Article By: Kelly Kempf Special to the Bethlehem Press
The borough’s March 21 zoning hearing began with confusion and disappointment when the 902 Ostrum St. application - a hot-button issue regarding opening a daycare center in a zone where they’re not usually allowed - wasn’t discussed. Of the handful of residents in attendance, outspoken Borough Council member Helen Halleman could be heard the loudest from the middle of the chamber’s seating. “Attorney Ashley, you’re not going to hear the daycare issue?”
Attorney John Ashley replied with a blunt “No.” When questioned by Halleman as to why the people present hadn’t been alerted of this change sooner, Ashley informed the chamber that the board had only just received a continuance for the appeal that evening.
The Ostrum Street appeal includes two variances: the non-conforming use of a childcare center located in the zone and off-street parking relief. According to Halleman, the residents pay a premium for parking has lately been used by St. Luke’s University Hospital employees. The Ostrum street appeal is a “very, very important issue” to Halleman because the misuse of parking spaces is a burden on residents.
But the appeal discussed all evening was centered on 839 Broadway, formerly the Broadway Tavern and the VIP Taproom. The proposed plan would convert the space into a new home for an evangelist congregation.
Speaking on behalf of the 40-member church was Espher Vittini, a Sunday school teacher. She answered Ashley’s questions about the building’s history, its intended future use by the church, the number of expected attendees, the amount of available seating and proper restrooms. The congregation’s appeal for the use of building wasn’t only to use it as a place of worship but as a location for baptisms, weddings, counseling sessions and Sunday school classes. The biggest question of concern revolved around available parking during congregation meetings. Vittini told the board meetings would fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. with Mass being held on Sundays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Property landlord Vick Santillo joined the testimony to assure the board that parking would not be an issue. He spoke of his 10-year relationship with the owner of Broadway Service, an auto repair shop, located across the street. He cited their mutual “open-ended agreement” of shared lots between both businesses when the Tavern was operating. He explained the longstanding arrangement; “[Customers were] only there at night and he’s closed at night...We share back and forth... If I ever needed the parking during the day I would give Marty the heads up and he would leave me the spots.”
A letter written by Martin Reinsmith, owner of Broadway Service Center, stated his agreement of the use of his lot during non-business hours, which run 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Attorney Ashley then asked about the tenants making use of the apartments at 839 Broadway, and board members asked Santillo about the number of residents living in the apartments, their parking needs and the congestion that may occur during meetings at the church. Santillo told the board that the current tenants have been living there since the days of the Tavern and are in the habit of moving their vehicles to accommodate parking arrangements.
It was then learned the tenants were never mentioned in the original appeal, nor was their required amount of parking spaces. Borough Engineer Brad Youst calculated the parking spaces needed when the Tavern was still operating at between 88-90 spaces, compared with the 15 spaces needed for the congregation. Santillo assured the board of the camaraderie between neighbors and business owners around the premises in an attempt to assuage not only the doubts about parking but the snow removal activities in the winter.
After a lengthy discussion of snow removal practices and parking procedures, board members Connie Potts, Anna Zawierucha, Lizabeth Fox and Michael Spencer passed the appeal unanimously on the condition that a lease be written regarding enough parking spaces between Santillo and the owner of Broadway Service to accommodate the church members and the tenants of the building.
Not all attendees agree with the decision of the board, “I was very disappointed in the approval of the zoning board. There’s going to be a lot of problems. A lot of traffic problems. A lot of ambulances use BishopThorpe Street for emergencies,” said Halleman, “They have to look at this differently with some common sense. Neighborhoods are tight, parking is limited.”
The next zoning meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 18 at borough hall, 941 Long St.