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Board approves W. Geopp St. plan

Two items on the Zoning Hearing Board’s Aug. 26 agenda, 412 Elmhurst and Spring Creek Road, were postponed until Sept. 23.

Otherwise, the first case heard was a continuation of the appeal by the owner of 10-16 W. Geopp St. Plamen Ayvazov, on behalf of Monocacy General Contracting, LLC was seeking to convert the building into 16 or seven apartments, a mix of efficiency, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Ayvazov was represented by attorney James J. Holzinger. They began by amending their petition, reducing the number of planned apartments to 12 units, and removing their request for parking space relief.

Holzinger described the changes to the site plan that created additional parking spaces, including the moving back of an office on the first floor, to open up three more spaces. Twelve spaces on the second floor would be dedicated to the apartments on the second and third floors. Six overflow parking spaces would be on the entrance ramp to the second floor parking area.

Questions were taken from the board and the community. The answers verified that no on Street parking was needed, that the ramp would be well marked as to where one could drive and where one could park, and that the ground floor spaces would be under cover. Zoning officer Craig Pfeifer was called upon to verify that the first floor spaces met code, and that enough spaces were included in the plan.

Architect Christine Ussler was called to describe the apartments in the updated plan. The first floor would have two one bedroom units, with access from the street. The second floor would have one two bedroom unit, and six one bedroom units. The third floor would have one two bedroom unit, and two one bedroom units. Holzinger asked Ussler if the building’s current condition could be called blighted. She said yes, it could. Holzinger asked if residential was the only visible development option for the property, and Ussler agreed it was. She added that three and four bedroom units were “not desirable” to consumers. She confirmed there were no play areas in the building or on the property.

Thomas Benedict, of Etwein Street, questioned how six parking spots would fit on the ramp. Ussler indicated the site plan, and explained there were four spots on one aide, and two on the other. Benedict asked how the spaces would impact his adjoining property. Holzinger replied that because of the ramp’s slope, cars would not encroach on Benedict’s property.

Mike Rescia asked if the price of the apartments would change with the reduced number of units in the plan. Holzinger recalled the owner to answer. Ayvazov said the prices had not changed, and would range from $900 to $1,300, depending on the size of the apartment.

Jill Siebert told the owner, “We appreciate your hearing us from the last hearing, and thank you.”

Ayvazov responded, “We tried to do as much as we can, we don’t want to (negatively) impact your lives.”

The board voted to approve the new plan, subject to the dedication of first and second floor spots, and that the number of units would stay the same as described in the plan.

The next case was 1820 Elm St. Property owner Michael Snyder was seeking a dimensional variance to allow a lean-to shed, and an outdoor patio in his backyard. Snyder’s backyard runs along the side yard of his neighbor, whose house faces Jennings Street.

As often happens with self-represented owners, the plan presented lacked an important element. Hearing Board attorney Erik Schock explained the presented plan lacked the public streets. A Google map was consulted, and provided street names and a good topographical representation of the area.

The property features a low concrete wall. At the end of the wall, near where the side of the house joins the rear, is a gravel filled pad, which the property owner surmised was intended for a shed. The proposed shed would be seven feet from the property line. The patio would be 17 feet from the property line. The patio would have a perforated pipe drain that would carry rainwater towards Jennings Street.

Board member Peter Schneck asked if the shed would have electrical service to it. Snyder said no, and went on to describe the shed. It would have 2 by 4 constructed walls, and a shingled roof. The floor of the shed will be secured to the concrete wall. Snyder said the he was “trying to maximize minimal square footage with the placement.”

Board member Terry Novatnick asked if the patio would be sloped. Snyder replied it would be pitched, with a drain at the grill spot. The patio would be constructed of stone and sand.

Schock asked if there was any restriction on placement of sheds. Pfeiffer responded that she’s are not allowed in front yards and placement in side yards is considered by the city to be less desirable than placement in a rear yard. He said the site will be reviewed by himself and the building officer.

The board granted the variance, conditioned upon inspections and a fence being placed at the patio portion of the rear yard.

The final case was 1400 E. Fourth St. Marian Yarteh was seeking a use variance to allow for auto repairs and auto sales at the site. Yarteh and her partner Ibrahim Camara own a towing business, which itself is a permitted use of the site. Camara explained he had already invested in a new, quieter tow truck for the business. He said his goal for the site is to have a presence in Bethlehem, to reduce the time people must wait for a tow truck. Yarteh said the property had previously been used for auto sales. However, the auto sales took place about thirty years ago.

The site Is bordered at the rear by the backs of a row of houses. An oil company is its other close neighbor.

There was some discussion as to what constituted a repair shop, versus a junkyard. While the city zoning ordinance is vague, the state mandates that vehicles be removed after 30 days.

Camara said he hoped to do repairs on site, including oil changes, axle repairs, and brake jobs. He said larger jobs would be sent to their Allentown shop, EA Autos, on Union Boulevard. Chairman Fitzpatrick asked if oil would be stored on site. Camara said a company would remove some oil. He also said he would offer state auto inspections, and one or two rental cars for customers. He has a hydraulic lift on site, but it has not yet been installed.

Yarteh is a Penn Dot Notary. She said while she does not yet offer notary services at the 4th Street location, there is room in the building for a notary office, a sales office, and a towing office, and would meet all Penn Dot regulations.

The car sales would come from auto auctions. Camara planned to sell 10-20 cars, and repair about two cars daily.

Neighbor Jeff Szilagyi, who owns the neighboring oil company, asked for proposed business hours.

Camara and Yarteh proposed seven days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for a 5 p.m. closure on Sundays. Towing would be 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Both Szilagyi and another neighbor, Rajwinder Nagral, expressed concern about oil leaks and other potential contaminants.

Glenn Perreira owns the Fourth Street property with his wife. He said he was trying to find a buyer for the property, but his wife was reluctant to sell, and so it is being rented to Yarteh and Camara on a three year lease.

Szilagyi brought up the Gateway to Bethlehem neighborhood plan. He and Nagral both suggested the towing and auto sales business did not fit the plan.

The board voted to deny the use variances. This would still permit the towing business on the site. The zoning officer plans to meet with the business owners to help them proceed.

The Zoning Hearing Board will meet again Sept. 9 and 23.

Press photos by Lani Goins The first floor site plan for 10-16 W. Geopp St.
A Google map of 1820 Elm St. The red arrow shows where stormwater would flow.
A Google map of 1400 E. Fourth St. The red pin indicates the towing company location.