ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Youell's Oyster House, the popular west Allentown seafood restaurant destroyed in a fire at the beginning of this year, may reopen by Christmas.
On Monday, the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board issued a written decision approving variances so the restaurant can be rebuilt at W. Walnut and S. 23rd streets --- despite objections from some neighbors about parking problems Youell's creates in the neighborhood.
Acknowledging those objections, the zoning board's decision states: "It is clear that this expansion will impact the surrounding properties and the nearby neighborhood."
The new two-story restaurant will be 44 percent larger and seat 170 people -- 58 more than it had before the Jan. 22 fire. Like the previous Youell's, it will not have a parking lot.
The zoning board's decision warns: "With no on-site parking, the effect of increased patrons at the restaurant is likely to be felt more by those neighborhood residents who have not experienced it heretofore, who live farther from the restaurant."
Restaurant owner Christian Filipos expects construction will begin in August and anticipates Youell's being back in operation "before the end of the year, assuming we don't have any setbacks."
Responding to the zoning board's ruling, Filipos said: "It wasn't a sure thing, but we were confident the law would support our position."
If Youell's had not received a variance, it would have been required to have a 48-vehicle parking lot.
Other variances address the fact that the new restaurant will take up most of the lot on which it will be built. The variances were approved because zoners deem the new building an expansion of an existing non-conforming use.
They determined the property has been a tavern and restaurant for at least 50 years.
Filipos said it dates back to the 1850s, when it was a stagecoach station along Reading Road. The zoners' decision noted: "There has never been any on-site/off-street parking associated with the previous structures and uses on this property."
"The neighborhood in which the property is located is overwhelmingly residential in character," states the zoning board's decision.
Some neighbors objected because Youell's customers and employees parked in front of their homes, sometimes even blocking their driveways. Other neighbors spoke in support of the restaurant reopening.
Filipos said when the decision was made to rebuild Youell's, he went door-to-door through the neighborhood to tell people what was happening and left his business card at homes where no one answered.
He said there are no hard feelings regarding the objectors, adding neighbors "were within their rights to express their concerns."
Despite those objectors, Filipos said, " We're on very good terms. We're a community over there."
He encouraged anyone with future parking problems caused by his restaurant to approach him personally, saying he will be there every day.
The zoning board decision states the new Youell's must close no later than midnight and all its illuminated signs must be extinguished when it closes.
The board also ruled that there will be no outdoor dining area either on the sidewalk or on the new restaurant's second-floor outdoor balcony area.
Also, employees must park their vehicles north of Reading Road, which runs along the back of the restaurant, to minimize the impact of employee parking in the immediate neighborhood.
Filipos told zoners he will direct his employees to park on 23rd Street north of Reading Road. The restaurant's staff will increase from 12 to 15 employees .
Allentown, PA 18102