Arcelay wondered what recourse Mr. Lauray would have. President Schweder noted that, as Attorney Spadoni has advised, an amendment would take the proposal back to the start. President Schweder suggested that the Bill be voted on this evening as it currently stands. After enactment, if Mr. Arcelay wishes to pursue an amendment, the procedure could come about and the amendment would appear as an independent proposal. President Schweder stated that offering an amendment tonight would necessitate stopping the entire procedure.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 6. Bill No. 18 – 2005 was declared passed on First Reading.
B. Bill No. 19 – 2005 – 2005 Bond Issue – Non-Utility and Sewer Capital Projects, and General Fund Equipment; Refinancing 2001 Bond Issue
The Clerk read Bill No. 19 – 2005, 2005 Bond Issue – Non-Utility and Sewer Capital Projects, and General Fund Equipment; Refinancing 2001 Bond Issue, on Final Reading.
Mr. Donchez asked the final numbers for the rates and savings to the City by refinancing since the time the Bill was considered two weeks ago.
Christopher Gibbons, of Concord Public Finance, financial advisors, advised the overall interest rate for the financing is projected to be 3.67%. Since the rate is lower than projected, the average annual debt service payments for the new money projects, that is the Equipment portion amortized over five years, is slightly less than projected two weeks ago. For the long term capital portion, although amortized over 15 years, the annual debt service payments are projected to be slightly less, and the Sewer Projects portion of $1.4 million is also projected to be slightly less. Mr. Gibbons, focusing on the refunding portion, turned to page one of the handout and stated the net present value savings available to the City in refinancing the Series 2001 Bonds, given current market conditions, is $160,000 that is significantly better than what was presented two weeks ago, and at 3.86% is well over the threshold of 2%.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 6. Bill No. 19 – 2005 was declared passed on First Reading.
10. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Authorizing Execution of Use Permit Agreement – St. Luke’s Hospital – Boutique at the Rink
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Arcelay sponsored Resolution 14,595 that authorized the execution of a Use Permit Agreement between St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network and the City for use of the Municipal Ice Rink for the 2005 Boutique at the Rink for the time period May 7 to June 12, 2005, according to the terms of the Agreement.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 6. The Resolution passed.
President Schweder advised that Resolution 11 C has been withdrawn.
Considering Resolutions 11 B, D, E and F as a Group
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Donchez moved to consider Resolutions 11 B, D, E, and F as a group.
Voting AYE on the motion: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 6. The motion passed.
B. Certificate of Appropriateness – 513-517 Main Street
Mr. Arcelay and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution No. 14,596 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a retaining wall at the rear of 513-517 Main Street.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 55 East Church Street
Mr. Arcelay and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution No. 14,597 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the existing, distressed hedge with a new or antique wrought iron fence at 55 E. Church Street.
E. Certificate of Appropriateness – 222 East Market Street
Mr. Arcelay and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution No. 14,598 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a new sunroom at the rear of 222 East Market Street.
F. Certificate of Appropriateness – 79-91 West Broad Street
Mr. Arcelay and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution No. 14,599 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install a cast concrete balustrade, stucco the existing stair walls to the basement and install “wrought iron handrails”, and remove the brick planter on the sidewalk in front of the building at 79-91 West Broad Street.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 11 B, 11 D, 11 E and 11 F: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 6. The Resolutions passed.
12. NEW BUSINESS
Wastewater Treatment Plant - North Secondary Digester
Mrs. Belinski asked the condition of the North Secondary Digester at the Wastewater Treatment Plant and questioned whether the problem has finally been fixed.
David Brong, Director of Water and Sewer Resources, responded that the North Secondary Digester will be used for sludge storage within the next week. Mr. Brong said the problems that have been encountered along the way are enough to state conclusively at this point that there will be a requirement for another dyster unit. Mr. Brong added “we’re done spending good money after bad.”
Wastewater Treatment Plant – Conveyor Belt
Mrs. Belinski asked the status of the conveyor belt at the Wastewater Treatment Plant that could not be fixed in a year and a half.
Mr. Brong said one of the latest modifications to the system has shown promise.
Sewer Line Cleaning Records – Rosemont Section
Mrs. Belinski indicated that she had forwarded a memorandum to Mr. Brong requesting the records of when over the last two years the wastewater and sewer lines were cleaned out that should have been done on a regular basis in the vicinity of Homestead Avenue and Beverly Avenue. Mrs. Belinski added that, over the past five years and most recently during the last heavy rain, the homeowners had human waste coming up out of their toilets, as well as their basements.
Mr. Brong advised he will be forwarding the records shortly.
