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Developer seeks several variances

It was snowing outside as the last meeting of the city Zoning Hearing Board began Dec. 16.

The first case was 543 and 545 Hillside Ave. Developer Louis Intile was seeking variances to allow him to keep a gravel parking pad unpaved, and to avoid having to plant trees on the property. He was also seeking a lot width variance. Intile was represented by attorney James Preston. Preston explained the plan for the site was to remove and replace an existing building. Both Intile and his attorney participated virtually.

Intile described himself as a developer of student housing, and also of historic properties. He described the site as being one third of the way up Hillside Avenue, and across from the Zoellner parking deck for Lehigh University. He described the existing house on the site as “not quite a tiny home, but small.” He added the home also had major issues, including wiring, an older HVAC system, steep staircases, a leaky roof, crumbling walls, and rotted floors.

The house is presently occupied by students, but their lease is ending.

Intile indicated he had already met with Zoning Officer Craig Pfeiffer; Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Karner; and Building Inspector Mike Simonson regarding the project.

An alley, Rockhill, runs behind the property, and that is where the parking area is located and exits from. Intile described the neighborhood as mostly twins, with some rowhomes. He added the neighborhood is 95 percent rental apartments for students. Attorney Preston asked him if the other homes in the neighborhood would conform to today’s zoning ordinance. Intile responded he felt that most would require zoning relief. He said to rehab the existing building on his property would “need a magic wand, and still would be functionally obsolete.

For the parking area, Intile proposed repairing the existing fence, adding signage and fixing the stairs leading to the backyard of the property.

Board member Peter Schneck asked, “You’re not going to delineate parking [spaces]?”

Intile said he would not, but could put curb markers where the parking area meets the lawn. He said he considered the stone in the parking area as drainage, as opposed to paving, which does not drain.

Board member Peter Schneck asked the zoning officer if the city considered stone pervious.

Zoning Officer Pfeiffer replied there was no requirement for paving, but the city considered stone impervious.

Zoning officer Pfeiffer asked “are the space for the dwelling, or to lease out?”

Intile replied the spaces were strictly for residents of the building.

Attorney Preston asked if the city would prefer the lot be paved, with no separation of spaces.

Zoning Officer Craig Pfeiffer said “yes”.

For the requested variance for trees, Intile said the bottom of Hillside had no street trees.

Board member Peter Schneck asked Intile “Are you opposed to trees?”

Intile replied he was not opposed to greenery, but he had issues in the past with tree roots causing sewer issues.

Board member Linda Shea Gardner asked “Could we put in a tree or two?”

Intile said he would consider one.

Zoning Officer Craig Pfeiffer told Intile he had an updated list of street trees, trees which had less impact on underground pipes, and Intile could consult with the city Forester David Shaffer, whose job it is to inform builders and residents on appropriate trees for their sites.

The board went into executive session to deliberate. On their return, a motion was made to grant relief for the width of the lot, but to deny a variance for street trees. There was a stipulation that the parking area surface would need to be improved, and per the city engineer, as stripe would need to be marked through the center (to show the boundary between parking for each side of the building). The motion was approved.

The December meeting was also the final meeting for board member Linda Shea-Gardener, who is leaving the board.

Press photos by Lani Goins Attorney James Preston represented developer Louis Intile.
A drawing of the front of the building Intile proposes to build on the site.
The site plan for 543 & 545 Hillside.
The current parking area on the property. In the background, the existing home on the property is dwarfed by its neighbors.
Developer Louis Intile sought variances to allow him to keep a gravel parking pad unpaved, and to avoid having to plant trees on the property.