Friday, January 15, 2016

Martin Tower Rezoning leads to Lehigh County Land Use Appeal

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.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a friggin' mess!!!

Anonymous said...

The August changes were on the recommendation of the Planning Commission. Do they have to be resubmitted to them?

The December vote was on Dec 15, and the Planning Commission was sent the amendments on Nov 12. They didn't vote on Dec 8.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out, and to see a judge unpack this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The August changes were not entirely the recommendation of the Planning Commission. That's why the lawsuit maintains they should have been reviewed again.

The November changes were forwarded to the Planning Commission on November 12, which gave them less than 30 days to review the proposed changes before the December 8 meeting. According to the lawsuit, this is fatal error.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, with the lovely City of Bethlehem, the only way to get them to get their attention is to punch them in the nose. This is great. They won't learn, but maybe they will bleed.

Anonymous said...

People now wonder why Mayor Donchez is feeling low?? He was pushed into taking on Callahan Clan member A.Karner when her dream of Northampton County DCED chief went the way of County Executive Callahan. Some quick maneuvering for her got her this job. The staff is freaked out and she lives in Bangor, so why care about the city? Even some early supporters are shaking their heads.

This is exactly the arrogant and in your face type of style that made her few friends in the county.

Anonymous said...

1:17,

BINGO!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Bob was not helped by his St.Sen friend on this one.

Anonymous said...

4:54,
You are right. She did him dirty with AK. Time for him to man up, rid himself of this foul-mouthed albatross and just be plain honest instead of hiding.

Anonymous said...

Bob is looking like a one termer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another law suit and even more cost to the citizens.

Ron Beitler said...

Earlier this morning I read about the lawsuit and then posted on someones FB "be prepared for accusations that you are wasting taxpayer dollars" And there it is @anon 7:18 right on cue.

Making government accountable to defend non-transperant dealings is always money well spent. We got accused of this in Lower Mac with lawsuit over totally shady Jaindl deal 2010 board struck behind closed doors.

Ron Beitler said...

*transparent

Anonymous said...

7:55,

I was aiming my 7:18 comment at the administration not the people filling the lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

This lawsuit is squarely on Karner. Darlene has been a planner for so long, and has performed so well, I doubt she forgot about the MPC suddenly.

I think she's got a boss that doesn't care about technicalities, rules or procedures.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks for another law suit and even more cost to the citizens."

Your "complaint" is invalid if in fact the procedure prescribed by the MPC was not followed. That is essentially the "law". If you break the law, there are consequences. These procedures are put in place to prevent government from abusing its authority.

Bernie - I see now how the August changes may be challenged. I didn't notice the unilateral changes. The December challenge I still don't see, if no vote took place on Dec 8.

Anonymous said...

The Boyd's first flick when it opens will be donchez and karner starring in "Silence of the Inbred"

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:58, Please read the complaint. I have linked to it, and i think it answers your assertions. According to the Complaint and the MPC, the Planning Commission must get the proposed changes at least thirty days before the next hearing of the governing body. That was on December 8. Darlene Heller sent the proposed changes to the LVPC in a timely manner on November 5, but for some reason, waited until November 12 to send them to the city planning body. Thus, the Planning Commission did not get the 30-day review period required before the December 8 hearing. It does not matter when the vote occurred. Now I have no idea of the merits of this lawsuit and am no expert by any means on these matters.

In August, after two meetings with the PC, Heller incorporated changes made by the PC, but added some tweaks from the city, too. According to the Complaint, this makes another review before planners necessary. I don't know what changes Darlene is alleged to have made for the city, just that is what is alleged.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Heller the Planning Commission Secretary? If she is and she received the planning changes from the City on Nov. 5th and Council met on Dec. 8th , then the 30 day review period was met.

Bernie O'Hare said...

She is the PC Secretary, and I can see that argument.

Anonymous said...

@10:40AM I overlooked that point. If the PC secretary had the materials on Nov 5, then I believe it could be argued that the 30-day period was met for Dec 8. Good eye.

Anonymous said...

BO if that is true , then this complaint is done with.

Anonymous said...

Bernie - here is 609(c):
"In the case of an amendment other than that prepared by the planning agency, the governing body shall submit each such amendment to the planning agency at least 30 days prior to the hearing on such proposed amendment to provide the planning agency an opportunity to submit recommendations."

It doesn't say the "next" hearing, but rather "the" hearing on the proposed amendment. Not having been there on Dec 8, I don't know what was discussed. To me, it is possible that it could be argued the "hearing on such proposed amendment" could be the one at which it was voted on - Dec 15. In other words, as long as the PC could get its response back before the vote, that would satisfy the requirement. But I am not a lawyer, and don't know all the facts of the case.

Anonymous said...

meant to add ... and it doesn't matter that the PC cancelled its Dec 7 meeting, since its role is advisory only.

Anonymous said...

Truth is that booby d and the foul mouth wannabe dced, (thank you lisa b)as well as wee willie and most of the inept council tried to shove this right down the citizens and businesses throats as they all got great contributions to their war chests. Nothing but political dem sluts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:07, I see your point. The public hearing was set for December 8. That is when Martin Tower was discussed. The vote occurred on December 15. I think the MPC is designed so that the PC can respond prior top the hearing, noit the vote. I wonder whether the PC's cancelation of the hearing can be considered a response of some sorts. Also, as someone pointed out, Darlense is the Sec'y to the PC, so when she had notice of the changes, did the PC effectively have notice? Does it really have to be put into the hands of individual Planning Commissioners? I don't know.

