Lehigh Valley Charter High School relocation plans back to drawing board

School must submit traffic study, planning commission says

Posted: 6:58 AM EDT Jun 14, 2013   Updated: 7:05 AM EDT Jun 14, 2013
Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts

A charter school's land development plan for its new location received an incomplete from the Bethlehem Planning Commission on Thursday.

"See you next month," said commission chairman James Fiorentino to proponents of the plan submitted by the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts for 321 East 3rd St., after he and his colleagues voted 3-0 to table the proposal.

The school intends to relocate to East 3rd Street for the 2014-2015 school year, after operating in leased space at 675 East Broad St. since 2003.

The planners said it was important that a traffic study be completed before they decide on the plan, which would merge five lots into one so a three-story high school with a lower level could be built.

Assurances from school director Diane LaBelle that "we'll do whatever the study says" were not enough to sway the planners.

Project engineer Bryan Ritter's promised, "Whatever recommendations the city makes, we will do them," but that too fell on deaf ears, as did architect Christine Ussler's claim, "Your approval is critical to the financing."

LaBelle, Ritter and Ussler were clearly disappointed with the decision.

After the vote, LaBelle said getting commission approval Thursday would have allowed the school to "move forward with financing." The decision to wait for the study "pushes things back," she said.

Ground was broken for the $27 million school last Friday.

After concerns about parking were raised, LaBelle said of the 450 students who will attend the school, "under 50" will be driving their own cars.

Ritter said Northampton County Community College offered parking for the students at the Fowler Center across the street from the charter school.

Parking for the school's 54 faculty members would be available at a private lot at East 3rd and Taylor streets, about a block from the school, Ritter said.

LaBelle said buses will bring students to the school from 7 to 7:45 a.m. and take them home from 2 to 2:40 p.m. "There are 23 buses, and 90 percent of them are small buses," LaBelle said. "It's pull up and leave."

In other business, the commission unanimously backed a request to rezone a 4.77-acre parcel at the rear of First Presbyterian Church, 2344 Center St., from institutional to residential.

Andy Bohl, of Hanover Engineering, representing Kirkland Village, said the residential retirement community has an agreement of sale for the property, and Kirkland Village would have "dual zoning" if a change is not made.

Developer Abe Atiyeh, who owns property near Kirkland Village, objected to the rezoning request and urged the commission to table it.

It would be wrong to rezone "without having any idea what's going to be done with it," he told the commission.

" I might be in favor it ... I might oppose it. ... But what are they [Kirkland Village] going to so with [the land], build 500 units or 50 units? I'm a neighbor and I would like to know."