BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem City Council took the first step toward imposing a five percent water rate increase on city residents Tuesday evening.
No residents asked questions about the proposed increase or raised any objections to it.
Council also held a public hearing on a request to transfer a state liquor license from a restaurant in Easton to another in Bethlehem, which formerly was known as The Lantern.
Final action will be taken on both issues at council's Aug. 19 meeting.
The state Public Utility Commission already approved a five percent increase for Bethlehem water customers outside the city.
The city's regional water system serves 10 different municipalities outside Bethlehem, explained David Brong, the city's business administrator.
In response to a question from council president J. William Reynolds, Brong confirmed city residents will pay the same increase as water customers living outside Bethlehem.
Brong said the difference is that City Council must approve the increase for Bethlehem residents, while the PUC had to approve it for people living outside Bethlehem.
"Typically, we make sure the two are aligned," said the administrator.
Brong told council the city hoped to get a 9.5 percent increase, but the PUC did not approve that much last month.
Yet Brong said: "We're okay; the water fund is okay."
With no discussion by City Council members, the proposed ordinance containing the water rate increase got unanimous first reading approval.
Also at its Aug. 18 meeting, council will act on giving final approval to a Bethlehem Water Authority refinancing proposal that includes issuing bonds to borrow up to $73.6 million for capital improvements to the city's water system.
Council also gave that proposal initial unanimous approval on first reading Tuesday.
"The market is favorable," said Brong. "The time is right to do this.
This is a good deal. It provides the water operation the necessary capital that it needs."
Agreeing, council member Bryan Callahan said the proposal "will stabilize the water authority well into the next decade."
The liquor license is sought for a new restaurant being created at 530 Pembroke Road, once the location of a popular family restaurant named The Lantern.
City Council has to approve the transfer because the license now is held in a different city. It currently belongs to Phoenicia Fine Middle Eastern Cuisine at 154 Northampton St. in Easton.
The new restaurant is named Weston Place on the license transfer application. Its owner is Anthony Spagnola of Bethlehem.
Atty. Paul Harak of Bethlehem, who represented Spagnola during the hearing, said it will be a neighborhood restaurant offering "comfort food, American food – very similar to what The Lantern was."
Harak told council that anyone living within 500 feet of the restaurant had been notified about the hearing, as the city requires, and notices about it were posted in three conspicuous places on the property.
Tom Carroll, one of only two city residents who spoke during the hearing, said he does not oppose the liquor license transfer but pointed out the restaurant is no more than 80 feet away from a Salvation Army community center at 521 Pembroke Road.
On the transfer application, the applicant indicated the restaurant is not within 300 feet of any church, school, hospital, public playground or charitable institution.
Harak apologized to City Council, saying: "That is an oversight on my part. I will fix that." He said he will amend the application and change the answer to list the non-profit and its address.
Carroll maintained that question about charitable institutions repeatedly has been answered incorrectly on liquor license transfer applications to the state Liquor Control Board from Bethlehem applicants.
"It was a simple oversight," said Harak.
Resident William Scheirer also said it's happened on previous applications and recommended to council: "Before you approve it, make sure it's correct."
Despite that omission, Carroll commended Spagnola's "efforts to improve my neighborhood. It looks like they're doing to a great job with the renovation so far."
Council member Eric Evans noted the place has been gutted and work is being done "soup to nuts, top to bottom" to totally redo it.
"You're doing a great job and I wish you luck with it," Callahan told Spagnola.
Callahan said he worked at The Lantern washing dishes when he was 12 years old.
Member of council members noted Spagnola also owns Sotto Santi, along S. 4th Street in south Bethlehem.
Council member Michael Recchiuti thanked Spagnola for his continued investment in the city and wished him success.
Spagnola said the lower level of the new place will be a banquet facility, used for weddings, reunions, funeral wakes and other events.
Evans said a number of restaurants with different names have been at that location, in addition to The Lantern.
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