Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zoners Shoot Down Beer Distributor Outside K-Mart Plaza

Marcus Dixon (center) has a rough night
January 9 was a tough night for small business in Bethlehem Township. Zoners shot down a 1655 sq ft retail beer distributor proposed at 3801 Nazareth Pike, just outside the K-Mart Shopping Center. It would have required a use variance, something that Chairman Stephen Szy proudly claimed has never been granted during his tenure on the board.

"It would set a very dangerous precedent," Szy warned, although Attorney Erich J. Schock, representing proposed beer distributor Marcus Dixon, insisted that they have no binding value at all.

Dixon told zoners he'd distribute domestic and imported beers from a 1,655 sq ft vacant building, located next to Leslie's Swimming Pool Supplies. He'd be renting the facility from Patricia Fodi, who told zoners that its becoming more and more difficult to find small businesses, especially as a shopping center like the K-Mart Plaza springs up all around her. She and her husband at one time operated a carpet business at the site, which also once served as a dry cleaner.

She called Dixon a "Godsend," saying he would fit in nicely with the pool business next door. People could pick up pool supplies and weekend beverages in one trip, she explained.

Though surrounded by a sea of businesses, from a China King to K-Mart, and though no member of the public opposed this use, Chairman Szy was reluctant to bend. "We can't change the zoning law," he declaimed. "The law is the law."

Representing the Township, Attorney Jim Preston agreed. "The use variance standard is pretty severe," he noted.

Like Szy, ZHB member Jerry Batcha called a use variance a "slippery slope."

But zoner Robert Furst, who abstained from the otherwise unanimous rejection, noted that they were effectively rejecting a needed small business owner who would be paying taxes. "I think you're missing the big picture here," he told other zoners.

Although Dixon's request for relief was rejected, Township Commissioners can change the zoning ordinance to permit a beverage distributor, something zoners all suggested to this trucker.

Commissioner Paul Weiss, who sat in in the hearing, agreed that Dixon and Fodi "made a lot of valid points." Though warning everyone that he is only one of five Commissioners, he stated he "would entertain any request."

Schock could be seen speaking to Weiss after the meeting. Owner Patricia Fodi smiled and said that though the Zoning Hearing Board is very strict, "I respect them."

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

ost communities concerned about blight, building vacancy and lack of funding resources would jump at the chance to place a business in a commercial area and increase the opportunity for tax revenue. One day, Bethlehem Township will be in the same boat as those communities with a higher provery rate and actually encourage all kinds of businesses to locate within their community. And there has got to be an problem with unilaterally denying all variances because they don't want to grant variances.

Anonymous said...

Who cares.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Obviously you. I'd sgree you have no interest in this or any issue, Blog Mentor. All you really want to do is attack people on your lengthy and growing enemy list.

Bernie O'Hare said...

5:17, I believe it is a mistake to be so anal about variances, and just say "change the zoning." There are times when that is difficult or there can be claims of spot zoning.

I gave seen few cases that demonstrate a hardship that are more clear than this. The owner has been there for over 32 years ad has not created the hardship. She has attempted to use the property as permitted with no success. The geography of the lit makes it difficult for the permitted uses in that area. The relief requested is minimal. And, contrary to the claim made by Szy, a variance sets no precedential value.

Szy bellowed, The law is the law." Well, last time I checked, the law includes variances.

Anonymous said...

Beer can lead to dancing and sex. Best to keep it out of our community.

Anonymous said...

These people are idiots, this is a business surrounded by business regulated by the state etc. This is why nothing gets done for the little guy anymore. This is why America is going down the tubes, too many boroughs townships city county hoops to jump through just to have the privilege of paying taxes and employing people and adding to the community one fool who gets appointed to a board wields way too much power. I say let them sell BEER

Untouched Takeaway said...

@10:12AM

And from there, it's a short trip to pinch-back suits, Sen-Sen and dime novels in the corncrib.

Nip it in the bud.

UT

Anonymous said...

Szy and his buddies have done this before. Not surprising. Remember Dr. Amin?

Is Fox still the board solicitor? I like his style to be hands off and let the chairman run the meeting, but sometimes he should speak up about things like this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fox is still the Solicitor and I hate his style. He talks too much and reminds me of Uriah Heep with his phony politeness.

zoid said...

right on BO.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mickey Thompson is good as a Zoning Solicitor. So is Erich Schock. My favorite is Ted Lewis. Absolutely no bullshit and straight to the point, while being fair to all. And he does not interject himself with the zoners. He lets them do their job. I think Lewis would make a great judge.

zoid said...

problem is, he is appointed by the ZHB not by the board of commissioners

zoid said...

I think Joe Zator is very good as well.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Zator is good.

