Thursday, November 11, 2010

After Four Hours, No Decision in Elias Zoning Appeal

Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board was the place to be on November 10. Eighty-three people, including Council members Eric Evans and Gordon Mowrer, were crammed into Town Hall to hear Round Two of the dispute pitting Elias Farmers Market against some of its residential neighbors and City Council. Zoners gave Elias their blessings in Round One, but Judge Edward Smith sent the case back in September to determine whether this busy market is entitled to a special exception for a nonconforming use in a rural residential district. After four hours of testimony, complicated by bickering barristers, Chairman Gus Loupos called it a night. A date for Round Three still under consideration.

Zoning Officer John Lezoche came under heavy fire. He told Elias Attorney Joe Piperato that, prior to the Elias zoning bill, he had never received a complaint about the market. Four residents disputing that, including Yong Hao, who actually accused Lezoche of making false statements. Lezoche sat there stoically, but Chairman Gus Loupos was offended. Banging the gavel, he told Hao, "That's uncalled for," and cautioned him against "character assassination."

Lezoche was even grilled over old zoning records until Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson decided that a City lawyer should represent Lezoche, and the zoning officer's testimony was suspended.

Elias engineer Steve cPany testified that an expansion is necessary to address a steeply sloped loading dock and provide for a larger warehouse. He rejected the notion that Elias would be a distribution center, and predicted that the larger warehouse would actually result in fewer deliveries. He repeatedly stressed that the current loading dock is unsafe, calling it an "accident waiting to happen."

Piperato also attempted to introduce a petition in support of the expansion, signed by 1,000 people. "There's been representations here that Attorney Spadoni is here on behalf of the residents of the City of Bethlehem," and Piperato offered the petition to show widespread public support.

An angry Chris Spadoni bellowed, "Mr. Piperato just said - and we'll have the court reporter read it back - that I represented that I represent the citizens of Bethlehem. That has never been said. And I would ask that he stand corrected on the record." Spadoni is Bethlehem City Council Solicitor, and that is how he introduced himself.

Attorney Dave Backenstoe objected to the petition as well. "That is absolutely inadmissible hearsay. ... You don't know how those signatures were obtained. You don't know where they were obtained. You don't even know if those are residents of the City of Bethlehem.

Piperato backed off, withdrew the petition and rested.

Guishu Fang, who lives next door to Elias, contradicted Pany's assertion that there is only one tractor trailer. She presented several pictures showing three different trucks, though she had no pictures of the three trucks together. She complained about constant truck noise, day and night, as well as fumes, adding she cannot even go into her back yard. An expansion to a three-bay loading dock and larger warehouse will only aggravate these problems, she claimed.

Fang indicated she has complained to Elias about garbage that already litters her back yard. "They never call me. They never come. They have my phone number." An expanded operation will just add to the debris. "Can you imagine what will happen when they put this huge warehouse and loading dock there?" she asked. Pany had earlier testified that Elias intends to create a fenced and covered dumpster site, located farther away from Fang's property than the current location.

Growing increasingly emotional, Fang complained about a proposed three-bay loading dock. "They want to move this loading dock to my bedroom side because there's nowhere else to build and because they have a hardship. How much hardship they created for me!"

Some of the audience applauded when she was finished testifying.

Al Bernotas, another voice of opposition, complained of tractor trailers idling at Elias. Although he lives 500' away, he sated closer neighbors will be affected by "dumpsters, trucks, diesel fumes, traffic, unsafe conditions for kids going to school, the whole thing."

At the end of the night, Chairman Gus Loupos thanked everyone, and stated that whatever zoners decide, it will upset 50% of the people. "We don't have a happy medium in what we do," he lamented.

During the hearing, the crackle of a radio could be heard from time to time as a uniformed police officer stood in the back of Town Hall. Asked why he was there, he smiled and said, "Babysitting duty."

Video Highlights:

Gus Loupos Lays Smackdown With His Gavel


Spadoni Does Not Represent the People. He represents City Council, damn it!


