Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem amending its zoning laws

Hotels, building coverage, first-floors targeted

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem City Council Tuesday night approved on first reading ordinances that would amend the zoning law to define hotel use, increase maximum building coverage in the city’s densest residential zoning district and clarify first-floor uses in the central business district.

The current definition of a hotel includes seven rooms or more, but it does not address six or fewer. At council’s Feb. 6 meeting, Darlene Heller, director of planning and zoning, said the city needs to address every use in the zoning ordinance, otherwise the city opens itself to challenges to interpretation. She said the amendment would close a loophole and protect the city from a challenge if a hotel has fewer than seven rooms.

Heller has also requested a zoning amendment to increase maximum building coverage by 10 percent in high-density residential neighborhoods with a mix of housing types. In 2012, the city adopted a new zoning ordinance, eliminating the previous zoning district for high-density neighborhoods.

The amendment would simplify requirements for owners of smaller lots and prevent the need to go before the Zoning Hearing Board for routine appeals, Heller said.

Her other request for a zoning amendment would require businesses in the commercial business district to restrict their first floors to retail operations, restaurants or personal services. Currently, the zoning ordinance simply states that businesses be required on the first floor.

The change is intended to create commercial areas that are comfortable for pedestrian traffic, with inviting storefronts and interesting things to see, Heller told council on Feb. 6.

Council will vote on a final reading of all three zoning amendments next month.

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