(5th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)
Beall Fowler is a retired professor and long-time resident of Bethlehem.
To City Council, October 2, 2018
Six years ago, before most of you were members of Council, Bethlehem adopted an extensive update to its zoning code. One of the new items was section 1304.04, entitled Reuse of Certain Corner Commercial Uses Allowed in the RT and RG Districts.
What was the motivation for this new item? It came about because the City and members of Council recognized that when many residential neighborhoods were constructed early in the last century, they contained “corner stores” that primarily served those neighborhoods in a variety of ways. Most of these stores were characterized by a corner entrance; one of these still exists right here at the corner of New and Church Streets.
As time went by most of these stores went out of business and their spaces were converted to residential. Zoning came along and entire blocks became zoned residential, including these former corner store properties. But because of the corner entrances and large retail spaces, these conversions were not ideal. As the new zoning code was being developed, it seemed reasonable, then, under very strict and limited conditions, to provide the opportunity for such properties to revert to commercial uses. This, and this alone, was the reason for the existence of section 1304.04. It was very carefully crafted to make this motivation clear and to avoid unintended interpretations. This initiative was in fact described in presentations as “Reuse of Corner Stores” accompanied by illustrations of such corner properties.
Let me read you some of the text of that ordinance: “The lot shall be at the corner of 2 streets. The primary building shall have an existing storefront character. This shall include such features as large first floor commercial window(s) and a main entrance at the corner or along one of the street facades abutting the commercial windows. At least a portion of the proposed business space shall have been occupied at one time by a principal lawful business use. The business use shall be limited to within the existing building.”
Why am I telling you all this? Because you have received a petition on behalf of Morning Star Partners, LLC for a spot zoning amendment that is presented as a revision of 1304.04 and thereby is intended to convince you that their request is just a little tweak of the existing ordinance. Note item 16 in their petition: “The proposed amendment closely follows the existing text of Z. O. 1304.04, thereby incorporating the rationale of the existing 1304.04. That statement is clearly false: 1304.04 had a very limited rationale, and in no way can their petition to rezone 2 W. Market St. fall within that rationale.
There are many good reasons to reject the petition, but be aware that attaching it to 1304.04 is simply an attempt to falsely convince you that it is a simple modification of existing law.