Owner John Saber was completely unaware that his business, which recycles pallets for businesses in three different states, was located in a Conservation Recreation Zoning District. Neither was Bethlehem Township. Officials discovered that Pallet Pro never sought permission for that specific use in the course of researching a traffic complaint in October, and told Saber he needed to get a use variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. That's something they've never given anyone during Pallet Pro's 18 years of operation.
Attorney Steve Goudsouzian, representing Pallet Pro, produced forty letters from residents asking to keep the business alive. And although located in a conservation district, Saber testified that he's surrounded by other commercial properties.
Township resident Ken Steffie, who told zoners that he can remember when Bethlehem Township was still rural and he could shoot pheasants in his back yard, testified he gets his kindling there. "I have never seen anything that should worry anybody there," Steffie testified. "The man has to make a living. He hires people to work there. Why try to take that away from him?" Neighbor Bobby Hicks echoed Steffie's sentiments, claiming he goes there for scrap wood, and the business has a neat appearance.
Solicitor Larry Fox told zoners that a use variance is "an extremely rare remedy," and Township Manager warned about the "precedent" of granting a use variance and opening the door to other businesses.
Zoners decided, unanimously, to grant a variance anyway. They called it a "variance by estoppel" because of "good faith reliance" of township inaction over the past 18 years. Chairman Steven Szy acknowledged that for all practical purposes, it amounts to the same thing as a use variance.
Blogger's Note: Bethlehem Patch has reported on this story, with some interesting details about the business.