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Friday, May 27, 2011

Bethlehem's New Zoning Ordinance On Its Way to City Council

Bethlehem's new zoning ordinance, its first in over forty years, is on its way to City Council, but not without some controversy over one of its authors, Planning Director Darlene Heller.

Lauded as a "user friendly" ordinance, Heller has stated it provides for more appropriate, yet flexible, urban development. It maintains existing, healthy neighborhoods. Finally, it makes provisions for environmentally sensitive lands.

It's the culmination of over two years of work. Heller's Planning Department conducted public meetings in the Fall of 2009, Summer of 2010, as well as one final meeting in May. A copy of the proposed Zoning Ordinance was posted on the City website for comment, and Heller also met with different interest groups along the way.

Although Heller refuses to budge on what some City residents describe as the "Stefkoization" of a portion of Easton Avenue, her department did modify building heights along West Broad Street and dropped some planned zoning changes in some neighborhoods.

When she presented the proposed ordinance to Planners on May 26, she was still making changes to (1) ban commercial trucks (weighing over 10,000 lb.) in residential areas; (2) reduce billboard sizes along Route 378; (3) modify parking lot lighting; and (4) change nonconforming lots.

The public was still making suggestions, too. Activist Bill Shierer had ten concerns of his own, from residential zoning in a portion of Stratford Park to the 60' height limit of buildings along West Broad Street.

Before the vote, City Council candidate Al Bernotas voiced a complaint about Heller, who lives in Allentown. "We have people writing zoning ordinances who do not live here," he objected.

Planning Chair Jim Fiorentiono asked Bernotas to be more specific, but Bernotas declined, stating that naming Heller would be a violation of Robert's Rules against personal attacks. Fiorentino responded that, whether he was naming someone or not, Bernotas was still making a personal attack. "I don't think you should be attacking the hard-working people who work for the City of Bethlehem," he said.

Bernotas then suggested that the Planning Commission was about to "rubber stamp" the proposed ordinance, but Fiorentino described that as an "improper metaphor," pointing to the numerous meetings that have occurred.

Almost immediately after this exchange, Planner Steve Thode moved they recommend the Zoning Ordinance to City Council. His motion passed unanimously.

Next stop, City Council.


Olive Peele said...

Bernotas can do no better than a personal attack to make his point. Darlene Heller is an intelligent, hard working and dedicated employee of the city. It makes no difference that she resides in allentown - there is no requirement for city employees to live in the city. When you want the best possible people working for you you do not stop at the city line.

This council wannabee should be ashamed of himself for this blatant personal attack. He owes Ms. Heller a public apology.

Kudos to the board for calling him on it.

Anonymous said...

to Olive - Based on you view, why not go out of Bethlehem for the BEST MAYOR, CITY COUNCIL, ETC. and every other elected official but which I don't believe would be good. Now with that said, Al Bernotas is right!! Anyone making decisions governing our cities looks and neighborhoods SHOULD LIVE AND BE A TAXPAYER of Bethlehem, AMEN!!

Anonymous said...

This is Bernotas' style: attack without having any knowledge of what he is talking about and hope it sticks. He attacked City Council and the Mayor over the budget, but when Bobby Walsh asked him what he would do differently on his conservative-friendly radio show, he didn't have an intelligent response. And it's a shame, because City Council needs conservative and intelligent members.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Its's certainly true that many cities do impose a residency requirement. I'll even agree that residents tend to be better employees. But I consider Ms. Heller a consummate professional who appears to have done an excellent job with planning in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

Amen Bernie


Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie,

I think Darlene Heller has worked for the City longer than Mr. Bernatos has lived in the City.

Just Curious said...

Bernie, you said, "Its's certainly true that many cities do impose a residency requirement."

How many cities impose a residency requirement? How many in the region? How many in Pennsylvania? How many in the country?

PS "It's" = it is

Olive said...


You have just shown what a complete fool you are. Of course elected officials must be residents of Bethlehem. You don't have to be a bethlehemite to be able to make intelligent decisions. Try to think before you continue to blunder.

Doc Rock said...


Are you suggesting that, in addition to limiting City of Bethlehem employees to residents of the city, you would also eliminate renters in Bethlehem who are retired or not currently employed?

Nice plantation you'd set up there, massa!

Anonymous said...

Darlene is actually one of the best Planners in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Her years of experience in developing plans and policy for land use are top shelf. The City of Bethlehem is frankly lucky to have Darlene Heller working for them. The amount of money she has saved them and the bringing about consensus on a very difficult situation is worth a pot of gold. This council candidate is nothing more than a Gadfly Politician that is most likely a failure in his own career and life!!

Bernie O'Hare said...


Yes, It's = It is. I wrote "Its's," one of many typos I make daily.

I have no idea exactly how many cities impose a residency requirement, and have seen no statistical data. But if you google "City government residency requirement," you'll say page after page on the topic, and it is obvious many city governments do impose such a requirement.

