Would you like to live next to a 500,000-volt power line? That's one of the questions that Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board considered at their June 28 meeting. Their answer was No.
At one time, the area near a 500,000-volt electrical transmission line along 2505 Ringhoffer Road was zoned industrial. When Jay Pichel decided that's where he'd like to expand his self-storage business, he had no problem getting the necessary approvals. But he was sidetracked by other projects until earlier this year. He was shocked, though not with 500,000 volts, to discover that this land was completely rezoned when Bethlehem updated its zoning ordinance. He's surrounded by a landfill, industrial park and power plant. A liquefied natural gas tower is in the works next door. But his 22 acres on Ringhoffer Road is now zoned residential. Pichel was forced to seek a use variance from the Zoning Hearing Board.
Taking no chances, Pichel was represented by prominent Bethlehem zoning attorney Jim Holzinger. He already has a self-storage business on Applebutter Rd, and plans to build 120 self-storage units at the Ringhoffer Road site. He is unable to build under the transmission line, which is a 200' wide easement.
"We'll probably fill this up as soon as we build it," he explained, noting a high demand for self-storage. His units are 10' x 20', and will be about 20' high. He added that his monthly rent is $119 per month. He plans to hang a small sign on one of the buildings, but said there's no need to advertise.
Pichel also retained well-regarded Professional Engineer Kevin Horvath to describe his self-storage center. Horvath presented a design for the facility and told the Board that this would have virtually no impact on traffic in the area. He also questioned the rationale for a residential use next to a 500,000-volt transmission line. "It's not a place I'd want to live."
Pichel's third witness and closer was real estate broker and appraiser Bob Miklas He chairs the NorCo Revenue Appeals Board, so he understands property values. But more importantly in this matter, Miklas worked for 20 years as a fire protection supervisor with PPL.
Miklas described what it's like near a 500,000-volt transmission line. You can hear the electricity surging through the lines, and there is always static electricity in the air. As an appraiser, he said that a residential use was the least desirable option for this property
The Zoning Hearing Board unanimously agreed. Gus Loupos, Bill Fitzpatrick, Linda Shay Gardner, Mike Santanasto and Jim Schantz all voted to grant what is known as a variance so a commercial use could occur in a residential district.
A little more controversial was the request for a dimensional variance made by David Gardner, principal of River Run Apartments. His company owns a three-unit apartment complex along the east side of Siegfried St, behind the Valley Farm Market. His deed also includes a tract at the southwest corner of Irene and Livingston Street. He'd like to build three rental townhouses there. But doing so would require a dimensional variance for the 108 units he already has in place.
Jim Preston, another Bethlehem attorney well-versed in land use issues, represented Gardner. He called Mark Bahnick, a well-respected engineer with Van Cleef who has testified before the Zoning Hearing Board on many occasions. Bahnick told the Board there's no recorded plan for this apartment complex, and hence no one is sure why the tract at Irene and Livingston is there.
Two residents along Livingston Street, Linda Brinker and Carol Weidner, were very concerned about traffic. Weidner noted that a fellow living across the street on Livingston has already been hit three times. "Somebody's going to get hurt," she warned.
Kevin Kelleher, acting as Solicitor in this matter, told both Brinker and Weidner that those concerns can be expressed during the planning process or with the traffic coordinator.
The Zoning Hearing Board unanimously granted this variance.
In other matters, they voted to allow Tiffany Henne to build a deck at her Raymond Avenue property slightly larger than is permitted.They also agreed to permit David Link to build a combination carport and shed on a vacant tract at 1509 Clover Avenue, about 100' from his residence.