BETHLEHEM ZONING Fitzpatrick re-elected; Lee welcomed
The first order of business for the Bethlehem City Zoning Hearing Board meeting in a hybrid meeting format Jan. 27 was to elect new officers. William Fitzpatrick was re-elected chairman. James Schantz was re-elected vice-chairman. Zoning Officer Craig Pfeiffer was elected secretary; attorney Erich Schock was renamed board attorney, along with two alternates, and Jean Genova is again the board stenographer.
Chairman Fitzpatrick introduced the Zoning Hearing Board’s newest member, Jessica Lee. Chairman Fitzpatrick also offered his thanks for the service of Linda Shea Gardner, whose seat on the board was filled by Lee.
It was announced that the fifth agenda item, the case of 1137 East Third St. had been postponed.
The first two cases on the agenda were both requests for one year extensions to the allowed time from the previous Zoning decision to project completion, due to delays caused by the COVID-19 mandated shutdowns.
Board attorney Erich Schock explained there was “no procedure in the zoning ordinance to allow for extensions.” Presumably the ordinance did not foresee the COVID-19 state mandated shutdowns of the construction industry. However, Schock continued, the lack of a formal procedure “does not mean the board can’t consider” granting extensions.
Attorney James Holzinger represented 262 Ninth Ave. LLC. Managing member of the LLC Arnold Allen was requesting a one-year extension on work that was approved by the board in January 2020. (The one-year extension would begin after the board’s formal decision was issued.) Demolition of an existing structure on the property began in February 2020, and was ongoing when the State mandated shutdown occurred. For several months, it was unclear when work could resume. A further complication arose when the bank financing the work decided to pause lending funds.
Now that construction is again allowed, the plan is to resume construction in six to eight weeks. A construction loan has been secured by Fidelity Bank. Some contractors had to be replaced as they had other obligations. Allen says he is now “happy to be able to move forward” on the project.
Holizinger asked if the project could be competed in one year’s time, and Arnold said it could be.
Board member Peter Schneck asked if building materials were left on the site when work stopped for the shutdown. Arnold replied that he had not yet purchased building materials, and what remained on the site were trees that need to be chipped. He added there is a fence surrounding the property.
After a short deliberation, the board voted to extend their granted approvals for one year, with the condition that a fence be maintained around the property to keep children from wandering onto the site.
The next case was 830 13th Avenue. There was a brief delay as the owner joined by phone, and a witness was located. During the delay, Board Chairman Fitzpatrick noted that the owner, Abraham Atiyeh, is also Fitzpatrick’s landlord. Atiyeh was seeking a one-year extension to complete work on the site, again due to the state mandated shutdown. Atiyeh explained he was not seeking any changes to the previous approvals, in fact, he “loved them”. He added that right after the approvals were received, the shutdown happened. His offices, designers, and more were out of work for between six and seven months, and there was “a lot of work involved” getting things running again. He said “schematically, everything is done” and he will “submit design in two to three months.”
Board member Terry Novatnick asked if a one-year extension would be “adequate” to complete the work on the site.
Atiyeh responded that he “would like two years to be safe. A year would be tight.” He added that the outside permitting agencies were running behind on issuing permits.
Chairman Fitzpatrick said the request would be considered during deliberations.
Following the board’s deliberations, Atiyeh was granted a one-year extension.
The next case was 402-404 Linden St. Owner Bruno Silva had previously appeared before the board in June 2020 to seek permission to put three units in the building. That request was denied. Zoning officer Craig Pfeiffer described the new application for converting the building to a two family dwelling, with variances requested for minimum lot width, the conversion, minimum lot area, and parking relief. He added the design had significant changes since Silva’s last appeal to the board. Attorney James Holzinger represented Silva.
Builder Dominic Villani Jr. appeared as a friend of Silva. He agreed with the board’s prior decision not to allow three units in the building. He presented a new design for the structure. An existing bay window that was once part of a candy shop was removed. Attorney Holzinger added that the use of the site as retail was “abandoned long ago”.
Villani continued his presentation, explaining the post office has the property listed as two different addresses, but he added, Silva is not asking for the property to be “grandfathered” as two units. Villani said his design was trying to conform to a nearby property across the street on Linden. As part of the design, the entrance door would be moved to the front of the building, and a side porch would be removed, as well as a one-story addition on the church street side of the building. He said, “records indicate the main house was built in 1870.” He described the property’s condition as “well aged, not livable at this time, and vacant for some time.”
Holzinger asked Villani to explain where the entrance to the second unit would be located. Villiani showed the site design, with steps ascending to the second floor, and the entrance at the top of the stairs. He added there would be a second point of egress, from a deck on the rear of the property, with stairs to the ground. The first floor second egress would be a rear door. Garbage and recycling would be located under the side stairs
A three-car parking area would replace the first-floor addition. Villaini and Silva contacted Public Works about the parking area. Public works recommended the parking in that spot, rather than farther back in the yard. The apron for the parking area would eliminate one available curb spot. There would also be landscaping.