Mrs. Belinski, pointing out the City has known for years that this Rosemont section has been a problem area, recounted there was a verbal agreement to have the pipes cleaned out every three months. Mrs. Belinski related that one of the homeowners who had just moved in had 50 bags of garbage from the basement, fine art that was placed temporarily in the basement was destroyed, and the insurance company will not reimburse them. Mrs. Belinski wondered what can the homeowners do.
Mr. Brong, acknowledging the situation is tragic, advised he cannot answer the question at this time. Mr. Brong explained that a large amount of analysis has been done of the system in order to identify some rogue infiltration to the sewer system from stormwater. In 1999, a fairly major storm sewer entry into the sanitary sewer was capped, and several large drains were cut into the sanitary sewer that is not an acceptable use of the sanitary sewer. At that time, there was evidence that the problem was mostly alleviated. The records indicate that to the largest extent there have not been significant emergencies in that area, and it was believed that the problem was remediated. With the magnitude of the rain two weekends ago, it was problematic again.
Mrs. Belinski noted that five years ago there were homeowners who had 12 inches of human sewage in their basement and everything there was ruined. She advised that the owners pleaded with the former Director, and pointed out they did not think it was a good idea to add to the lines 180 additional homes from the Homes for America project on Pennsylvania Avenue.
HIV Testing Program
Ms. Szabo, noting there was an article in the newspaper today about the loss of finances for the City’s work at the Northampton County prison in Easton for the testing for AIDS and other diseases, stressed it was very discouraging because it was a very important program that the City has been taking care of for years. Ms. Szabo, advising that she spoke with Mr. Hanna, asked Mr. Hanna to explain what happened.
Mr. Hanna explained that the Express-Times newspaper misreported the presentation by Judith Maloney, Health Bureau Director. While funding is being lost from Northampton County for the drug and alcohol program, the City has been able to utilize an existing grant in order to maintain the same program. Mr. Hanna added that the HIV testing program at the prison will be maintained utilizing another source of funding.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Wawa – Easton Avenue
Mary Kutrik, 2158 East Boulevard, with reference to a proposal before the Planning Commission for a Wawa gas station and store at the site of the former Valley Farm Market on Easton Avenue, pointed out that the previous proposal was for an Eckerd Drug Store that would not have been open 24 hours a day. However, the Wawa would be open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Mrs. Kutrik, questioning how the proposal can be changed from an Eckerd Drug Store to a Wawa, asked whether it has to be voted on again.
President Schweder explained that City Council does not vote on such types of proposals and only votes on changes in zoning. President Schweder, stating this is a concern that Members of Council have, commented it is “bait and switch”. President Schweder expressed the hope that the Planning Commission members will look at the matter to see if there were commitments made that had specific requirements, and to determine whether it does not meet with what they approved so that it can be rescinded.
Former Bethlehem Steel Corporation - Redevelopment
Kenneth Achey, 2135 Rodgers Street, focusing on the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation property on the South Side, highlighted the fact that only 25% of land at the former U. S. Steel operations in Pittsburgh has been developed over the past 20 years since the plant closed. Mr. Achey wondered if there is something that can be done at the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation land to make it look better.
Mayor Callahan, acknowledging it is a tremendous undertaking to redevelop the 120 acres of property between the two bridges, remarked it is probably the most studied, most planned, most worked piece of property over the past decade. Mayor Callahan pointed out that in the last six months there has been tremendous movement forward. Mayor Callahan added there has probably been $3-$4 million spent on plan designs, architecture, and master planning, and noted there is a lot of expertise from around the world looking at redevelopment of the property. Mayor Callahan said he is encouraged that over the next 3 to 5 years some major changes and transformations will be seen. Mayor Callahan stated that the City has put in about $10 million of infrastructure at the site, and the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation invested probably $30 million in environmental remediation and demolition. In addition, Mayor Callahan advised there is a $13 million road being built closer to the Route 412 interchange, and last week Governor Rendell presented a $15 million check for environmental remediation. Mayor Callahan observed that, if the lands can be brought back to productive use with businesses and jobs, it will go a long way to not having to plow over greenfields and farm lands and put development in the City where it is needed, lower the tax base, and redevelop a former industrial site. Mayor Callahan, highlighting the fact that it is a lot harder to build on an old steel mill than on a piece of farm land, noted it takes a lot of utility movement, infrastructure improvement, and environmental remediation that has been going on over the last decade. Mayor Callahan pointed out the first tenant, U. S. Cold Storage, has located at the site that is a $40 million project and will offer about 200 jobs at final build-out. Mayor Callahan, advising that progress is being made, acknowledged it is slower than he would like to see but he thinks over the next 3 to 5 years many new businesses and growth will be seen there.
