Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For Second Time, Bethlehem Zoners Approve Elias Market Expansion


After three hearings, a judicial remand, four lawyers, twelve hours of testimony before packed houses, Bethlehem zoners on November 29 arrived at the same conclusion they did the first time, well over a year ago. Elias Farmers Market, located at 3131 Linden Street, was unanimously given a green light to expand their warehouse and loading dock. But heeding neighborhood concerns about trash, truck traffic and possible use as a warehouse distribution center, a laundry list of conditions was imposed. Al Bernotas, informal spokesman for the "Bethlehem Homeowners Association" spearheading the opposition, vows an appeal will be filed.

Bethlehem's beleaguered Zoning Hearing Board, which has come under increased scrutiny during a year of litigation, was actually complimented by all attorneys. "You have allowed everybody who wanted to say something, to say something," noted Elias Attorney Joe Piperato. "Every moment that I've been here, this Board has been absolutely professional," added Attorney David Backenstoe, who represents three families opposed to the expansion. Bethlehem City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni stressed that public participation "has been a culture and tradition in ths City that we hope leaves here tonight as well as it has in the past."

Niceties out of the way, attorneys then blasted away. Backenstoe claimed that the market was actually being expanded 338%, well in excess of the 150% permitted under the zoning ordinance. Not so fast, claimed Joe Piperato, who contended that the amount if the expansion had already been approved by a court, and the only real question was whether opponents could prove a detrimental impact on the neighborhood. It's "deleterious," says Chris Spadoni. "When City Council looked at this, they found that those effects ... were so deleterious that they intervened in this matter to protect the residents."

Two witnesses - Yong Hao and Wendy Arbushites - gave separate power point presentations containing videos and photographs showing that current conditions are already detrimental. Arbushites, who claimed "my entire back yard is their market," showed garbage and delivery trucks at early morning hours, litter strewn in the Elias parking lot, rusted metal along the side of the building, and as many as 8 trucks parked on the lot at one time. She showed school buses idling in the parking lot at 6:35 AM. She even had photos of Elias trucks making illegal turns onto Linden Street. "With the proposed increase in the building footprint, we feel there will be more traffic, more garbage. Why should the neighbors believe that conditions will improve when the property is not being maintained properly now?" she asked.

Yong Hao stated that a one-bay loading dock, located 240 feet from his property line, will be replaced by a three-bay loading dock, located just 40' from his property line.

Neighbor Carol Kuhns complained about a "big box" warehouse in a residential neighborhood. "They go home at night. We live there. This is our home."

Elias had supporters, too. South side resident Rolf Treisner, who shops there, simply stated, "They need an upgrade." Kathy Capuano, who has lived next door for forty-one years and whose family once owned the market, denied smelling any garbage. "The loading dock really isn't safe because I worked there. Things slide off the truck, it's not safe," she said.

One Elias supporter, Sudantha Vidanage, made the mistake of claiming that Elias opponents with names like Guishu Fang, Alfonso Bernotas and Yong Hao have something against "first generation immigrants." He was quickly stopped by Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson, who warned, "We're not going to go on any personal assassination attacks on peoples' character."

Elias had supporters, too. South side resident Rolf Treisner, who shops there, simply stated, "They need an upgrade." Kathy Capuano, an Elias next door neighbor for forty-one years and whose family once owned the market, denied smelling any garbage. "The loading dock really isn't safe because I worked there. Things slide off the truck, it's not safe," she said.

One Elias supporter, Sudantha Vidanage, made the mistake of claiming that Elias opponents with names like Guishu Fang, Alfonso Bernotas and Yong Hao have something against "first generation immigrants." He was quickly stopped by Zoning Solicitor Mickey Thompson, who warned, "We're not going to go on any personal assassination attacks on peoples' character."

In granting the expansion, zoners have imposed stiff conditions: use of the warehouse for wholesale distribution is banned; idling by any vehicles or storage of any buses or trucks not already owned by Elias is prohibited; no refrigerated trucks may run on the property; compressors must face Linden Street, away from residences; buffering and landscaping is required; no expansion in hours of operation; no additional retail space is permitted; no future expansions of the warehouse will be permitted; and no trash pick-up before 8 AM.

After announcing their decision, Board Chair Gus Loupos - like Planning Chair Larry Krauter and Judge Edward Smith - strongly urged all parties meet and try to resolve their differences. "If we can do that, then we're going to show the spirit of what Bethlehem is about. We've done this in the past. I think it can be done now."
More Stories? Come and get 'em at Bethlehem Patch, Express Times and Morning Call.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bullshit, money talks; truth walks!

Anonymous said...

this will certainly not be the end of this fiasco

Anonymous said...

Zoning was never ever intended to trap existing businesses in time. I find it amazing that these NIMBY's want to have that done to Elias. Those who objected to Zoning decades ago predicted these scenarios and they were right. Its amazing how something that was supposed to keep smelly air polluting industry out of neighborhoods and keep people from living in unsafe tenement housing has turned into you can not even put an addition on to a prosperous small farm market stealing of property rights. Good for Elias, shame on the neighbors for not knowing where they are living and what could be done with properties next to them and shame on the City for sending its lawyer to become involved in the charade.

Anonymous said...

Posted at 3 AM?? Bernie, when do you sleep? Your health is important, and adequate, regular sleep is one requirement for good health. We do not want anything adverse to happen to you.

