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Planners withhold approval for drive-through bank

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Feb 14 2013 11:14:56 PM CST
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A plan for a drive-through bank at one of Bethlehem busiest intersections has run into an early roadblock.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission voted 3-0 Thursday afternoon not to recommend a sketch plan from real estate holding firm Diversified Capital, of Lakewood, N.J., for a drive-through bank at 1 West Broad St.

By the same 3-0 vote, the commission recommended that the zoning hearing board not grant variances Diversified Capital would need to build the free-standing bank.

Diversified's plan would have traffic entering on West Broad Street and exiting onto North New Street.

Planners said they were concerned that the bank would create safety problems for drivers and pedestrians at the Broad and New intersection. Also, they said the bank would result in an unwanted "aesthetic change" in the area.

Diversified is scheduled to present its case before the zoning board on Feb. 27, and the firm's attorney, Terry Faul, said after Thursday's meeting his client plans to proceed. "The planning commission only makes recommendations," said Faul.

Speaking to the planners, Faul said Diversified realizes that Bethlehem's zoning ordinance does not permit drive-throughs at the front of buildings, but that locating the drive-through at the multi- story office building's rear on West Walnut Street or the side on North New Street was not possible because of the way the building is constructed.

"Banks that are looking new locations are looking for a drive-through facility," Faul said, when asked if a bank has signed a lease with Diversified. "So for us, it's a chicken-and-egg thing."

Aron Gottlieb, Diversified's vice president, said having the drive- through would make the area more attractive to other businesses who would be willing to lease space provided a bank is nearby.

Philip Schenkel, a leasing agent for Diversified, said a financial institution would be suitable for the building's first floor, but without a drive-through, clients would be hard to find. "Wells Fargo, Lafayette Ambassador, KNBT -- they all have them," Schenkel said, adding that if 1 West Broad St. had one too, "conversations [with banks willing to locate there] would be a lot further along."

Two members of the public spoke against Diversified's plan. Bill Scheier said allowing a drive-through would be like having "a little bit of Stefko Boulevard at Broad and New." Al Bernotas called the plan "a bad idea," and said that while having ATMs at the rear of the building would be acceptable, having a drive-through out front "destroys that corner."