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Apartments conversion denied by zoners

Published April 27. 2010 05:00PM

The Tamaqua Zoning Hearing Board denied a request from a property owner to convert two single dwelling units into four apartments. The property at 312 and 314 North Railroad Street was gutted by fire on June 9th, 2009. Owner Charles Bott, of Jim Thorpe, who has owned the property since 2006, explained that the fire damage has been removed and the two half double homes are structurally sound. He and his business partner Tom Sloan planned to convert the homes into identical apartment units, with a one bedroom apartment on the first floor, and a two bedroom unit on the second and third floors.

In order to do this, Bott needed the board to approve a change of use for the property, relief from the square footage living area for the first floor apartments, and an exception on the number of parking spaces required. Bott made his argument that the borough would be better served by salvaging the building and keeping it on the tax roll than by having it demolished. "From an investor's point of view, it works better to have two apartments than a house," he said. "Our decision is to either take the money and knock it down or rebuild it as two units." Bott also cited a demand for apartments as being a reason to convert the units.

Based on the estimates that Bott provided, the first floor living space would only be approximately 560 square feet, short of the required minimum of 800 square feet for a one bedroom apartment. Additionally, each unit would require two parking spaces, for a total of eight. There are approximately three spaces associated with the property. The property faces the borough's Pleasant Row. The only parking along that section of North Railroad Street is on private property. Bott suggested that the parking needs could be met on Washington Street, which is to the rear of the property. He added that he had made the property accessible from the rear for just that reason.

Bott's proposal did not sit well with residents in the neighborhood. Fifteen of them showed up to voice their concerns about the changes. Larry Padora, whose family owns several properties along the street, including the one that houses the family business, the Tamaqua Italian Bakery, questioned the parking plans. "I know the police were called to the property because your tenants were blocking the road," he said. Mickey Padora said he had delivery drivers ask the tenants to move their vehicles and they did not cooperate. "We can't get in in the morning, afternoon, at night," he said. Padora also noted that at the time of the fire, 21 people were living in the residences."I had no idea they were there," said Bott.

Another neighbor, Richard Bachman, raised concerns about Bott's tenant screening process. "If you keep renting to the caliber of people that you're renting to, you're going to have instances," said Bachman.

The Board voted against the proposal unanimously. After the decision, Chairman Richard Clemson explained, "We appreciate you thinking about the community, but what we have to do is follow the laws and the regulations. We have to take into consideration the neighbors and what they're saying." Bott answered, "Some things came to light here. I didn't realize the problems. I would like to minimize the problems to the neighborhood."

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