BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. – Members of the Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Board are urging the Board of Commissioners to reopen the municipal building so that in-person meetings can be held once again.
The township municipal building has been closed since the pandemic hit a year ago. At Monday night's meeting, zoning board members told commissioners they would like to begin holding meetings in public once again.
"It's a feeling of our board that it's very important," said member Rod Law. "We feel it's really, really important to have this in-person meeting, especially with some of the situations that are on our agenda moving forward."
"Give us a shot," said member Paul Weiss. "Let us have an open meeting."
Township officials said there are plans for a hybrid return with allowance for limited in-person for meetings. However, those details have not been worked out completely. They plan to have a full discussion on the matter at the next meeting, which is scheduled for April 19.
"I think we can," said Commissioner Michael Hudak. "I was told open up in a virtual aspect but there are certain requirements that we have to follow."
"I'm not against the idea of opening up soon," said Commissioner Malissa Davis. "I just think it's not a 'snap your fingers and it all works out' kind of thing."
According to Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Stephen Szy, there is a zoning hearing set for next month that is expected to garner a lot of resident attention.
"I don't think we've had a problem yet," said Szy. "The controversial hearing that we have coming up — I think that's going to be a problem."
"We want to have an open meeting; that's how we best serve the township," said Weiss. "We can do it. We can do it safely."
Residents like Barry Roth have been asking for the municipal offices to reopen for months now.
"This stuff has got to open," said Roth. "We are never going to get 100% cure rate here, OK. We need to get out and we got to do it. Life is inherently risky. We got to stop being scared," he said.
Township officials agreed on Monday night to start to reopen several other facilities, including some pavilion rentals, baseball fields, the municipal pool and the summer playground program. Basketball hoops and nets will not be returned to courts as of yet, a decision met with varied reactions from the commissioners.
"Basketball is different," said Commissioner John Gallagher. "You have to be in close proximity. It is a different game. At this point in time I would rather be more cautions and keep the hoop off," he said.
"How do we differentiate all the kids getting together in the playground program but not playing basketball?" questioned Hudak. "With the playground programs, these kids are on top of each other all the while they're there," he added.
Officials for the program said there have been some modifications to the program due to COVID-19, including a reduction of the camp attendees, changes in hours, and increased staff.