“It’s surprising,” responded attorney William F. Kerr Jr. after hearing that a developer’s latest affordable housing project linked to the reuse of South Bethlehem’s vacant St. Stanislaus Church was turned down unanimously by the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board.
Non-profit Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, represented by Kerr, sought variances Wednesday night to add 18 housing units and 22 parking spaces on vacant property at 420-424 Atlantic St., a block from the church at 419-429 Hayes St.
The church project, which would raze the rectory for construction of mostly one-bedroom loft-style rentals to attract artists, had been granted variances by the zoning board in October 2011, despite lacking required parking spaces. The church sanctuary would remain and be used as an art gallery, performance space, offices and laundry.
Appearing stunned at the decision, Kerr said the new proposal on Atlantic Street is the same type of three-story housing proposed for the church reuse; meets parking and density requirements, and would provide additional parking for the loft unit residents. He could not say if the decision would be appealed to Northampton County Court.
Objectors to the new project cited parking, density issues in the neighborhood and adequacy of the sewer system.
Justina Keeler, a 35-year resident of E. Fifth Street, said cars continually double-park on her street; she “already cannot park” where she lives, and she knows from experience that rental unit residents will not walk from the Hayes Street housing project to park at the Atlantic Street site.
Project Manager Bruce Weinsteiger of Architectural Concepts of Exton, Pa., told the zoning board the developer was seeking variances on the condition that the two projects be linked and would include 46 housing units and 48 parking spaces.
Variances were sought from the required 2,500 square foot lot area per dwelling to a proposed 1,200 square feet; from the required 15 foot side yard setback to 5 feet; from the parking lot required 24 foot aisle to 20 feet; from fence and buffer yard requirements; and for reduction in the number of off-street parking spaces from the required 36 to 22, including 10 spaces on an adjoining lot.
Asking the board to reject the proposal, Keeler said, “You’re going to put low-income people who have no respect in 18 units of 1,200 square feet … three bedrooms mean 12 people in a house. Cramping that many people is not going to improve the atmosphere. “
Marcus Rodriguez, who said the Atlantic Street project parking lot abuts his house, voiced concerns about gaining access to his property if a new fence is erected.
And Al Bernotas of the Bethlehem Homeowners Association asked the board to “give consideration “to the density of the project and the many problems on the South Side.
The property at 420-424 Atlantic St., that includes a Quonset-type building, formerly housed Banko Beverages and a dry cleaner, but has been vacant since 2003, according to the developer. Kerr said the developer had sought the variances prior to applying for federal tax credit financing.