Mayor Callahan affirmed that action was taken this evening to rezone a large portion of the CB Commercial Business District on Center Street back to Residential because it was in keeping with current uses. Mayor Callahan continued on to say the City understands about preserving and promoting stable, healthy neighborhoods with home ownership. Mayor Callahan said he agrees a mistake was made 30 years ago when that Residential area was zoned CB, and the City fixed it.
Mr. Achey remarked that, in accepting State grants, that is taxpayer money, too. Mr. Achey, querying why the City cannot put its foot forward and show this is where taxes can be saved, thought maybe other cities will follow and State taxes would not be as high.
Mayor Callahan, while commenting he does not disagree in principle, pointed out that Bethlehem is the seventh largest municipality in Pennsylvania and it is only fair that the City gets some of those State taxes back. Mayor Callahan exemplified that improvements to Fourth Street, that everyone agrees was needed, was implemented with State tax dollars.
Honoring Louis Pektor and Leo Delong
Robert Bauder, 1035 North New Street, communicated that Bethlehem can be brought to “the forefront of our dreams” by using realization, revitalization, and restoration. Mr. Bauder, noting he has been a resident for over 75 years, said he has witnessed the City in its heyday when Bethlehem Steel Corporation ruled and made the City known world-wide. Mr. Bauder observed that in taking a walking tour through downtown Bethlehem one can see the changes after the demise of Bethlehem Steel, and expressed his thought that the City is now becoming the jewel of the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Bauder said the revitalization would only have occurred with the foresight and vision of two individuals who he called “pioneers of our future” and who have taken an interest in the City. Mr. Bauder enumerated the projects of the individuals of the former Orr’s building known as the Bethlehem Commons, Liberty Center with the adjacent North Street Parking Garage, restoration of the former Union Railroad Station occupied by St. Luke’s Hospital offices, restoration of the former Farr’s building, development of the vacant lot at Broad and New Streets into offices and condominiums, rebuilding of the former Weinland’s building after a fire into a restaurant and apartments, redevelopment of the former Johnson Machinery building at Third and Polk Streets into Lehigh Riverport, and Eighth Avenue. Mr. Bauder informed the assembly that his presence at the meeting is to not only bring to attention the wonderful changes that have taken place but to honor the two individuals who had the foresight to undertake the projects who are Louis Pektor and Leo Delong who he said “certainly deserve our praise, thanks, and gratitude for the many blessings that they are bestowing on us through their deeds and unselfish actions to do great things. Let us as a proud City show not only our continued support but also our thanks.” Mr. Bauder, expressing his opinion that the City should hold an event to pay tribute to the two individuals, commented that perhaps one block on Broad Street can be renamed Pektor-Delong Boulevard, or there could be a black tie dinner. Mr. Bauder stated he would feel honored to work with anyone on City Council to see what could be done, and added “let’s start tonight…”.
Anthony Rybak, 408 Adams Street, stated he is at the meeting to speak to the City’s sign Ordinance in Section 941.07 (c) and (d). Mr. Rybak, pointing out he is not suing anyone, commented there could be consequences and repercussions under the Ordinance. Mr. Rybak said in his opinion the Ordinance is in conflict with the constitutional right of free speech, particularly in the enforcement mechanism, and it infringes on civil rights under Section 1983 of the U. S. Code. Mr. Rybak explained that about 3-1/2 to 4 weeks ago political signs started to appear in Bethlehem at the places where such signs would normally be seen during the political season, and about 1-1/2 weeks ago he started to put his signs in various locations. Mr. Rybak informed the assembly that within 3 days of his signs being placed they were all removed. Mr. Rybak advised that, after speaking with Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, he learned that the City removed his and other political signs. Mr. Rybak stated that he does not hold Mr. Brown responsible in that there is an Ordinance that Mr. Brown is enforcing. Mr. Rybak pointed out that, although the political signs were gone, he saw signs for painters, basket bingo, and so on. Mr. Rybak, noting that the two types of speech involved in the matter are commercial speech and political speech, stated that statutes are categorized differently. One that would have language in the body that would restrict a particular type of language would be called facially restrictive. Other types that come out in the application or enforcement are called facially neutral. In the instant case, Mr. Rybak said there is a statute that is facially neutral because it affects all language the same, and does not single out a certain type of sign. However, in effect, Mr. Rybak stressed this statute is discriminatory since it does single out political signs for removal. Mr. Rybak advised that Joseph Kelly, Assistant City Solicitor, told him that once the political season comes and the signs start to pile up then the City goes into