Martin Tower plan vote postponed
The proposed zoning amendment that would allow the Martin Tower development on Eaton Avenue to add parking spaces was scheduled for a first reading last week, but after discussion was postponed in a 6-1 vote until the next regular meeting or June 15.
At issue is the desire for the Martin Tower developer to amend the zoning code for OMU (Office Mixed Use) zoning district. This would strike language in Article 1311.08(a) of the Zoning Ordinance, specifying that “In the OMU District, parking spaces placed between a principal commercial building and the curb line of an arterial street along the front of the lot shall be limited to one driving aisle and one row of parking spaces.”
Instead, the text would read, “Article 1311.08(a) does not apply to the OMU District.”
In Article 1311.08(b) of the zoning ordinance, the developer proposes a change in the Zoning Ordinance, which currently reads: “No new vehicle driveway shall enter or exit onto an arterial street, unless the applicant proves that no feasible alternative exists, such as use of alleys or a side street.”
The new text would exempt OMU districts from the requirement: “Article 1311.08(b) does not apply to the OMU District.”
Besides redefining what the parking pattern would look like, the amendment would change the minimum rear yard setback from 30 feet to 20 feet.
The proposed amendment would also exempt the OMU District, where the Martin Tower development is located, from restrictions on driveways entering or exiting onto an arterial street which are imposed by Article 1311.08(b).
“No new vehicle driveway shall enter or exit onto an arterial street, unless the applicant proves that no feasible alternative exists, such as use of alleys or a side street. Article 1311.08(b) does not apply to the OMU District.”
“We have to think about the development and our tax-base,” argued Councilperson Grace Crampsie Smith. “We cannot cave in to the whim and desire of every developer because we want that tax money.”
She said that approval of the zoning amendment would “be going down a dangerous road.”
A postponement would, according to Councilperson Bryan Callahan, allow for “behind the scenes” discussion between the developer and the city administration, plus allow time for any proposed changes to be seen by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and the Bethlehem Planning Commission.
Councilperson Dr. Paige Van Wirt objected to the delay and to the proposed amendment, arguing that the developer should take the parking issue to the Zoning Hearing Board and ask for a waiver, which she described as “an elegant solution” to the problem.
Van Wirt said the only reason the developer has given for wanting an amendment to the zoning ordinance is that “going to the Zoning Hearing Board would be inconvenient.”
Duane Wagner, representing the developer, responded by saying the amendment is necessary because other properties on Eaton Avenue have the same problem.
“It’s not just a developer wanting to make a change,” said Wagner. “It is necessary to fix the zone so that the best development can occur.”