Bethlehem Press

Friday, July 28, 2017

Adaptive reuse ordinance is challenged

Monday, July 10, 2017 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

Developer of proposed Quarry St. apartments requests ruling by zoners

Whitehall Township Zoning Hearing Board on July 18 will rule on an appeal by PVC Third St. L.P. and Quarry St. Whitehall Development L.P. — two entities owned by developer Abe Atiyeh — requesting the board of commissioners change an ordinance to allow Pathstone Housing Corp. of Pennsylvania to convert a long-idle apparel factory at 215 Quarry St. into 49 low- and moderate-income apartments.

Atiyeh is challenging the validity of the ordinance, specifically the parking study.

Both sides of the issue were asked to submit briefs citing their legal positions to the zoning hearing board.

Township Solicitor Charles Fonzone, in testimony given June 20, said informing the commissioners to cooperate with affordable housing developers prior to voting on enacting a new ordinance lowered the bar for such development.

Despite objections from potential neighbors of the apartments, the board of commissioners Dec. 12, 2016, voted to approve the agreement that paved the way for Pathstone to proceed with its plans.

This adaptive reuse ordinance involves long-vacant or dilapidated structures, such as the former garment factory. Affordable housing qualifications are for persons with a $29,940 or less annual salary or a family of four earning $42,270 or less.

After some residents in previous meetings voiced strong dissent on what the project would do to their homes and neighborhood, a complaint of racial discrimination was made to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). With word that the U.S. Department of Justice might possibly intervene, the commissioners and other township officials vehemently denied such allegations of bias.

“[The commissioners] were facing a hearing, if not a trial, in Philadelphia,” Fonzone said. “I didn’t feel that was a good venue for them to be in.”

Atiyeh, of Bethlehem Township, lodged an appeal of the ordinance to the zoning hearing board as authorized under the state Municipalities Planning Code.

During the three-hour hearing June 20, Attorney John VanLuvanee, counsel for Atiyeh, asked Fonzone if the commissioners’ zoning vote last fall was brought about by potential interference by the federal government regarding fair housing complaints.

“You would be asking me to look into the minds of the commissioners,” Fonzone replied. “I can’t do that.”

Others testifying at the hearing were Peter Terry, of Benchmark Civil Engineers, Allentown, who stated fewer parking spaces are necessary for low- to moderate-income housing, according to studies.

Thomas Comita, planning consultant, said it is not unusual for municipalities to lessen off-street requirements for development to occur.