Lauded as a "user friendly" ordinance, Heller has stated it provides for more appropriate, yet flexible, urban development. It maintains existing, healthy neighborhoods. Finally, it makes provisions for environmentally sensitive lands.
It's the culmination of over two years of work. Heller's Planning Department conducted public meetings in the Fall of 2009, Summer of 2010, as well as one final meeting in May. A copy of the proposed Zoning Ordinance was posted on the City website for comment, and Heller also met with different interest groups along the way.
Although Heller refuses to budge on what some City residents describe as the "Stefkoization" of a portion of Easton Avenue, her department did modify building heights along West Broad Street and dropped some planned zoning changes in some neighborhoods.
When she presented the proposed ordinance to Planners on May 26, she was still making changes to (1) ban commercial trucks (weighing over 10,000 lb.) in residential areas; (2) reduce billboard sizes along Route 378; (3) modify parking lot lighting; and (4) change nonconforming lots.
The public was still making suggestions, too. Activist Bill Shierer had ten concerns of his own, from residential zoning in a portion of Stratford Park to the 60' height limit of buildings along West Broad Street.
Before the vote, City Council candidate Al Bernotas voiced a complaint about Heller, who lives in Allentown. "We have people writing zoning ordinances who do not live here," he objected.
Planning Chair Jim Fiorentiono asked Bernotas to be more specific, but Bernotas declined, stating that naming Heller would be a violation of Robert's Rules against personal attacks. Fiorentino responded that, whether he was naming someone or not, Bernotas was still making a personal attack. "I don't think you should be attacking the hard-working people who work for the City of Bethlehem," he said.
Bernotas then suggested that the Planning Commission was about to "rubber stamp" the proposed ordinance, but Fiorentino described that as an "improper metaphor," pointing to the numerous meetings that have occurred.
Almost immediately after this exchange, Planner Steve Thode moved they recommend the Zoning Ordinance to City Council. His motion passed unanimously.
Next stop, City Council.