Friday, October 12, 2012

Bethlehem Planners: Coffee Shop Should Be Able To Fry an Egg

Historic District Resident Bob Romeril
When Bethlehem City Council adopted a new, 168-page zoning ordinance in August, they warned they would fine-tune it. Their first set of changes was reviewed at the Planning Commission's October 11 meeting, with mixed results.

Planners first considered changes that would tighten the parking of recreational and commercial vehicles in residential districts to include any vehicle that weighs more than 10,000 pounds, as well as box trucks, cargo trucks and container trucks.

Planner Andrew Twiggar called this proposed change "somewhat overbearing." He spoke of a neighbor who keeps a race car at his property, noting that "There's no way he could comply with all the provisions.

Planning Director Darlene Heller agreed that the changes are "somewhat stringent," but added that it is a "quality of life" amendment.

Twiggar was the sole Planning Commissioner to vote against this recommendation.

The other proposed change was prompted by the public hue and outcry that arose when the Zoning Hearing Board recently permitted a community bank consulting business at The Bethlehem Inn, a former bed and breakfast located in Bethlehem's exclusive historic district.

Under Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance, corner lots like The Bethlehem Inn can now be used for limited commercial purposes, even in a residential district, as long as it can be established that it was at one time used for a business. But City Council wants to limit this commercial use to "uses that are small in scale," like a coffee shop or a green grocer. A barber shop or hair salon could have no more than two chairs. No frying at any breakfast nook. Tattoo parlors and pawn shops would be prohibited. The building must have a large, storefront window.

Unanimously, planners declined to recommend this proposed amendment because it is too restrictive.

When Darlene Heller told planners that "it would be helpful if we could have an explanation," Chairman Jim Fiorentino summed it up in one sentence: "We want a coffee shop to be able to fry an egg," he stated.

Planners also questioned the large window requirement, the limitation on chairs, and even the ban on tattoo parlors.

"I see no reason why a tattoo parlor should be excluded," argued Twiggar. "It's generally a pretty quiet use."

"What about the screaming?" wisecracked Fiorentino.

Bethlehem Planning Comm'n
Planners, particularly Twigger, feel these proposed changes are too draconian. "There are private property rights that are really infringed on in some areas," he reasoned.

But Historic District resident Bob Romeril told Commissioners that the proposed changes are not restrictive enough. He advocated against any commercial use in the Historic District. Romeril noted that Historic District residents must invest a great deal of money in their homes, and are governed by the Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB). "I think we're entitled to a little protection in return," he concluded.

Beall Fowler, who also resides in the historic district, favors the City's proposal, with the possible added condition that some residential character in the corner store building be maintained.

Although proposed changes to the zoning ordinance must be reviewed by the Planning Commission, City Council is still free to reject or reject any recommendation.

In other business, planners unanimously agreed, without discussion, to grant a sidewalk deferral to Habitat for Humanity. Developer of 17-acre neighborhood called Minsi Ridge on the slopes of South Mountain, Habitat argued in September that the topography and remoteness of the site made sidewalks unrealistic.

Updated 6:30 PM:  In my original report, I confused Beall Fowler with Bob Romeril. I have corrected that error, and apologize for any misunderstanding.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ban the Rajah of Rezoing and the city will be just fine.

Mark Baker said...

only the bozos(read teachers)on
Bethlum council could pass an ordinance and then immediately want to"fine tune"it. Then they can't even get their fine tuning right.

Mark Baker said...

what a joke these hysterical bethle hem residents are. They are "entitled"

More like just a bunch of snobs

Anonymous said...

Zoning is about protecting neighborhoods and those investing in neighborhoods deserve protection and there is nothing snobish about that---just good common sense in a civilized society.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It might come across as snobbery, but I don't think it is. People who live there willingly subject themselves to the HARB, which can be very strict. They have to spend more money to maintain the historic quality of their properties. So i do understand their point when they say they are entitled to a little protection. I even agree.

I personally don't see how a business on some corner lot will ruin them. So I think they are asking for too much when they ask for an outright ban.

Anonymous said...

While the historic district may be most vulnerable, these zoning changes affect all parts of the City that have RT or RG zoning. The basic issue is this: under what conditions should it be possible to convert a residence in a residential district into commercial use? Under the old zoning ordinance, the answer was, very seldom since a variance would have to be obtained. Under the new ordinance passed in August, it could be often since any residence on a street corner that might have had at one time some small and short-lived business could be converted with a special exception, much easier to obtain. The modification considered at this meeting was in line with the original intent of the zoners, to allow conversions only if the corner property was once a corner store with clear storefront character. It is reasonable that restrictions should be placed, since the neighborhood is still residential. I'm not sure how many city residents would like to have a tattoo parlor or pawn shop set up next to their house, if they live in a residential neighborhood.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've never been to a tattoo shop, but there are two within a block of me and they do seem like quiet operations. Also, I've noticed that many more women are getting them. And some, not all, of them are very good.