Now, about this Elias Market controversy, it seems to me that the market was there before the houses, some of which were built on land that used to be part of the orchard. If one buys a house next to a market, is it really appropriate to start a movement aimed at complaining about the normal activities of the market? Just askin' Cate

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who calls the neighborhood people "NIMBYS",

at least they stopped them from becoming a Distribution Center and storing anything other than what can be sold and needed in THAT store only (not his other stores) and no DELIVERY AND DISTRIBUTION TO RESTAURANTS AND CUSTOMERS. So now he'll pay big bucks to construct a very LARGE warehouse and TRUCK DEPOT but can't EVER increase his retail area and make more money delivering products to anyone outside of that store which was the reason for the addition in the first place according to George Azar. Only the two trucks that he owns today allowed to park on property (what happens when they get old and die), no idling at all and no trash pickup before 8am and all utilities on other side of building. So you tell me, WHO WON?? ENFORCEMENT will be next and I'll bet they will APPEAL APPEAL APPEAL!!!

Anonymous said...

Who really cares, you build a house on a hill looking at a busy farmers market THEN you decide the market should go... Why don't you people go back to new jersey or new York where you came from and leave us bethlemites alone

Anonymous said...

omg, you sound very angry and/or racist against New Jerseyians or New Yorkers, shame shame on you!! Why doesn't Elias move to the industrial area where no one cares how big you get which isn't that far away from his Beth store and the New Jerseyians or New Yorkers or better yet don't they have customers or people who need their kind of food in Orefield?? You didn't answer, WHO WON??

Anonymous said...

Bernie: Your headline should read, "FOR SECOND TIME, BETHLEHEM ZONERS GET IT WRONG." Based upon the facts provided to the Zoning Hearing Board, by a Zoning Officer with questionable integrity, the ZHB made their first erroneous decision. But giving them the benefit of the doubt, they were given a second chance to heard accurate and factual information. They chose not to give the new information credence. They too show that they lack integrity. And remember this, the neighbors are not going anywhere and Elias Market will reside in hostile territory for as long as they attempt to crush the neighbors and the neighborhood. If they expand this site, this fight will never be over. The neighbors will become Bethlehem's mujahideen!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernie O'Hare said...

"The neighbors will become Bethlehem's mujahideen!"

Oh my goodness! I just can't picture Al Bernotas in a turban and flowing robes. But if that's what happens, Elias sells great hummus.

Unknown said...

Each time I read about coverage of the Elias Market situation in the local papers, I get upset thinking that readers might get the impression that an entire neighborhood is against the market expansion. The fact is, four or five people are against it, and the majority of us either don't care; or have other problems to worry about. Some are worried about keeping their jobs instead of complaining about not being able to perform their jobs due to lack of sleep from noise or fumes invading their near half million dollar home purchased behind a busy existing market. Many of us have actually gone to the market to discuss the plans with the owners before spending time at zoning meetings. By his own admission, Mr. Bernotas, who seems to be the spokesperson of this small group, has never met with the owners outside of zoning meetings.

Instead of trying to reach a compromise, the dissenting faction hired a lawyer to state their case. Now this group is asking for donations to pay their legal fees. Someone asked "Who won?" The legal firm hired won.

Since taking over the market, the Elias Family has been blamed for everything from crimes comitted in the area to people exceeding the speed limit on Johnston Drive. The orginal list of complaints even implied that illegal immigrants were living on the property. It suggested that the Elias' family was "flaunting the law." It was said people were openly urinating after hours and using the lot as a motorcycle repair facility. Yet witnesses to these events never bothered to call the police. Why do that when you can rabble rouse via e-mail and chastise people for lack of support?

I prefer to think of my neighborhood where Luminaria Night started than the neighborhood where residents can't seem to work out differences with other neighbors. And I have to wonder if the noise and problems regarding the market will come up in disclosure should these people who are complaining decide to sell their homes in better economic times.

Anonymous said...

Elias Market's owners were invited to the neighborhood meeting held at NCC but they never attended. They only want to host the meeting in their own store which is not a neutral place for meeting.

The problem with Elias Market was that they did not present truthful information to the ZHB at the beginning and never want to work with the neighbors to resolve the difference. They said the loading dock is so unsafe that is not being used, but the fact showed they used it every day; they said the outbuildings were used as storage, but witness who rented it before told ZHB it was a rental property. I mean how could you make up the story like that in order to get what you want?
ZHB of Bethlehem did not want to believe that they were fooled by the Market before and did not hear any truth. They do not like people who told them they were wrong.

Elias Market want to build 3 loading docks just 40 feet next to neighbor’s backyard and told the neighbors you are not even going to notice it. The neighbors must be deaf and blind when the tractor trailer blowing the fume at your face.

Come on, show some compassion and respect to neighbors, money is good, but enough is enough! Think about other people before you do anything invasive to others.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what conditions were put on the Elias market?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've listed them in this blog. Maybe I out you to sleep before you got to it.

"In granting the expansion, zoners have imposed stiff conditions: use of the warehouse for wholesale distribution is banned; idling by any vehicles or storage of any buses or trucks not already owned by Elias is prohibited; no refrigerated trucks may run on the property; compressors must face Linden Street, away from residences; buffering and landscaping is required; no expansion in hours of operation; no additional retail space is permitted; no future expansions of the warehouse will be permitted; and no trash pick-up before 8 AM."

Anonymous said...

Thank you Al and your group for stopping a warehouse/distribution center from invading our beautiful neighborhood. Elias would be out of his mind to pay such big bucks to build such a large warehouse building with three loading docks and not be able to store products for sale in their other stores and also to continue to be able to deliver to customers and wholesalers and be able to EVER increase his small retail area. Did Zoning Officer do his job yet and impose a "Cease and Desist" on them yet since they have already admitted in testimony from George Azar to delivering to customers and wholesalers and to their other store? YOU STOPPED THEM!!! THANK YOU BHA and AL'S GROUP!