Tensions Continue to Boil at Zoning Hearing Board

Quasi judicial body rebuffs city council candidate's request to be an "interested party."

Tensions from a continuing dispute between a neighborhood activist and the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board continued to heat at a slow boil Wednesday night at Town Hall.

Al Bernotas, best known around City Hall for his ongoing battle with the city’s zoning office over the proposed expansion of the Elias Farmers Market in his northeast Bethlehem neighborhood, was at the Zoning meeting, not to object to any plan on the table, but to be registered as an “interested party” for every case before the board.

Bernotas told the board that he intends to be notified of every Zoning Hearing Board decision when it is issued. But the board refused to recognize Bernotas as an interested party on the grounds that it would create an undue bureaucratic burden on the board’s solicitor, Mickey Thompson.

A recognized “interested party” is entitled to receive a notification letter when Thompson issues the board’s official written opinion.

Right after the discussion, when the board briefly exited the room to privately deliberate the first case, board member Ken Kraft could be heard whispering to himself: “Asshole.”

Earlier, while the board discussed whether Bernotas should be recognized, Kraft accused Bernotas of “grandstanding.” Bernotas countered by accusing Kraft of the same.

“I think this is getting out of hand,” said board Chairman Gus Loupos. “I have polled the board and they do not want to allow you to be an interested party.”

Kraft, chairman of the Northampton County Election Commission, is a Democratic candidate to be Bethlehem’s representative on Northampton County Council. Bernotas is a Republican running for Bethlehem City Council.

Bernotas is also executive director of the Bethlehem Homeowners Association, a group of Northeast Bethlehem neighbors who came together to fight the proposed expansion of a grocery store at the corner of Linden Street and Johnston Drive.

That group’s second appeal of the Zoning Hearing Board’s most recent ruling to allow the expansion currently awaits a decision in Northampton County Court. Bernotas has meanwhile been a persistent and sometimes strident critic of the board.

Thompson made the case to stop Bernotas’s request, citing the extra time for himself and the extra expense to the city issuing the extra notice. But the solicitor acknowledged that there is nothing in the city’s zoning law that defines who can be registered as an “interested party” at a board hearing.

However, board members noted that the case being considered is not in Bernotas’s neighborhood

“Interested parties” do not get copies of the opinion, but they do receive a letter from the solicitor informing them that the decision has been rendered and that a copy of that opinion is available for public review in the city’s zoning office.

“It’s an unfortunate circumstance that a 44-cent stamp is too much of an administrative burden,” Bernotas observed.

Loupos, meanwhile, tried to make clear to the media in the room that the point was not to prevent Bernotas to speak on any issue before the board.

“We do not stifle anyone from speaking,” Loupos said. “We let people speak and speak and speak and speak. I hope this is not interpreted as not allowing Mr. Bernotas to speak.”

Editor's Note: In the earlier version of the story, Ken Kraft's name was misspelled.

small bug April 28, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Why does zoning board do spot zoning to allow some owners to have anything and everything above legal limits, and deny some owners to have basic. Bethlehem citizen pay those zoning people salaries, they do not work for normal citizens,, they become dictators and hate normal citizens who have complains. I question what kind of system we have in bethlehem. Beside pay more and more tax, what can we do or say to improve our city system
Melissa Walker April 28, 2011 at 08:46 PM
Since when is a tax-paying citizen...who has a legitimate concern, considered an asshole! We need to come up with better people for these boards. Seriously!
WatchDog April 28, 2011 at 10:26 PM
Shame, Shame, Shame!! Ken Kraft should be fired from all his public positions immediately. He is a perfect example of corrupted Bethlehem City Zoning Hearing Board. He is rude and a man without integrity. What a shame such a man even to be the chairman of the Northampton County Election Commission. He does not deserve to be elected to the Northampton county council, period! Let's Vote No to Ken Kraft!!
Jon Geeting April 29, 2011 at 01:58 PM
I think the zoners are right to ignore NIMBY busybodies like Al Bernotas. The zoning board should be promoting more mixed uses, not less. It's best to think of the immediate neighbors as a special interest group, not representative of the whole city. For every NIMBY antagonist there are probably 10 people who like having a grocery store so close to home.
Mary Anne Looby April 29, 2011 at 02:55 PM
I don't think that people who are trying to protect the integrity of their neighborhood should be called busybodies. When That market opened years ago it was a small neighborhood place. Hours were limited. When the neigborhoods started popping up they supported the market. Now the market wants to expand. They are able to keep prices low by going to the big city markets late at night, and getting the cheaper products that are not wanted by the good restaurants and stores. They also carry a large portion of ethnic foods that not everyone is interested in using. There are a number of markets in the Lehigh Valley that operate in this fashion. I don't knock anyone for tryng to make a buck, but when it starts to degrade the quality of the neighborhood it is wrong. The owners should find a more comercial area for their business if they want to expand it that badly.


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