An interesting piece from the FOP is here.


Anonymous said...

Funny. Page after page pops up on Google if you search "city government without residency requirement," too. I guess "many" is relative and therefore not "certainly true."

Anonymous said...

why the attack on residency requirements. Bernie said many cities have the requirement, true statement. the flip side is many dod not. Big deal.

Elected officials I agree should be city residents, but for filling other positions the best for the job should get the job independent of residency. We want the best, no?


Anonymous said...

I think not living in the city and being a Planning Officer is not as bad as NOT living in the city and being a Zoning Officer! BIG DIFFERENCE!!! The ZONING OFFICER SHOULD LIVE IN BETHLEHEM and so should everyone on the ZONING BOARD and the PLANNING BOARD. Remember, it wouldn't get to Planning if it didn't first get through Zoning, get the drift!

Also, to Anonymous who said: Darlene Heller has saved us a lot of money - could you please explain who US is and HOW HAS SHE HAS SAVED US A LOT OF MONEY? Do you mean the residence of Bethlehem or do you mean she has saved the DEVELOPERS who don't live in Bethlehem A LOT OF MONEY!!!!

Look at how much money Abe Atiyah and others including many Zoning Lawyers have donated a LOT of money to the Mayor and some City Council members and if they all could, they would donate their money to the Zoning Officer and Zoning Hearing Board and the Planning Board but Thank God that can't happen legally anyhow. Now tell me there isn't any partiality in the decisions that get made in our city and I'll eat my hat!!!

Everything, whether in City Hall or the various Boards just gets rubber stamped according to what the politicians send down the grapevine. (This is MY personal opinion).

Bernie O'Hare said...

Just a few points. I believe all members of the Planning Comm'n and ZHB are City residents, and I would agree that public officials in the City, who cast votes that affect people's lives, should live there.

As for the "rubber stamp" issue, the ZHB took it on the chin after its decision n the Elias case. Not only did City Council intervene, but it expanded the size of the Board from 3 to 5 members. If the ZHB were a rubber stamp, why would this have happened.

City Council was also considering a "super majority" requirement for the ZHB. A majority of City Council supported it. Not only did the Planning Commission refuse to recommend this change, but they physically appeared and spoke to City Council. If Planning were a rubber stamp, wouldn't they just have gone along?

ZHBs and Planning Commissions are both very important in any municipality and reflect what that municipality will look like down the road. Bethlehem might just be the most beautiful urban core in the entire state. That's a testament not only to the citizens, but to the boards that serve them.

They will make unpopular decisions, as they did in Elias. They will make controversial decisions, as they did with Abe Atiyeh.

I am fairly tough on municipal government and its officials, but I have a high regard for Bethlehem's ZHB and Planning Comm'n. That's probably bc most of their members are not pols.

Doc Rock said...

Planning Commission members receive no compensation whatsoever. They serve out of a love for and dedication to the City of Bethlehem and its residents. They do not "rubber stamp" anything, nor does the Planning Commission legislate anything.

Indeed, the City of Bethlehem Planning Commission is a model of transparency, openness, and respect for public comment.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, if all members who cast votes must live in Bethlehem, why doesn't the Zoning officer and/or Planning Officer have to live there also. Any decisions that comes from either one of those people has a great effect on Bethlehem. People definitely care more about decisions that effect a place where they live and pay taxes. No brainer on that one!! Maybe its time to start making some changes in who must live where before there is no residential areas left!!!!
Thanks Bernie for your comments :)

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Planning Commission members receive no compensation whatsoever. They serve out of a love for and dedication to the City of Bethlehem and its residents."

I think they do it for the babes.

Trudi Rowkowski said...

all these anons with such high opinions. BUT with not enough balls to use their name - what a joke

Anonymous said...

sometimes you have to stay annon unfortunutely...your job may depend on it

Anonymous said...

I am not the one that raised this issue but I wonder if the one that did can answer the question he or she raised?

Just how much money has Ms. Heller saved the city of Bethlehem? And what exceptional developement plans and policies has she initiated and implemented for Bethlehem?

Bernie do you know?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I do not know what Ms. Heller is paid or whether she has saved Bethlehem money. I do know that she has been an effective planner. I posted a blog about it last April, and invite you to look it over.


Anonymous said...

To Trudi Rowkowski...
If you are going to attach your name and blog, why don't you put something substantial on the record instead of finding fault with people who truly care about their city.

Did you ever think that employees of the city find fault in the way that City Hall is run but can't say anything for fear it would mean their jobs! Trudi, put your thinking cap on....

Everyone keeps saying how the Planning Board doesn't get paid - that is really GREAT and thank you Planning Board for your time - but the Planning Officer (who gives her opinion to the Planning Board and who sits there at every Planning meeting - carries a lot of weight) and DOES GET PAID and who doesn't live in the city but should, and that counts for a lot!!!!!! Does Christine Bartleson live in the City of Bethlehem?

Bernie O'Hare said...

She does.