|John Brew discusses his proposal for Bethlehem Inn|
No Room at The Bethlehem Inn
After 2 1/2 hours of testimony, John Brew was denied a variance that would have enabled him to relocate his community bank consulting business from an industrial park to The Bethlehem Inn, a bed and breakfast located in Bethlehem's exclusive historic district.
Neighbors like Beall Fowler warned zoners that it would "set a dangerous precedent," and before long, the entire area would be commercial.
Owner Robert Virgilio has operated and lived in The Bethlehem Inn since 1988. First built in 1840, it's been operated as a dentist's office, optometrist's office and as an apartment building. Because of its sheer size, Virgilo has been unable to sell the property, either as a residence or bed and breakfast. He's been trying since 2006. The property consists of 8 bedrooms and 5 1/2 baths.
Brew, a founder and director of Embassy Bank, lives just three blocks away. He called the property a "perfect location" for his small bank consulting business, which consists of 10 employees and only rarely has a visitor. He told zoners he could walk three blocks to work, while his employees would benefit, both from the window space and being located in the historic district.
But Christine Stevens, Secretary of the Historic District Association, objected to a business in a "residential" neighborhood. Her husband Tim produced real estate records establishing that Brew could relocate his office to numerous other locations. Bob Romeril told zoners he wanted no chinks in the armor of what he called "God's acre." He added, "Any time you back off, we lose a little bit."
Not all neighbors were opposed. Joe Schaeffer, for example, argued that Brew's proposed use would be "ideal."
Representing Brew, Allentown Attorney Charles Shoemaker argued that Brew's use would be "virtually impact free." There would be no visitor. There would be no sign. As a corner property, its use as a business would be permitted under Bethlehem's proposed ordinance revision.
But zoners were considering the existing, not a future, zoning ordinance. In a 2-2 vote, Brew's request was defeated. Linda Shay Gardner and Jim Schantz voted in support of Brew's appeal, but veteran zoners Gus Loupos and Bill Fitzpatrick were unconvinced. The Board's fifth member, Michael Santanasto, recused himself. He declined to say why.
Once Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance is adopted, Attorney Shoemaker vowed to return.
Day Care Denied in Residential Neighborhood
In a unanimous vote, zoners rejected a family daycare that Pilar Sanchez hoped to establish in a home at 1730 Easthill Drive. Once again, neighbors argued that allowing a business in a residential neighborhood would set a "dangerous precedent." They also raised safety concerns.
Joseph Koch questioned Sanchez but a pool and trampoline in her back yard, set aside as a play area for up to 6 children. He also noted traffic in that area is heavy. Joel Hoeffner raised concerns about interactions between children and Sanchez' dog.
Carolina Martinez, a member of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley who was assisting Sanchez, argued that a daycare center would be a neighborhood asset.
"A day care is not really a business," she reasoned.
"With all due respect, if you're accepting money, it's a business," retorted Sandra Raines, a neighbor.
After denying the day care center, some members of the audience started to clap, but Solicitor Mickey Thompson stopped them. "We take no pleasure in doing this. These are some people's dreams.," he noted.
Zoner Michael Santanasto told Sanchez her proposal as commendable, but she failed to meet her burden of proof.
Steep Slope Rules Examined
Not every applicant failed with zoners. Douglas and Craig Miller received unanimous approval to subdivide a quarter-acre lot for two homes at 816 Meade Street, even though the property is located in a steep slope area.
Tom McGouldrick who has property located downhill, warned zoners that storm water runoff would adversely impact him. But Doug Miller told zoners he would use silt fences to minimize any erosion.
Miller was represented by Attorney Joe Piperato, who produced case law concerning steep slope variances.