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Bethlehem Planning Commission won't budge on alterations to laws regulating business in historic district

By Emily Thiel, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 11 2012 10:41:25 PM CDT
Bethlehem Planning Comm.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Bethlehem City Council requested changes in a recently passed ordinance that puts restrictions on what businesses in historic Bethlehem are allowed to do but the city's Planning Commission said no.

The way the amendments were worded made the board of commissioners to hesitate with passing the changes as written. Some restrictions include not allowing restaurants who serve alcohol, allow BYOB or fry food as only one criteria the new law would follow.

During the Thursday evening Bethlehem Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners denied council's request for the wording of language in the altercations to the law.

The amendment, titled the reuse of corner commercial uses for the historical and residential districts, would limit possible store owners to the uses of the property. In addition to limitations on restaurants, tattoo parlors and pawn shops are also not allowed within the historic area.

The existing storefront of a building and past use of the building also will come into play when these businesses apply within Bethlehem. The amendment also limits the number of chairs in a barbershop, beauty shop, hair salon to two seats.

Residents voiced to keep historic Bethlehem historical by not allowing commercial business from occupying past residential buildings.

Two citizens defended the character of the neighborhood, stating people that live near restaurants who fry foods do receive exhaust in their neighborhood.

While commissioner Andrew Twiggar stated, "I think it's a good step in the right direction." Twiggar, unanimous with the board, denied the request due to the confusion of wording and specifics to the changes.

Through the denial of the amendment, the Commissioners requested City Council specify their requirements for commercial uses in residential and historic zones of Bethlehem. One problem the Planning Commission saw was if restaurants cannot deep fry food, or if it refers to frying anything, like an egg.

"I have a few issues with this ordinance as written," said Andrew Twiggar of the Planning Commission, "I see no reason why a tattoo parlor should be excluded from use, it's generally a pretty quiet use."

"I'm concerned about the first item with this large commercial window," said chair James Fiorentino. "If you have a commercial corner that doesn't have a large window, it seems like it's too restricted."

Commissioners want more specification to determine what is appropriate for the residential neighborhoods. City Council will be asked to rewrite the amendments at their next council meeting.