I am more concerned about the changes mnade in August. It is true that Darlene incorporated changes recommended by the PC. But if she also tweaked it herself, and then just forarded without further review by the PC, that could be a problem. But I am unsure whether she did any tweaking at all.

Anonymous said...

"I am more concerned about the changes mnade in August. It is true that Darlene incorporated changes recommended by the PC. But if she also tweaked it herself, and then just forarded without further review by the PC, that could be a problem. But I am unsure whether she did any tweaking at all."

The tweaks were to the range of percentages the PC recommended be put in. The City Admin adjusted them before sending it to Council. But it is moot, since the Evans Amendment replaced that entire section with the square footage limitations. Council changed it, and sent it back for re-review. Those changes were never enacted. Moot point.

Also, the MPC says planning agency. Heller is the Director of the City's Planning Dept. and secretary of the planning commission. The MPC defines "Planning agency," as "a planning commission, planning department, or a planning committee of the governing body." Think Heller meets the requirements.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I get you, but that still bothers me. Don't buy the mootness argument at all. I do buy in to Darlene being Secy to the PC and that notice to her may very well be notice to the PC. Fortunately, I don't have to argue or decide this.

Anonymous said...

plain and simple. donchez and karner used heller. their silence is deafening.

Anonymous said...

I will represent Haines and the others in trying to get their money back from their lawyer. LOL. What are they thinking? Shouldn't they know all of this before they make fools of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Maybe it is just yet another ploy of allentowns circus subsect acting as a browne hole tool of the back midway media mans manipulation of the bearded woman¿!($ This shit slinging subsects tools are limitless as some are ruthless and do care very little as to risk of human life¿! ($ This seperation of state and real property aqwisitional crew is moot because the root here is reel property aand politic parasitism and the real estate trade off go hand in hand in this massive madofff ponzie scheem¿! ($

Hence why does one h ha ve to sit on boards and commisions appointed by said NBA ctor no3 only to be m mm aappointed to an appointment of the valley¿! ($ The numbers will match the fictisious ccalculations put to print for the false sack o goods sold to the public as mass media showmanship here and abroad throughout the Back US with palumpas pension proCUREment allocations of missapropreations! ($

snakeoilsalesmenship stories of the triboro infecting public and private sectors put all together with one mathmatical equasion put to print¿! ($

redd for Republican
patent pending

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anonymous, Esquire?

Matt McClarin said...

I don't understand why this was not a landowner curative amendment. It seems more often then not developers hide behind city or township officials when it comes to these decisions. With a landowner curative amendment the landowner foots some of the bill and brings his ideas to the table to be scrutinized. When it is done strictly by the city instead you get public officials doing the work of the developer at the taxpayers expense. In Lower Saucon this has been done recently both ways Landowner/Silver Creek Country Club and Municipality/IESI Landfill. I can tell you from witnessing both it is much better government for the landowner to handle it. The only negative I can see from having the developer involved in the process is it lets someone challenge the zoning on the basis of spot zoning easier. The planning commission along with council need to look at the change on a broad scale, that's why the county and city have comprehensive plans. These changes need to be looked at not only for the current owner but any future owners too. If this goes back to the beginning Bethlehem residents should ask that the owner bring the changes to the table. I grew up on 8th Avenue and my grandfather worked in Martin Tower, but I haven't given the zoning change much thought since I no longer live there. If I did live there the first place i would look for an answer is the comprehensive plans. My grandmother lives in west Bethlehem still, and I talked about the change with her. I know now the negative sentiment for some public officials has made it to many long time residents. As public officials and politicians they are there to question developers but not do there work. The need to bring jobs and development into a community and campaign donations should not blind them from who they really work for or the plans they need to follow.

Anonymous said...

Ouch¿!)$
Morn Bernie,
Can't wait to read opinions to see the snakeoil twist on this fine weekend that is true looking up for most of the valley as the criminality incubated as well as nutured has infected the triboro area for much too long and we will soon be seeing the reel master manipulators and perpatrators doing the perp walk hoppfully OZ will also be seen by the populus¿!($

Please consult as my words are twiZted and undescrptive yet very descrptive¿!($

The proud owner of a bottle o snakeoil de cure all¿!($ Must go see doc this morning because the snakeoilZ soldsideeffects that one must sign a waiver to reside on the perifreal boundries of the nue nue nue ReNue ReLocation epicentral of the original circu location¿!($

redd for Republican
patent pending

Anonymous said...

Ouch¿!)$
Morn Bernie,
Can't wait to read opinions to see the snakeoil twist on this fine weekend that is true looking up for most of the valley as the criminality incubated as well as nutured has infected the triboro area for much too long and we will soon be seeing the reel master manipulators and perpatrators doing the perp walk hoppfully OZ will also be seen by the populus¿!($

Please consult as my words are twiZted and undescrptive yet very descrptive¿!($

The proud owner of a bottle o snakeoil de cure all¿!($ Must go see doc this morning because the snakeoilZ soldsideeffects that one must sign a waiver to reside on the perifreal boundries of the nue nue nue ReNue ReLocation epicentral of the original circu location¿!($

redd for Republican
patent pending