Guishu Fang: Petite, but Powerful

21 comments:

michael molovinsky said...

"At the end of the night, Chairman Gus Loupos thanked everyone, and stated that whatever zoners decide, it will upset 50% of the people."

translation; the neighbors lose

Anonymous said...

Zoning Officer John Lezoche came under heavy fire. He told Elias Attorney Joe Piperato that, prior to the Elias zoning bill, he had never received a complaint about the market. Four residents disputing that, including Yong Hao, who actually accused Lezoche of making false statements. Lezoche sat there stoically, but Chairman Gus Loupos was offended. Banging the gavel, he told Hao, "That's uncalled for," and cautioned him against "character assassination."

If only the nearby resident mailed
his complaints via certified mail with signature required return receipt, today he would have proof of his claim. Such a claim might have played an important role in this emotional situation.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this a relatively new housing development, built in the early 1990s. The home owners knew the farmer's market was there when they purchased their homes.

Anonymous said...

Why should most loyal readers give a shit about this issue? I'm curious about your extensive coverage of this particular case. What's next? Traffic court?

Anonymous said...

the larger warehouse would actually result in fewer deliveries. He repeatedly stressed that the current loading dock is unsafe, calling it an "accident waiting to happen."

Oh, that's great. What does it say about the Elias family allowing workers to be in danger.

Anonymous said...

wow. you went to a bethlhem zoning board hearing, and a northampton county council meeting broke out

Anonymous said...

hey, haven't seen chris in years. he needs to cut down on the hagaan daz....

Anonymous said...

@7:14

When Pitchels operated this farmers market, it was a farmed owned and farm raised local produce market. As time went on, there was a small grocery section added as were additional staple items, milk, bread etc.

Deliveries were made but not by the tractor trailer deliveries coming from the Philly docks and where ever else it comes from and, at all hours.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, in the late 70s or early 80s, Pichels wanted to add a butcher counter. They had a hearing before the ZHB and were required to show that at one point there was a butcher on that site during an earlier time.

The ZHB allows the butcher counter over complaints from neighbors across Linden St.

The history of that property is old. It has been used as a farmer's stand/market for over 100 years.

Al Bernotas said...

"The history of that property is old. It has been used as a farmer's stand/market for over 100 years."

There is no problem with it being a farmer's stand/market for the next 100 years.

The problem is the law states that it can only be 50% bigger than it was when it became nonconforming, which, according to Mr. Lezoche, was 1984. In 1984, the farmer's stand/market/roadside stand was 5698 square feet. You figure out the numbers. We are dealing here with a brain dead zoning office that concocts numbers to suit their own ends, for whatever nefarious reasons.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Why should most loyal readers give a shit about this issue? I'm curious about your extensive coverage of this particular case. What's next? Traffic court?"

You don't have to care about this issue. It obviously matters to lots of Bethlehem residents, but I understand zoning cases aren't for everybody. Neither is LV politics.

Actually, it might be neat to spend a day in a magistrate's court and write about the differences from a county court.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Isn't this a relatively new housing development, built in the early 1990s. The home owners knew the farmer's market was there when they purchased their homes."

You are right. Guishu Fang was about to testify about that, stating that Jamon (the former owner) specifically told her ...

Objection. Hearsay.

We never got to hear what she was told. But Piperato did cross-examine her about moving into a property located next to the market.

She should have been allowed to testify. What Jamon told her is not hearsay. It was an out of court statement, but was not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. It was instead being offered to show her own state of mind when she moved into the neighborhood. This is in the context of the larger question whether an expansion will have a detrimental impact for neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Under Section 908 of the MPC, formal rules of evidence do not apply at a zoning hearing.

Someone was not getting their money's worth for their attorney.

Anonymous said...

According to Northampton County Tax Assessment record, Elias Market’s gross floor area for the property was only 5256 SF (and the “Gross Bld area Air Conditioned” as 8404 SF). When it come to for variance appeal for expansion of nonconforming use, they claimed they have 14436 SF. Did they pay the property tax for the 14436 SF?