action and removes them when they become noticeable. Mr. Rybak said “the political nature of these signs is the trigger for the removal by the City.” Mr. Rybak stated that since the City does not remove the other signs during the year “this is really a veiled quelling of political speech.” Mr. Rybak, highlighting the fact that on Pennsylvania Avenue there are no less than 25 bright yellow signs for a Dan Schantz store in the median strip, remarked “if that’s not noticeable I don’t know what is”, and pointed out those signs have not been removed. Mr. Rybak said, aside from the argument that the Ordinance and its enforcement are under the U.S. Constitution, there are other points that should be taken to heart. Mr. Rybak, pointing out that the City places signs for all sorts of events and hangs them on City property, stated the City cannot do so under the Ordinance but yet it does so. Mr. Rybak continued on to point out there are signs for private businesses, specifically Cantelmi Hardware, that are placed on public poles. Mr. Rybak, highlighting the fact that there are exceptions in the Ordinance for Little League, advised that exceptions are not unheard of. Mr. Rybak said the bottom line is until every City buildings shines, every hedge is cut, every grass blade is trimmed, every sewer is cleaned, every gutter is cleared “should we really be having City workers spending our tax dollars taking down signs.” Mr. Rybak, restating that he has no desire to litigate with the City, said neither does he plan to “lie down and stay dormant when I believe my constitutional rights are being trampled.” Mr. Rybak suggested that the City suspend enforcement of the Ordinance until after the Primary Election, then send the Ordinance back to Committee in an attempt to craft language that is not at odds with the Constitution. Mr. Rybak asserted the City is opened up to consequences and repercussions if it attempts to enforce the Ordinance as written. Mr. Rybak, focusing on the issue of enforcement, noted there is another Ordinance that requires removal of recreational vehicles over a certain length every two hours, and advised there is a large recreational vehicle parked by the Salvation Army that has not been moved in months. Stating that the homeowners across the street have repeatedly called the City and complained about it, Mr. Rybak said “they’re laughed at” because of who owns it. Mr. Rybak suggested that the City leave the signs where they are.
Slots Parlor, Greenway, Drugs and Other Issues
Eddie Rodriquez, 436 Pawnee Street, communicating that tonight he has heard about certain preparations being made, remarked people’s lives are being disrupted because of the slots parlor project. Mr. Rodriquez queried why did this start to begin with. Focusing on the Greenway project, Mr. Rodriquez noted he has spoken with several Members of Council and invited them to observe how much it will affect the lives of residents on Daly Avenue. Mrs. Belinski, advising that she spoke with Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, acknowledged that Mr. Rodriquez is concerned that when the greenway goes through there are trees that have to be removed and there could be erosion. Mr. Brown advised that the retaining wall will be reviewed. Mr. Rodriquez stressed, if a particular tree is removed, which is very large, just above Daly Avenue on a cliff that is already eroded, the roadway and house located on the edge could be affected. Mr. Rodriquez, stressing that the tree is in the roadway’s path, asserted there will be a disruption in the area involving erosion, the roadway, and the house. Mr. Rodriquez requested a second annual spring clean-up instead of just one with volunteers from the community, and asked that they be praised for what they do. Mr. Rodriquez, communicating that youth in the City must be kept active so they will not get in trouble, said the City really has not done anything in this area. Restating that bringing in a slots parlor will affect the lives of everyone, Mr. Rodriquez communicated there will be filth all over, along with drugs and prostitution. Mr. Rodriquez said that Police bicycle patrols are needed in the community and in the parks. Mr. Rodriquez stressed that the drug situation in the City is out of hand, and added that the Police have stopped a major drug organization that was coming into the City. Mr. Rodriquez insisted that, if the City does not deal with the drug problem now, when slots parlors come into the City the problem will be exponentially worse. Mr. Rodriquez, remarking that City officials do not know what it is like on the streets, advised he was there but City officials were never there. Mr. Rodriquez, informing the assembly that 8 to 10 to 14 year olds are dealing drugs, reiterated that the City should look hard at what can be done for youth. Mr. Rodriquez queried what is the City going to do about the problem now. Mr. Rodriquez, turning to the proposal to move Broughal Middle School from Brodhead and East Packer Avenue to South Mountain, communicated if the City has anything to do about the proposal it should not be moved. Mr. Rodriquez expressed the feeling that the City is not looking at preserving the neighborhood in the Five Points area. Mr. Rodriquez thought more inspectors are needed there. Mr. Rodriquez further stated that something must be done about the Madison Park area. Mr. Rodriquez added that Saucon Park is in bad shape, and more help must be given to Mr. Brown to fix it.
