The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board is a hero to the owner of a struggling deli near Moravian College.
The zoners voted 3-1 Wednesday night to allow William Tomino a variance to double the size of his tiny deli at 1037 Main St. This is a special exception to Tomino to establish a restaurant with three tables on the premises, and a sizable expansion of the hours his business will be allowed to operate.
Tomino told the zoners he needed the changes to have a fighting chance to keep his 14-year-old business afloat, noting he has been "operating at a loss" since 2010.
Several property owners with homes and garages near Tomino's business were dismayed by the board's decision.
They testified that Tomino has been a bad neighbor who permitted the one-story building housing Tomino's Deli to become an eyesore and who brazenly flouted the rules he agreed to in 1998 by continuing to deliver hoagies and sandwiches from midnight to 3 a.m., when his business was supposed to be closed.
Grace Kelleher and Andrew and Martha Popichak were Tomino's severest critics. Kelleher recited a laundry list of things neglected by Tomino that left her property strewn with garbage, debris and animal droppings.
The zoners reached their decision after 25 minutes of deliberation following 90 minutes of testimony.
Zoner Michael Santanasto, who cast the no vote, encouraged both sides "to reach out to each other" and try to settle their differences. He even suggested that if they worked hard at it, Tomino's critics might become customers.
The zoners' decision means that Tomino can now prepare hot food that can be served at his deli, instead of just hoagies and sandwiches. Tomino said he plans to add burgers, fries and steak sandwiches to the menu.
He will now be able to operate from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, compared to the current 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and closed on Sundays.
In his testimony, Tomino pointed to three similar nearby businesses in the residential zoning district, Victory Pizza, 1230 North New St., Nick's Pizza Restaurant, 822 Main St., and Carl's Corner, 2 West Elizabeth Ave. that operate without the restrictions he does.
Without the changes, Tomino told the zoners, "I can't compete. It's like an NFL team playing against a high school team."