ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The owner of Youell’s Oyster House hopes to reopen a bigger restaurant at the same West Allentown location before the end of this year.

Whether that happens is in the hands of the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board.

Youell’s was a popular seafood restaurant offering “casual fine dining” in the West End for 20 years.

It was heavily damaged in a Jan. 22 fire and had to be demolished.

A key issue is whether zoners will allow the new restaurant, which has no parking lot, to expand from 120 to 170 seats. Owner Christian Filipos of Allentown said not getting 170 seats will be a deal breaker.

If his plan is not approved by the zoning board, Filipos said he will find another location to build the new Youell’s.

“I have an obligation to get my employees back to work and overwhelmingly my customer base would like have us operating.”

The three-member zoning hearing board took testimony on Filipos’ appeal for more than two hours Monday night. It tentatively plans to make a decision on the case at its June 10 meeting.

If Filipos gets approval, he said he will go for building permits the very next day.

He said construction could start in June and take 180 days to complete. He said the new restaurant at 2249 Walnut St. could be completed and operating by November.

Nine objectors who live near the restaurant site attended the meeting and five testified. All said it caused parking problems in the neighborhood, problems they anticipate getting worse if a larger restaurant is built.

Most neighbors did not object to the restaurant, only to it being expanded. A few other neighbors testified in support of the expansion.

Before the fire, Youell’s seated 110-120 patrons, according to the owner. He said being limited to 120 seats will be “a deal breaker—the numbers don’t work.

Duplicating the seating we previously experienced would not be feasible.”

On busy nights, Filipos said, as many as 40 people were waiting for seats in the restaurant and sometimes people had to be turned away. He said that problem can be solved with 50 more seats.

He plans to add an upper level mezzanine area that will allow him a total of 170 seats -- 131 on the main floor of the restaurant, including seats at the bar, and 39 on the mezzanine overlooking the main floor.

Except for the mezzanine, which will be accessible only via stairs, the proposed restaurant will be completely handicapped accessible, said Filipos. He said the old restaurant was accessible inside, but the entrance was not. “We rendered assistance upon request.”

The new Youell’s will be a much safer building, said Gary Lader of Bethlehem, the architect. “For example, it will now be full sprinkled, which it wasn’t before.”

The proposed building will cover 4,134 square feet, larger than the old building, which covered 3,472 square feet.

It will have an angled front entrance facing the intersection of 23rd and Walnut streets.

Filipos said the restaurant, which will only serves dinner, will close when the kitchen closes: at 9 p.m. daily, 10 p.m. Saturdays. (It was closed Sundays, except when holidays were on Sunday.) He indicated the bar will close when the kitchen closes.

“We’ve purposely not cultivated a drinking crowd or a late night crowd,” he said.

“Ours is primarily food at the bar. We don’t want a drinking crowd. We want an eating crowd.”

Atty. Ted Zeller, the owner’s lawyer, said no citations have been issued against the restaurant’s state liquor license “in all their years of operation.”

Parking issues