Rezoning Easton Avenue Vicinity – RG and RT – Residential to CL – Limited Commercial
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, pointed out that the Planning Commission will not meet before Council’s first Meeting in May and so it would make it hard for them to withdraw the rezoning of Easton Avenue. Consequently, Mr. Scheirer wondered whether the Ordinance could be scheduled for consideration at the second Meeting in May.
President Schweder commented he is not necessarily of the belief that the proposal has to be withdrawn by the Planning Commission and it may be able to be done by the Administration.
Rezoning Union Boulevard and Center Street Vicinity - CB Commercial Business District to RM and RT Residential Districts - Amendment
Carol Ann Krasley, 624 Center Street, commented that, in keeping with promoting home occupancy and preserving neighborhoods, she is a resident for over 23 years and a homeowner. Mrs. Krasley said the block of Center Street from East Broad Street to East Raspberry Street was originally intended for single family housing. In light of what happened this evening, Mrs. Krasley requested the Mayor and Administration to pursue an independent proposal regarding Center Street between East Broad Street and East Raspberry Street. Mrs. Krasley queried would it not be more practical to rezone the block from Commercial to Residential in the hope that in the future it could go back to residential.
Mayor Callahan expressed his belief that it is reasonable to expect there would be businesses on Center Street as on the Main Street portion that borders the same neighborhood that also remains zoned CB Central Business District. Mayor Callahan explained the desire was to rezone that area in keeping with what is currently there which is primarily residential. Mayor Callahan advised that the City also did not want to create additional non-conforming uses. Affirming there are businesses that are currently in a CB zone, Mayor Callahan restated the City did not want to rezone that area to Residential and create non-conforming uses because the City would be in the same predicament with the Zoning Hearing Board of having long meetings to address variances and make accommodations for non-conforming uses. Mayor Callahan stated that he would respectfully deny Mrs. Krasley’s request.
Mrs. Krasley noted that the 600 block of Center Street between East Raspberry Street and East North Street has one business yet that was allowed to be rezoned Residential. The new Certified Public Accountant business was formerly owned by someone for many years and is the only business in the half block between East Broad Street to East Raspberry Street on Center Street that was excluded from the rezoning proposal.
Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, advised the request was reviewed at the Planning Commission meeting. Explaining that Broad Street is a main commercial corridor and East and West Broad are zoned Commercial from Raspberry to the north to Walnut to the south, Ms. Heller stated it was felt that is appropriate and should remain that way. Focusing on the four properties that Mrs. Krasley requested be rezoned to Residential from CB Commercial Business District, Ms. Heller advised one is commercial and the other three have been converted to apartments, and restated it was felt it was appropriate for the properties to remain CB. Ms. Heller, affirming that a close look and an on-site visit was taken of the area, communicated that the likelihood the properties would be returned to single family housing use was small because there is a 7-11 store across the street.
Mrs. Krasley, noting that the 7-11 store is in the CG General Commercial zone, advised that previously when Manny’s gas station was located at the site there were twin homes on East Broad Street. Because the gas station owner could not sell the parcel of land, he leased it to the 7-11 and the two homes were demolished to allow the setback and parking required under the CG zone. Mrs. Krasley, querying what is the potential for the future, asked how Center Street is going to be a stable neighborhood, and what may occur in the event a developer wants to buy properties on Center Street.
Ms. Heller confirmed that the City did agree with Mrs. Krasley concerning the area on Center Street north of Raspberry Street so that the properties that are residential north of Raspberry Street can remain residential. However, it was felt that south of Raspberry, between Raspberry Street and Broad Street it is a commercial corridor and it is being promoted as a commercial corridor.
Observing that a portion of Center Street is also being promoted, Mrs. Krasley pointed out there is only one business in the section, and a massage business between East Raspberry Street and East North Street.
Ms. Heller informed Mrs. Krasley that, in the entire area proposed to be rezoned, there were three commercial uses that were not on the boundary of the area that is CB zoned. Ms. Heller continued on to explain they were included with the interior and there was no way to exclude them from the proposal without removing large parcels. Ms. Heller added there were two homes in the proposal and three commercial uses so it seemed warranted to create three non-conforming uses if about 200 non-conformities were being eliminated.
Mrs. Krasley, highlighting the fact that those properties would be grandfathered, inquired “what does this do to the value of my home” and further wondered whether she will be looking at a drug store in 10 or 15 years. Mrs. Krasley queried “would anyone here like to live under these conditions in this environment."
Ms. Heller confirmed there are opportunities for a private resident to initiate a zoning amendment on their own, and advised that the petitioner would need to have the consent of 50% of the property owners within the area proposed to be rezoned.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:15 p.m.