BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. – The owner of a 9-acre tract of land in Bethlehem Township is operating multiple businesses that violate the zoning code, Zoning Officer Matthew Lubitz said Wednesday.
Steven Miga owns 4011 Wilson Ave., in a remote area just north of the Lehigh River and D&L canal path. Lubitz said the land is the site of an auto-repair operation, car service, junkyard and Horses Unplugged — a riding business. The property is in the conservation and recreation zoning district.
Miga and attorney David Dunn were not able to cross-examine Lubitz or present their side of the case because the Zoning Hearing Board ended the meeting after 3 hours and 40 minutes. The hearing will continue May 26.
"I don't think we should even have to be here," Dunn said early in the hearing, as documents were being exchanged. He said the township was committing "official oppression" against his client.
"I'm going to object," he said, upon hearing that township attorney Erika Farkas was going to include a police report in her presentation. "We're not even at that point yet," Farkas said.
"I'm going to object anyway," Dunn said.
"We're tending to go off the rails here," zoning hearing board member Rodman Law said. He asked that Dunn not object until he saw the materials. Law added that the board has limited authority and is not in a position to consider issues such as oppression.
Farkas started by questioning township Police Officer Brian Kirchner about Jan. 9, when he responded to a vehicle fire at the Wilson Avenue property.
Kirchner said he saw a burned-out camper, a melted portable toilet and another camper nearby which two people lived in. The residents used an extension cord from a nearby building to run their space heater, Kirchner said.
Kirchner said he asked Miga for the names of the residents of the burned camper, and Miga said he did not know because he does not handle the rentals.
On the property were multiple apartment buildings and more than 30 vehicles, Kirchner said.
Kirchner's report went to Lubitz, who had already heard a complaint about a stable going up without a permit.
In addition to operating businesses that are not permitted by the zoning code, Lubitz said no site plans were submitted to the township for some of the buildings on the property.
Before testimony began, Dunn questioned Lubitz's knowledge of the property.
"These buildings have been here for over 40 years and we shouldn't have to jump through hoops because the zoning officer didn't know that," Dunn said. He said the buildings were put up before Lubitz was born.
Miga, who owns a used car dealership, has owned the property since 1978, according to a deed presented Wednesday. He has referred to it as Fernwood Farms in some documents. The property can be reached by driving south on Farmersville Road until it turns into Wilson Avenue and veers right along the canal path.
Lubitz listed what he has seen on the property: a single-family home; apartments; an unfinished stable; chickens wandering about, even though the zoning code requires them to be in an enclosure; vehicles in need of repair; and garages for working on cars.
Under questioning from Farkas, he said repeatedly that the township has no record of site plans or permit applications for some of the buildings.
Before testimony began, zoning board Solicitor Lawrence Fox said Miga's application for relief from the zoning code was incomplete, without information on exactly what he seeks.
"I understand exactly why the township is here," Fox said. "I do not understand why the landowner is here."
As the meeting was moments from adjournment after three-and-a-half hours, Heidi von Liebenstein asked for information about the proceeding. She said she handles bookings and sales for Horses Unplugged out of her Bethlehem home, but has horses at the Miga property. The Horses Unplugged website lists the business address as 4011 Wilson Ave.
Steven Szy, chairman of the zoning hearing board, recused himself from the Miga hearing, leaving Dave Chismar to run the hearing with Fox. Chismar agreed that von Liebenstein should receive the 222 pages of evidence provided by Farkas and Dunn.
When the hearing resumes next month, Dunn will have the opportunity to cross-examine Lubitz.