Bethlehem Planners moving to seize vacant lot
At a brief meeting of Bethlehem’s five-person Planning Commission on Oct. 13, a vacant and unpaved lot owned by Dr. Alvin Kanofsky, and located at 32 E. Third St. That’s the first step in a lengthy process that could ultimately result in a city seizure.
Aside from the press and city staff, the only person present was Dr. Kanofsky. He represented himself.
This vacant lot is located next to the former Goodman Furniture building, also owned by Kanofsky. That tract had previously been declared blighted as a result of an unstable wall, leaking roof and cracked windows. An exasperated Judge Lonard Zito recently fined Kanofsky $30,700 and sentenced him to five days in jail as a result of numerous code violations. He stayed the sentence so that Kanofsky, who is 77 years old, could pursue an appeal.
Before the Planning Commission meeting started, Kanofsky exchanged pleasantries with Tony Hanna, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority. Hanna was pinch-hitting for building inspector Craig Hynes, who was unavailable.
“I’ll fix it,” Kanofsky said. “Don’t put me in jail.” Then, turning to a member of the press, Dr. Kanofsy said, “I must have 500 violations.”
Actually, he has accumulated 83 citations at the magisterial level over the past several years. Kanofsky has also dueled with the tax court several times, and in 2014, was fined $10,000 for repeated frivolous arguments about deductions on his tax returns.
He has one victory in an expired parking meter case.
Once the hearing got underway, Hanna explained that, under the provisions of the Urban Redevelopment Law, Kanofsky’s vacant tract is blighted for these reasons:
(1) It’s a public nuisance - the city constantly has to notify Kanofsky of garbage and weeds; (2) It’s an attractive nuisance – people who see garbage there will be inclined to dump there as well; (3) It’s a vacant or unimproved lot in a predominantly built-up-neighborhood, which by reason of neglect or lack of maintenance has become a place for accumulation of trash and debris, or a haven for rodents or other vermin; (4) It’s been tax delinquent for more than two years; and (5) The liens against the property exceed its fair market value.
“It took me all of two hours to clean up what little it of trash is there,” said Kanofsky. “I’m 77 and cleared the lot.” He said he was unaware he had let his taxes go so long, and told the Commission he’s in no position to pay some of these liens because he was just fired by Lehigh University “after 50 years of devoted service.”
Though the city has barricaded this area while it attempts to stabilize the building next door, Dr. Kanofsky put his finger to his lips to make a “Shhh” sound and said he broke into the barricade with his weed whacker.
Kanofsky smiled as he said this, but not Hanna. “The fence and signs are there for a reason,” Hanna told Kanofsky. “That wall is dangerous.”
The professor then said that Lehigh and other developers want his property, hinting this might be the real reason why Bethlehem is seeking a blighted designation. But Hanna responded that a blighted designation is just the first step in a long process that could lead to seizure. “Just fix it,” said Hanna. “Pay your taxes. we’re giving you an opportunity to do this. The last thing we want to do is seize your property.”
“I swear I will do better,” vowed Kanofsky.