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Latest effort to build controversial apartment project near Bethlehem border with Allentown gets cool reception

The proposed Hanover Apartments at the former Bennett Toyota lot, seen Feb. 8, 2023, in Bethlehem and Allentown would consist of four buildings with 317 apartments. About three-quarters of the land sits in Bethlehem, but the other quarter is in Allentown. (Amy Shortell/첥Ƶ)
The proposed Hanover Apartments at the former Bennett Toyota lot, seen Feb. 8, 2023, in Bethlehem and Allentown would consist of four buildings with 317 apartments. About three-quarters of the land sits in Bethlehem, but the other quarter is in Allentown. (Amy Shortell/첥Ƶ)
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The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Planning Committee agreed that a curative amendment petition presented by the developer of a proposed apartment complex on the Bethlehem-Allentown line was a bad idea.

In its petition, New Jersey-based BAHX LLC says a Bethlehem zoning ordinance “arbitrarily and unreasonably restricts the petitioner’s property rights,” is “unduly restrictive and confiscatory,” and interferes with property rights “without a rational relation to public safety, health, morals or general welfare.”

BAHX wants permission to construct buildings at the site of the former Bennett Toyota lot that exceed 180 feet in length, the maximum length allowed by city code in the site’s CL zoning district. In August, a variance to allow the buildings to be 290 feet long was denied by the zoning hearing board.

A draft letter presented to the committee during Tuesday’s monthly meeting by LVPC Senior Community Planner Jillian Seitz found “the substance of the Petitioner’s challenge lacks merit, and that the cure presented is technically deficient.”

“The proposed curative amendment is a means to permit construction of the project as desired by the Petitioner; however, the viability of development on the site is not demonstrated to rely upon the curative amendment,” Seitz wrote. “Additionally, if enacted, the curative amendment may adversely impact several other areas of the City, [and] is not in the interest of the public health, safety and welfare.”

The letter was approved and will be considered by the full LVPC at Thursday’s meeting.

LVPC Chair Christopher Amato said the developer is trying to play by its own rules.

“They’re asking the city to change their law to accommodate the hardship that they created,” Amato said. “This will become a slippery slope for every other development going forward. I think that’s pretty dangerous.”

LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley said BAHX basically didn’t get the answer it wanted to hear from Bethlehem officials.

Committee Vice Chair John Gallagher agreed that some developers want to rewrite regulations when it suits them.

“I always look at requests of this nature from developers,” said Gallagher, who is also a member of the Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners. “And I suspect they generally don’t have the public interests in mind, but only their own self interests. So I think it was a very good review.”

The proposed Hanover Apartments would consist of four buildings, one at four stories and three at five stories. They would house 317 apartments along with more than 500 parking spaces. About three-quarters of the land sits in Bethlehem, but the other quarter is in Allentown.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission was presented with the curative amendment earlier this month by BAHX. It will be considered by the City Council.

At that meeting, James Preston, an attorney representing BAHX, said he would save most of his arguments for City Council, but said other residential buildings have been approved that exceed that limit.

“I’m certain that the planning commission, just by way of a flavor for where we’re going, is very much aware that there have been more than a few projects approved in CL district that are multifamily dwellings that exceed 180 feet in length,” Preston said.

City Director of Planning and Zoning Darlene Heller said the project in question, at Fourth Street and Steel Avenue in south Bethlehem, received density relief from the zoning hearing board, but has yet to receive a full review.

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Evan Jones can be reached at ejones@mcall.com.

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