A hotly contested appeal to convert a bed and breakfast in Bethlehem’s Central Historic District into offices was unanimously approved by the city’s Zoning Hearing Board Tuesday after more than three hours of testimony that at times drew the board solicitor’s strong admonition to refrain from repetitive and “gotcha” cross-examination.
Sixteen people, more than half against the conversion of The at 476 N. New St. into offices, were sworn in, with each side stating the negative or positive impact the change would have on the residential zoning district.
This is the second time John Brew and 262 Paradice Found LLC sought board approval to relocate his community banking consulting firm from 968 Postal Road, Hanover Township (Lehigh County), to the property at the southeast corner of New and Market streets.
In May, the board, in a 2-2 vote, under the old zoning ordinance. Brew then applied for a special exception – which is easier to obtain than a variance – under the new zoning law
Brew won the appeal Tuesday on the condition that his 10 employees use off-street parking in the city’s parking garage. The Bethlehem Inn has only two off-street parking places.
Inadequate parking was one of the main issues opponents cited, along with traffic congestion, preservation of the integrity of the historic district as residential, deficiencies in the application for a special exception, and flawed language in the new zoning ordinance regarding corner properties. Objectors charged the new ordinance’s article 1304.04 is spot zoning.
Property owners Robert and Suzanne Virgilio have lived in the 1824 Bethlehem Inn and operated the city’s oldest bed and breakfast for 25 years. In prior years, the three-story building housed students, an owner-occupied dental practice and an optometrist’s office.
Suzanne Virgilio testified they decided to sell the property about four years ago, but had been unsuccessful in marketing it as a single-family home or as a bed and breakfast, despite lowering the price. Virgilio said they have moved to 522 Long St. and are operating at 518 Long St.
Brew testified he is seeking to purchase the property contingent upon zoning board approval because of his interest in historic preservation and the building meets his needs and is less expensive than leasing. He noted he can walk to the site from his home at 262 E. Market St.
Brew had said he would operate the office Monday to Friday, maintain the existing interior and exterior, seldom have outside visitors, and obtain employee parking in the city’s Walnut Street Garage.
Among those urging denial of the special exception were Tim and Christine Stevens, 54 E. Market St.; Bob Romeril, 26 W. Market St.; Beall Fowler, 443 Center St.; Sam Gutman, 402 N. New St., and Bruce Haines, 63 W. Church St. They cited the right to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance’s corner lot provision, parking issues, and the need to stop encroachment of commercial interests in a residential district.
Those supporting the conversion included Andrew Bench and Mary Ellen Williams, who supported mixed-use neighborhoods, and Joseph Shaffer, 23 E. Market St., who said Brew’s business would have a negligible effect on the neighborhood in contrast to “life on Market Street” that includes traffic from a soup kitchen and .