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Zoners stick pin in plan to put apartments in abandoned sewing factory

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jun 27 2013 05:04:39 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 27 2013 09:01:41 AM CDT
Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board

Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A million-dollar plan to reclaim a blighted former sewing factory in Bethlehem by turning it into urban loft-style apartments didn't make the cut with officials or neighbors of the property Wednesday night.

The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board voted 5-0 to reject developer Garrett Benner's request for relief from lot size and parking requirements needed to turn the dilapidated three-story building at 18 West Goepp St. into nine apartments.

The vote came after a dozen or so residents living near the property spent an hour telling the zoners how Benner's plan would aggravate an already terrible parking situation.

Tempers flared now and then during the discussion, in part because of the stifling heat in city council chambers, because the air-conditioning had not been turned on and an engineer was not available to do so.

At one point, chairman Gus Loupos told the crowd, "We have to be patient with one another. ... It's hot in here, but it's hot for everybody."

The residents who opposed Benner's plan admitted the building, vacate for about a decade, is a favorite target of window-breaking vandals and graffiti scrawlers and a hangout where drug use and public urination and defecation have been seen.

Still, they all said parking concerns trumped any potential improvements the building might bring to the neighborhood, and Lisa Arechiga, of 27 West Ettwein St., presented the zoners with a petition with 105 signatures backing up that point.

The zoning code requires 16 spaces for the kind of project Benner proposed.

Benner said he could provide 10 on-site parking spots in a rear lot for the maximum of 17 "young professionals" paying $1,300 a month to live in his refurbished building.

If more parking were needed, apartment dwellers could find space on the blocks surrounding the building, Benner said.

A string of residents from the area strenuously disagreed. They also pointed to a host of other possible problems, citing everything from additional snow buildup in winter to " 'round the clock noise" and an increase in insects.

Helen Lakatos, of 28 West Goepp St., predicted the latter would happen after Benner said he intended on removing the swallows that have made a home in the building's chimney. "Hundreds of birds come out every evening and eat all the bugs," Lakatos said.

Benner was asked by zoning board member William Fitzpatrick why he could not meet the zoning requirements by just having six apartments in the building.

The developer said it would not be economically feasible, noting it will cost $761,000 to get the building into shape after he concludes the purchase of the property for $375,000.

As a dejected Benner was leaving city hall after the vote, he said he was going to "try to save" the project, adding, "It's good for the community."