Bethlehem City Council's controversial rezoning of the 52-acre Martin Tower is supposed to jump start development at the long vacant site, including the possible demolition of the iconic 21-story former Bethlehem Steel headquarters. While City official wait for a master plan, they've been greeted by something else - a lawsuit. Two Downtown Historic Bethlehem businesses have been joined by one South side business and four families to file a land use appeal of the rezoning decision. Filed in Lehigh County Court on January 13, the lawsuit is a procedural challenge to the new zoning ordinance.
Distinguished land use and zoning attorney Marc Kaplin, who maintains a practice in Blue Bell, filed the land use appeal on behalf of Hotel Bethlehem, Donegal Square, the Taylor Family Gas Station and residents Rocco and Electra D'Amato, Steven and Barbara Diamond, Clint and Sonia Walker, Deni Thurman-Eyer and Robert Romeril.
According to the 196-page filing, two critical errors doomed the zoning ordinance, which was adopted by City Council by a 6-1 vote at their December 15, 2015 meeting. First, Planning Director Darlene Heller made changes to the ordinance on August 28, 2015, which were transmitted to Council without review by the Planning Commission. Second, after City Council itself proposed some amendments to the ordinance, Heller failed to provide those changes to the Planning Commission at least 30 days in advance of a hearing.
According to the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), amendments proposed by a governing body like City Council must be submitted to the Planning Commission at least 30 days in advance of a hearing. They must also be provided with changes unilaterally made by the Planning Director.
Because the City failed to follow the procedural requirements set forth in the MPC, Attorney Kaplin argued that the ordinance adopted on December 15 is void on its face.
You can read the Complaint here.