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BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Bethlehem City Council during its Tuesday night meeting approved an amendment that could prevent a stalemate and ultimately advance a zoning change at the former Martin Tower site.

The amendment, offered by Councilmember Michael Colon, is related to a proposed zoning change requested by developers Lewis Ronca and Norton Herrick. The amendment would make changes to the city's zoning ordinance "in connection with parking in front of principal buildings, entering and exiting onto an arterial street and rear yard setback," according to Colon.

During a June 1 council meeting, Colon said the developers' bill did not adequately limit the number of parking rows that could hypothetically be constructed on lots in the city's office/mixed-use district.

To reach a compromise, Colon conceived his own legislation. His amendment "attempts to address this concern by limiting the number of driving (aisles) and rows of parking spaces placed between a principal commercial building and the curb line of an arterial streets along the front of lots in the OMU District to two driving aisles and four rows of parking spaces."

"I thought this was a modest change and something we could live with," Colon said on Tuesday night.

"I think this is a common-sense amendment," said President Adam Waldron.

The approval of Colon amendment's means the original zoning amendment request offered by Ronca and Herrick begins the approval process, with comments from the Bethlehem and Lehigh Valley planning commissions, a council hearing and then two approval votes.

A public hearing is slated for July 20, with first reading Aug. 3 and second and final reading Aug. 18.

Councilmember Paige Van Wirt said the developers circumvented the process for the relief they seek, which would be to obtain a variance through the zoning hearing board.

She added the developers' request amounted to "contract zoning."

"I am not comfortable changing the zoning code for a private developer," she said.

"I don't understand why we have to change our law," added Councilmember Olga Negron.

Councilmember Bryan Callahan had a different view.

"The developers have bent over backwards to meet as many issues as they could," he said.

Ultimately Colon's amendment unanimously passed.

The 53-acre property, located at 1170 Eighth Ave., previously served as the world headquarters for the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation and is considered by the city and regional agencies as key development. The proposal by developers featured 300 apartment units, a 130-room hotel, two medical offices, a restaurant, gas station, grocery store, retail and parking.

Christopher Columbus statue

In other business, council approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Bob Donchez and the city's controller to execute a lease agreement to move a Christopher Columbus statue, currently located in the Bethlehem Rose Garden, to the Holy Savior Cemetery on Linden Street, which will be the monument's new home. The agreement is between the City of Bethlehem and Diocese of Allentown.

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