Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parking Woes Kill Benner's "Urban Loft" Project

Garrett Benner
In reaction to favorable Supreme Court rulings, marriage equality advocates rallied outside Bethlehem's town hall on a hot evening on June 25. But inside, it was business as usual for the Zoning Hearing Board. Thirty-five people were rallying for and against dimensional variances and special exceptions in four different matters.

Most of them were in an increasingly hot rotunda to speak against Garrett Benner's proposed conversion of a vacant, three-story warehouse at 18 W. Goepp Street into nine urban lofts with 15' high ceilings. Under the City's new zoning ordinance, residential use is permitted. But Benner, represented by father Dennis, still needed variances. His apartments would be only 867 sq ft, below the 1,200 sq ft minimum. But what really bothered a small army of Goepp Street residents was parking. He proposed 10 spots instead of the 16 required.

Benner explained that he spent $375,000 to buy the old sewing factory building. Because it's in poor condition, with broken windows and a crumbling retaining wall, he's planning on $761,000 in renovations for three apartments on each of three floors. He's already started the exterior work, and told zoners he would be ready for business by October.

But uniformly, neighbors complained about parking. "Dear God in heaven, somebody has to come look at our streets; we have no parking now," exclaimed Lorraine Foulke, who suggested Benner move to the vacant Martin Tower. She accused Benner of "trying to get richer" with 9 apartments. Mark Traupman made the slippery slope argument, asking what would prevent his neighbor from converting his home into a 3-apartment dwelling. Deb Lyons stated the building "needs to be torn down," noting that vandals frequent the abandoned building. "Kids are still gonna' come and break those windows in that alley," she predicted. "I feel sorry for you." Another witness, Helen Lakatos, has photographed people defecating in the alley. "More people equals more noise," she added.

Presenting a petition signed by 105 neighbors opposed to the apartments, Lisa Arechiga noted that her bedroom window faces the parking lot. "Would you want to live with round the clock noise and people literally right outside your bedroom?" she asked.

But Attorney Benner pointedly asked her, "Have you thought about the value of your home if this building is allowed to continue to deteriorate?"

"I don't think it would increase it," she conceded.

Benner noted that his son is "willing to spend a lot of money to fix what is a really bad problem. It might be impetus for further redevelopment of the area."

He added that the number of tenants living there was less than the 25-30 people who worked there ten years ago.

After hearing both sides, zoners voted unanimously against the proposal. Benner had told zoners it was economically unfeasible to go with 6 apartments at the site, but is rethinking his options.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for Bethlehem. These slick talking developers don't give a rats behind about the neighborhoods, just the cash in hand.

If Bethlehem goes the way of Allentown, it is finished.

Anonymous said...

Garrett would have had better luck being outside with the gay crowd.

Anonymous said...

Benner missed the point when he said there were 20-35 people working there 10 years ago. Not everyone drove there, as many walked or got dropped off. And although some parked on the street, the company closed at 3, so they did not disrupt the residents' parking as most were at work themselves during the day. He should've converted into a professional business building.