Thursday, April 28, 2016
Zoners Ponder Offices in Bethlehem's Historic District
They will make a decision at their May 25 meeting, but with only four members. Vice Chair Bill Fitzpatrick declared he had a potential conflict of interest at the onset, and recused himself.
Zoning attorney Jim Preston, who represented Morning Star Partners,called Mark Bahnick from Van Cleef Engineering to explain what is being proposed. The Morning Star property includes a single-family residence facing West Market, a garage, two apartments and two retail businesses facing North New Street, known as the green buildings. The home, known as the Schadt house, is a single-family residence built in the 1840s. The green buildings, first built in the 1820s, are retail establishments and once included the manufacturer of brass instruments for the Moravian Church. These all pre-dated Bethlehem's zoning ordinance, and thus the mixed use of residential and commercial was grandfathered, It is called a "non-conforming use."
Bahnick explained plans toe xtend that nonconforming use by converting the single family home, as well as the retail buildings, into office space for Morning Star. Construction manager Jim Kostecky testified that Morning Star would invest $64,000 into exterior and another $722,000 for interior improvements for an office building with 14 employees.
Kori Lannon explained that she and three other financial advisers at Merrill Lynch, broke away to found their own firm under the tutelage of Herman Rij. It's called Quadrant Private Wealth. She said this property represents an opportunity for her firm to "become part of the fabric of Historic Bethlehem." She added that what they would do would be "would be good for the neighborhood, good for Historic Bethlehem." She said she "wants to restore this building to what it was in its heyday. We want it to be majestic, and yet we want it to blend in with the neighborhood."
These plans were opposed by a trio of Historic Bethlehem residents that include Bruce Haines, Beall Fowler and Robert Romeril. They generally oppose extension of business in the Historic District. Haines argued that Morning Star could establish their business on West Broad Street,and would need no relief at all if they abindined the mixed use for pure residential. But according to Zoning Officers Suzanne Borzak, as many as seven apartments could be placed on the property's footprint.
Many more residents support the application. Suzanne Virgilio, who with her husband owns and operates the nearby Bethlehem Inn, produced a supportive petition signed by 114 Historic District residents.
The project also received the support of several merchants. Steve Kershner, who owns and operates the Twisted Olive, bluntly stated, "Business drives business." Diane Holt, owner of the Apollo Grill, said there needs to be a good mix of residences and businesses in Bethlehem. "We have a lot of empty stores right now. We have businesses that are leaving because of the NIZ in Allentown. ... We cannot afford to lose any more companies or any more stores." Holt drew a stark contrast between Rij, who has invested heavily in Bethlehem businesses and even its mounted police and "developers who do not even live in our City.
Herman Rij,Morning Star's senior partner, told the Zoning Hearing Board he said he was "overwhelmed" by all the support his project has been received. He thanked Brice Haines and Beall Fowler for suggesting that they could find other locations. "Unfortunately, in a capitalistic system, we're allowed to acquire property and make investments where we choose to do so," he added.
He'll discover whether he's right when the Zoning Hearing Board decides this matter on May 25.