Anonymous said...

If Anonymous is going to quote what is on the tax records; I would suggest they look at the entire record. Actually ellias is being taxed on over 14,000 sq ft. There are 3 cards to the record and they need to look at all 3 cards and add the sq footage.

Anonymous said...

regarding: "Steve Pany testified that an expansion is necessary to address a steeply sloped loading dock and provide for a larger warehouse." "He rejected the notion that Elias would be a distribution center" - THIS IS AN UNTRUTH AS IS A LOT OF THEIR TESTIMONY...

Here are quotes from George Azar's TRANSCRIPT testimony from 8/26/09 that Mr. Pany attended:
Page 63:
Mr. Azar:
"Q And what's your position?
12 A I am part owner of Elias Market with Gus Elias.
13 Q Okay.
14 A The trucks, we leave at 1 in the morning to run
15 down to Philadelphia to pick up produce.
Page 96:
Mr. George Azar stated:
"5 Q Now the second truck that you own, what is the
6 size of that truck?
7 A 18 foot.
8 Q What do you use that truck for?
9 A We use it mostly for our wholesale customer, we
10 deliver to restaurants. And we use it -- other
11 than that we use it to run back and forth to
12 Allentown."
"Q And what's your position?
12 A I am part owner of Elias Market with Gus Elias.
13 Q Okay.
14 A The trucks, we leave at 1 in the morning to run
15 down to Philadelphia to pick up produce."

RETAIL BUSINESS MUST HOUSE PRODUCTS AND PRODUCTS THAT CAN ONLY BE SOLD ONLY IN THAT GROCERY STORE AND LEAVE FROM THE FRONT DOOR BY CUSTOMERS WALKING INTO STORE PURCHASING IT AND LEAVING THROUGH FRONT DOOR - THIS WAS STATED TO ME BY JOHN LEZOCHE - THE WAY THEY ARE CONDUCTING BUSINESS CURENTLY IS A WHOLESALE, DISTRIBUTION CENTER OPERATION FOR A P-INDUSTRIAL ZONED AREA AND WILL ONLY GET WORSE WITH MORE WAREHOUSE. NOT APPROPRIATE IN A RR ZONE--AMEN!!!

ARTICLE: 1310.02 Use Regulations
A building may be erected or used and a lot may be used or occupied for any of the
following purposes, and no other, subject to the applicable provisions of Article
1318, "General Regulations", and other applicable provisions of this and other City
Ordinances.
(a) The following uses are permitted by right:
(1) Multiple family dwelling (maximum height of 3-1/2 stories).
(2) Single family attached dwelling.
(3) Hotel, motor lodge and motel.
(4) Retail and service use. Use must be enclosed within a building.

I REST MY CASE......

Anonymous said...

Bernie - something went wrong and it published on its own several times. Sorry

Anonymous said...

Bernie, if I understand it right, Beth. Zoning Officer, Mr. John LeZoche, during testimony admitted he gave Mr. Pany (Elias' construction engineer) incorrect information regarding what the footprint of the Elias or Pichel or Jamon market was in 1984 or 1986? when the market became non-conforming. That is where the percentages for any expansion for the life of the property are based on. If this is correct, Judge Smith never heard the truth about the dimentional figures for the dimentional variance and his decision was compromised by false information and should be dismissed by the Zoning Hearing Board and they should make a reversal on their origional decision and deny the appeal for that and other reasons. I hear the market was just under 6,000 sq ft in 1984-1987 so to now expand to over 19,000 sq ft now is insane. No wonder the neighbors are upset. WOW - This is a big mistake for ZHB. What do you think should be done Bernie?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie - something went wrong and it published on its own several times. Sorry"

No problem. I deleted the duplicates.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"This is a big mistake for ZHB. What do you think should be done Bernie?"

The ZHB has ruled it will not consider this evidence.

Anonymous said...

No, Judge Smith Ruled on that... stop lying and making things up here.