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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bethlehem Zoners Nix Parking Lot For LU Students

After a two-hour hearing, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board last night unanimously rejected a Southside landlord's request for an 8-car macadam parking lot at the rear of four Webster Street properties he rents to Lehigh students. Donald Miller, who owns 419-421-423-425 Webster Street, replaced their grass back yards over the years with a gravel lot for the convenience of the twenty students who rent from him on Webster Street. He never obtained a permit, and told zoners that there are "numerous parking places like that." He did acknowledge that Zoning Officer John Lezoche had been talking to him for the past two or three years before finally issuing a cease and desist order. "I think someone complained," Miller guessed.

That would be retired DeSales professor Justice Thomas, who owns a rental property at 212 E Morton, directly south of Miller's Webster Street properties. Taking the oath, he was asked, "Do you swear by Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, that the testimony you're about to give shall be the truth and nothing but the truth?"

"Thank you," he answered.

It's the thought that counts.

Thomas has been renting to Lehigh's international community since the '70s, and began experiencing problems when Miller installed his gravel parking lot. He now experiences flooding in his basement "every time there is a heavy rain," something that never occurred before. The sidewalk in front of his home has deteriorated. He testified that are usually 13-14 cars crammed into the lot, and these cars back out onto narrow East Morton Street. "There are children in the area," he complained. He also noted the glare of headlights flooding into one of his apartments. He stated, "I cannot go near my wall to fix something."

Miller assured zoners that a macadam parking lot would direct water flow into the street instead of Thomas' home, and lining would provide a turn around so that cars would not back out onto Morton Street. Attorney Joe Piperato, who represented Miller, sought numerous variances. He wanted their blessing on 8' wide parking stalls, a 13' wide driving aisle, no setbacks and no screening to shield glare. Conceding that Miller failed to meet the technical requirements for a variance, Piperato argued that "Miller is willing to spend $20 thousand to help the City with a serious problem. This is all about parking, gentleman."

Southside landlord Jerry Fasnacht agreed, noting that the library on Webster Street and a five-story apartment building place a "big demand on parking. Miller is taking cars off the streets."

Attorney Bill Leeson, who was taught by Mr. Miller, is now his lawyer and had the winning argument. He told zoners that Miller is seeking "multiple, substantial variances for a plan that does not work."

In other business, zoners quickly approved Jared Moyer's request for a dimensional variance from the Steep Slope requirements of the Zoning Ordinance, approving a building lot at 735 Hillside Avenue that is only 1/10th the size allowed. They also allowed a variance from the 18 on-lot parking places required for a Resources for Human Development meeting room and office at 425-427 E. Fourth Street, conditioned upon their willingness to obtain permits for those parking spaces on a nearby city-owned parking lot, located at 3rd and Filmore Streets. Zoner Ken Kraft recused himself in that matter.


Anonymous said...

Ya know Bernie. Folks say, when buying property check the roof, knock on the walls, walk the neighborhood, but the real number one issue should always be--zoning.
Whether it's Elias Market or LU apt owners or that charmer of men,
Abe Baby--Zoning is King.

Anonymous said...

Zoning Officer John Lezoche had been talking to him for the past two or three years before finally issuing a cease and desist order.

Sure can't say Lezoche used a heavy-hand. Talk about patience.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lezoche is a classy guy. Bethlehem has a number of good people like that. There are many more good people in local government than bad.

Anonymous said...

We had business dealings with one of the Bethlehem's building inspectors. He was fair and reasonable.

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