Anonymous said...

There are enough beer distributors in the area anyway...

Why make it any easier to drink and drive!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Fox talks to much and is smug with the phony politeness...but I like that he let's the board run meeting. I know that is not possible in all townships/boroughs, but think solicitors should not run meetings.

Mickey is not my cup of tea for a solicitor. I think he should be gone from being Solicitor in Bethlehem. Since he works for Atiyeh, even if it is not a conflict, it appears to be.

Anonymous said...

Mickey is a great solicitor, he knows more about Bethlehem Zoning than the office and staff do in Bethlehem. They should be fired not Mickey or the Zoning Officer, it's all the other employees higher up who need to go

Anonymous said...

I think if we have to decide between beer and dancing and more sex for seniors, on the one hand, and zoners on the other, the clear advantage goes to the first instance. Seriously, has anybody ever asked how did we ever live and grow and thrive as a nation before zoners reared their ugly micromanaging heads?

Anonymous said...

Atty. Fox wrote a book and is a pilot. Besides running a hate blog, what can you do?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Att'y Fox is subpar zoning solicitor who wrote a book he paid to have published.

Anonymous said...

Who cares, again.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I would think, Blog Mentor, that the person who can't open a business cares. I would think the owner of the property care. I would think that the other people who commented here care. But I agree, it does have nothing to do with your agenda of hatred.

Anonymous said...

The economy of this country is intricately tied into small businesses which are forced to deal with these kind of local municipal autocrats.

That "use" that you are very proud of denying is a business that raises revenue, employs people, and brings more people spending money into the community. But flexing muscles is more important to these guys. "The law is the law." Bernie nailed it: variances and special exceptions were invented for a reason: to shield landowners from overreaching and over-burdensome regulations.

However, how many judges on the bench know anything about zoning and land use? They punt these cases like nerf footballs. It's a shame. When did small business creation (without NIZs, TIFFS, KOZs) become taboo in our society? When?

Lighthouse said...

I didn't perceive that any of the (unelected) ZHB members had a personal issue with the use at that location. But it is the elected Board of Commissioners who write the Zoning Ordinances, and they even sent their solicitor to oppose this application for whatever reason they had. The use is allowed across the street at Bethlehem Square, and down the street in the Plaza across from Christian Springs Road. I thought the Township has had requests in the past from Atiyeh to rezone the house a few doors down to put in a gas station. They also had requests to rezone the Moravian church property for an apartment complex, and didn't. The Township considered rezoning when the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance was last updated in 2004,and there were pros and cons to changes, but they opted not to change uses with Christian Springs Road still being residential. However, it certainly would be in their prerogative to take another look at that whole corridor if they so desired.

In this case, was it hardship on the small business owner, who could rent across or down the street? Not really. Was it a hardship for the landowner who could find another, permitted, use? Not really. The Municipal Planning Code requires certain criteria for variances, and the applicant was not going down that path. Do you really want unelected quasi-judicial bodies to be so loose that it depends if they "like" the use before deciding if they'll follow the law? What kind of consistency would that bring?

Simple solution, the Board of Commissioners either defends their ordinances (which they did by sending their solicitor), or change their own laws.

Anonymous said...

Lighthouse: Everything you say sounds wonderful...except for the fact that the Board prides itself on denying use variances.

You mentioned Atiyeh, and the Board carried on for how many years to keep a prison use out when the court eventually overturned the Board's decision. Bethlehem Township lost out on revenue from the County that is now going to another municipality.

And opening a business is difficult and daunting to say the least. Saying he can just go anywhere to open isn't always an option depending on the other zoning laws, PennDOT requirements, rent pricing, availability and the fact that some local landlords may be more willing to work with you than these out-of-state conglomerates which dominate the successful strip malls.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lighthouse, the law does provide for variances. So when Szy says, "the law is the law," that does include variances. It exists so that justice can still be done when the letter of the law will not help. Can you honestly say this was justice? A ZHB that grants a variance for everything is, I would agree, not doing its job But I'd argue that a ZHB that never grants a use variance, and prides itself on that, is also failing in its role. So I have a fundamental disagreement with Mr. Szy on this policy, and some of the readers have already explained the shortcomings of his thinking process. I don't question his good faith, although I did when he dealt with NC.

Anonymous said...

I find this thread amusing. The owner obviously knew his use was not allowed according to the RULES. That is why he went to the Zoning Board of Appeals. That's his right. He does not have a right to any approval. He lost. If the owner wants this use, he needs to get the RULES changed or put it where the RULES allow it. Move on. This is boring and tiresome. This is the problem with this country. The RULES are good for everybody except I!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't you understand that it is the rules that specifically provide for a variance? That is one of those rules.

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