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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Former Albarell Business Site To Be a Residence

Annjanette Trinidad
Would you rather have a McDonald's or another residence next to your home? That was one of many questions considered on June 25 when Bethlehem zoners were asked to allow Michael Albarell to convert a commercial building behind the family home at 1358 Easton Avenue into another residence. Next door neighbors Christine and John Dewhurst, not only objected, but paraded an appraiser who actually claimed, as an expert, that it's always better to have a business next to you than a home.

Formed in 1937 on South Side Bethlehem's East Third Street, Albarell Electric has established itself as a leader in providing electrical services to the Lehigh Valley, with customers that extend from St. Luke's Riverside campus to TD Bank. The company now has three different locations. But for many years, it was housed in a building behind the residence where Michael Albarell grew up and where his mother and aunt resided.

Instead of running a business at the site, Albarell sought a "special exception" to allow him to deconvert the business into a residence. Under zoning laws, this must be allowed so long as the proposed use does not seriously infringe the health, safety and welfare of the community. Represented by Bethlehem Attorney Jim Holzinger, Albarell argued that a residence at that site would be more in character with the neighborhood. It would mean less traffic. No noxious fumes. No signage.

Not so, protested next door neighbor Christine Dewhurst, who repeatedly stated that "the City should take an interest in this property." She would prefer to see the building knocked down. But if it has to stay, she would prefer a commercial use. And a 12' high fence. Then she broke down in tears.

Dewhurst also introduced real estate appraiser William Stoerrle, who told zoners that a deconversion from commercial to residential would decrease Dewhurst's property value by at least ten per cent. He maintained that residential properties are enhanced by commercial uses next door because businesses take better care of their property.

"Are you suggesting that if i had a single family home next to a McDonald's, it would be worth more than one next to another single family home?" asked Attorney Holzinger.

- "Yes."

"Would a tattoo parlor have a positive impact on a property next door?"

- "Yes."

"A hot dog shop?"

Zoners unanimously granted Albarell's special exception request.

Right after Albarell, they entertained a similar request from Norman Roberts, who owns 10 W. Market Street. That property consists of two apartments, as well as a commercial use on the first floor. Roberts asked zoners to allow a special exception that would permit a "handsome" first floor apartment with a fireplace in the bed room, one he likes so much he plans to move there himself in a few years. At one time, a well known dress shop called "10 West" operated there.

This property is located in the Historic District. Bruce Haines, a principal at Hotel Bethlehem, is quite active in the Historic District. He told zoners that, while he would he would prefer to see just two apartments, "I applaud Mr. Roberts for eliminating one of the few remaining nonconforming commercial uses in the Historic District."

By a unanimous vote, zoners agreed to grant the special exception.

In a busy night, zoners also granted variances for sheds on properties owned by Kent and Victoria Aitchison at 2752 Walker Street, as well as for Daniel Gerlach at 3173 Center Street. Both sheds are located in front yards. In Gerlach's case, he told zoners that his back yard is so steep that he's unable to get his lawn tractor out for snow removal in the winter. For the Aitchisons, they actually have a property with two front yards.

Maxine Gillespie, who lives next to the Aithisons, told zoners, "I've never seen a shed in the front of a house. Ever."

The Aitchisons plan to mask the shed, which they called "very tasteful", with hemlock plants.

Finally, zoners gave permission to Annjanette Trinidad to operate a family daycare at 1353 Crestwood Road, for a maximum number of six children between ages 3 and 5. Trinidad, who has a degree in education, told the board she would provide a "stay at home feel plus quality education."

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