Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem grants waiver to first three CRIZ buildings

BETHELEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Planning commission has granted a variance waiver to BethWorks Renovations LLC bringing the town one step closer to creating its first three buildings in the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone.

At this Thursday's meeting BethWorks representatives Rob DeBeer and Seth Tipton requested a zoning variance waiver that will allow them to consolidate the residential space in their three Third street buildings that will also include retail and office space.

"The relief we're seeking tonight…is to consolidate the density into the two units [and] put the office space purely in one," said DeBeer. "The density is in fact staying the same."

According to DeBeer this will allow BethWorks to remove any complications brought on by combining office and residential space while maintaining the intended "mixed used" design that Bethlehem is seeking from its CRIZ developments.

"We felt that this was a good project that we could support" said Planning Bureau Director Darlene Heller. "The layout of the buildings, the style of building… [this is] the kind of building we'd want on the 3rd street block."

The first of the three buildings will be located at 600 E. Third Street, and will consist of three floors: one retail and two office spaces.

The second and tallest building will be directly across from a segment of Northampton Community College and will have its four top floors designated for residential use.

The last will be a four story building with three more floors for potential new residents.

All three-buildings will have first-floor retail space that Director Heller says could potentially bring in coffee shops, restaurants or even art galleries.

During the planning meeting Heller praised the buildings' modern styles, saying that it was in line with the atmosphere the city is intending to create in its downtown area.

Other board members, however, expressed concern that the new buildings would compromise the parking space of Northampton students and other downtown residents.

"We recognize that there is additional work that needs to be done" said DeBeer. He added that the current plans allow for onsite parking near the rear of the three buildings. Director Heller, however, remained confident that a resolution could be attained.

"It does need to be coordinated, we all acknowledge that" said Heller, about sorting out the parking demand for the area. "I think there's ways that parking will be shared."

Heller also said the increased demand may necessitate the construction of a new parking complex on Third Street.

With the variance approval now granted, BethWorks Renovations LLC will continue its design and approval processes for the project, which representative Rob DeBeer anticipates will take 30 to 60 days.

"We will have a full application for the board at a later date, this is just for design" said BethWorks' Seth Tipton.

The City Revitalization and Improvement Zone is a designated tax incentive area akin to Allentown's Improvement Zone, with both intended to attract new businesses by removing associated financial restraints.

The project presented by BethWorks Rennovations LLC is the first to be presented to the city that will utilize the CRIZ's tax benefits, which took effect in January of this year.

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