Villani’s plan included siding on the building because brick would be “cost prohibitive.”
Pfeiffer noted the planned removal of the side porch, and using siding instead of brick, would both require approval from the Planning Commission. Villani said one of the challenges of using brick would be blending the old bay window area with the existing brick around it.
Board Attorney Erich Shock noted that if the board made a motion to approve the project, they could require Silva to seek approval from planners for the changes.
After deliberation, the board agreed to grant the approval, with two conditions: the three-car parking area be created, and if the side porch removal and siding were sought, they would require Planning Commission approval.
The next case before the board was 3010 Ave. B. This is the site of Spray Tech Incorporated. Spray Tech was represented by Chief Operating Officer Raymond Rambowski, Engineers Richard Brannick and Andrew Bohl and attorney Sam Cohen.
Spray Tech was seeking relief from side yard setback requirements, to allow for the construction of a platform on which would rest odor abatement equipment for their spray dryers.
Spray Tech’s business is spray drying herbs and fragrances for business clients. The existing odor abatement system is on a concrete pad, and serves six of the silo shaped dryers. The dryers produce exhaust, which can have an odor, hence the abatement system. Spray Tech has added a seventh dryer, and so plans to install a second drying system. The elevated platform would allow access for emergency vehicles to move beneath it. Elevating the systems would also allow for easier access to filters, which must be periodically replaced.
The surrounding area is entirely industrial. The nearest neighboring property belongs to UGI, inc.
Engineer Richard Brannick described the dimensions of the platform, which would come out from and return to the building. He described it as 18 feet high, and the equipment on top would be atop that.
Board Vice Chairman James Shantz asked if the company had any plans to do stunts from the platform for advertising purposes.
This was greeted with laughter from the owner’s table, and the response was there would be no time in the workday for stunts. Brannick added the platform and machinery would be “solely for abatement, no tricks.
Chairman Fitzpatrick opined “Sounds like Mr. Shantz wants a future job.”
Civil Engineer Andrew Bohl, Project Manager for Hanover Engineering, provided more details.
He clarified that the platform itself as two feet in height, and would be elevated 16 feet from the ground. He also noted that as the abatement system must be adjacent to the dryers, there was really only one appropriate place to locate it. He said that Captain Wright of the Bethlehem Fire Department examined the site and plans, and said the plan was adequate for Fire Department access to the building. Fire Lanes will be marked at the rear of the building.
Board member Peter Schneck asked about a “little street” behind the property. It is a private access road for UGI.
Pfeiffer asked if the equipment exceeded the height of the building. The response was that it did not. The engineer indicated the elevation schematic drawing on the site plan.
Cohen closed by saying he felt the relief being sought was small, and the platform would be an improvement.
After a short deliberation, the board approved the requests.
The final case of the evening was 408 New Street. Owners David and Wendy Thompson were seeking variances to allow construction of a relative’s dwelling on the second level of their garage. Wendy Thompson explained that her elderly mother is a widow, and lives alone. Wendy Thompson visits her frequently to help her and see to her needs. She hopes to build the relative dwelling so her mother can move into it, so that if she needs more care in the future, Wendy Thompson will be better able to provide it.
David Thompson explained they would need dimensional and square footage variances.
He said the overhand of the garage would encroach on the two foot setback. He added that an engineering survey had been done by VanCleef Engineering Associates, LLC.
Pfeiffer asked for a copy of the engineering survey, so it could be added to the record.
Board attorney Schock asked if the new garage would hold one car or two/
The garage would hold two cars, and an extra wide stairwell to accommodate a glide chair.
Board member Peter Schneck asked if the couple had considered an addition to their house as an alternative.
Wendy Thompson explained that between the garage and the house was a deck, that the couple made use of, and she felt her mother would also enjoy use of the deck.
Pfeffer asked if the couple was familiar with the portion of the zoning ordinance that dealt with units for care of a relative.
David Thompson said he had read the subsection, but was not an expert.
Pfeiffer explained the rule was that once the use by a relative concluded, the unit could not be used as a rental unit.
Schock clarified that the unit could not be used as a rental without returning to the Zoning Hearing Board to request a variance for that use.
Joe Phillips testified as the project architect. He showed on the drawings that the upper floor of the garage would be slightly larger than the lower floor. He added they had already gone before the Historic Architectural Review Board for a certificate of appropriateness, and had adjusted the pitch of the garage roof to match the house roof pitch at that board’s request.
Novatnick asked if the existing garage would be razed, and an entire new structure built. Phillps said it would be.
Schock asked if the height of the garage would be similar to others in the neighborhood. Phillips said it would, as most garages in the area had steeply pitched roofs.
Wendy Thompson closed the presentation by telling the board “I really appreciate your consideration. We want to take care of our aging parents.
After deliberation, the board agreed to approve the construction. Board President William Fitzpatrick said, “Good luck, take good care of Mom.”