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Couple battling major development asks court to reverse zoners' ruling

Published On: Feb 07 2013 12:03:16 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 07 2013 08:24:48 AM EST

A couple challenging part of a zoning ordinance in Northampton County in hopes of stopping a major housing and commercial development are looking to the courts for help.

Raymond R. Russin and his wife Megan, of 2425 Chelsea Court, Bethlehem Twp., Northampton Co., filed suit in Northampton County Court on Wednesday asking that a unanimous ruling by Bethlehem Township zoners on Dec. 20, 2012, involving the Madison Farms project be reversed and that a zoning amendment adopted by the township commissioners last year be declared invalid.

In their written decision on Jan. 9, 2013, the zoners backed up the validity of a zoning ordinance amendment adopted by the commissioners last July and denied the Russins' challenge to the amendment.

The Russins say in their suit that the commissioners only amended the zoning ordinance so the Madison Farms plan for 837 homes and about 140,000 square feet of commercial space on roughly 103 acres near Freemansburg Avenue and Emerick Boulevard could be approved without the developer, KRE-Bethlehem, having to ask the zoning board for variances. The Russins' home is about 1,500 feet from the proposed project.
The zoning board erred and abused its discretion, the Russins claim, by saying that the zoning amendment "is supported by sound land use planning principles" and was based upon "a detailed study ... of the needs of the township," when the opposite is true.

The suit says the board was wrong to conclude the Russins did not meet the state Municipal Planning Code's definition of "aggrieved parties" and to deny their challenge, even though the zoners admitted on Dec. 5, 2012, that the couple had standing to challenge the amendment. The Russins are asking the court to sustain their challenge.

The Russins took over the amendment challenge before the zoning board in early December, after Pennsylvania Venture Capital and its owner, developer Abraham Atiyeh, dropped out. Atiyeh and his company first filed the challenge in August.

On Dec. 5, Russin testified that he was opposed to four- and five-story buildings in the township, saying that if he “wanted to live in a city I would move to a city.”

“Having that many apartments [on the proposed site] is ridiculous,” he added. “I am opposed to it.”

He also testified that he was the person responsible for paying the legal bills associated with his challenge, not Atiyeh.