Thursday, June 23, 2016
Benner Gets Green Light for $5.5 MM Apartment Building Next to OBT
The vote was 3-0 because two members of the Board recused themselves. Attorney Michael Santanasto has represented some members of the Casilio family, while Attorney Linda Shay Gardner's husband has publicly supported the project.
Attorney Chris Spadoni, representing the OBT, objected to continuing with just three Zoning Hearing Board members, complaining his client is "deprived of a full board." But Solicitor Erich Schock asked, "How does that prejudice you? The vote dynamic does not change." He noted there is no difference between a 3-2 vote and a 2-1 vote. The hearing went on, but the Board did vote unanimously to seek alternates.
Benner was represented by his father, Dennis Benner.
Garrett presented photographs of the exterior and interior of the old warehouse, noting that the building is "tattooed with graffiti" and that there are numerous broken windows. "Things have become progressively worse over the past several months," he said.
"Is that a picture of an abandoned car inside?" asked Bill Fitzpatrick. Garrett acknowledged that there were various cars inside the building, on the first floor.
Benner's plan is to use the building footprint as a garage for parking 39 cars on the first two levels. He will use an adjoining lot 114 Spruce street to provide 18 additional parking spots. Then he will build three floors on top of the two existing garage floors with 15 two-bedroom and 18 one-bedroom apartments. Fixtures will be stainless steel and granite. Most apartments will have their own balcony, and the rents will be between $1,200 and $1,500 a month.
Benner met with downtown Bethlehem merchants concerning this project, and he received a letter of support from the Downtown Business Association, penned by Donegal Square's Neville Garner. "The greenest building is often the building that is already built," said Gardner. He added that the apartment building will "support small business when finished."
But Spadoni, representing the OBT, was concerned that tenants will complain about the bar, which he claimed can get a bit rowdy. "We want to be protected," he said.
The OBT was the only objector.
After deliberation, the Zoning Hearing Board imposed three condition on their 3-0 approval. First, all leases must state that the apartment is located next to a bar and restaurant facility, Second, windows are prohibited at the apartment on the west end. Third, Benner must provide as much buffering as possible from the OBT.
In other business, the Board voted unanimously to approve two sign variances along Wood Street for Moravian Village. Attorney Bill Matz argued that the signs would blend into the surrounding area, which is owned by Moravian Village. Also, Cheryl Hoch was granted permission to build a 12' x 12' porch at 1025 laurel Drive, so long as it is not enclosed.