Hearing delayed, neighbors oppose proposed business
A proposal to open a motorcycle sales and service center in Lehighton, which is opposed by some neighboring residents, was scheduled to be heard by the borough's zoning hearing board last night.
The board decided to delay the hearing when opponents argued that the matter must first be reviewed by the Lehighton Planning Commission.
The tabling of the matter brought objections from the applicant for the store, Terry and Christina Blocker of Lehighton, who not only disagreed with sending it to the planning commission, but argued they already had received approval for the project.
The Blockers want to open the store at 497 S. Ninth St., next to the Kim DePue Nationwide Insurance Agency.
Currently located in the structure are a furniture framing operation on the second floor. A dance studio was reportedly located on the first floor from December 2002 until some time in 2004.
Zoning officer John Quinn said application was originally made on Feb. 1 by the Blockers' to conduct three businesses at the site: motorcycle sales, motorcycle service, and a beer distributorship. He said yesterday he was informed the beer distributorship was removed from the plans.
He said there would be new entrances and a modern facade installed.
The application was approved on Feb. 3, Quinn said.
Quinn noted that following the Feb. 3 approval, Blocker had purchased the building for $410,000.
He said on April 13, Blocker submitted a new application for the three businesses. This permit was denied on April 19 due to setback and parking requirements. Also on the new plans was a plan for a loading dock.
The location is zoned industrial. Quinn said zoning approval is needed for a commercial use in an industrial area.
On May 19, Quinn said, he received an appeal from the Roberti Law Office on the denial.
The zoning officer said attorney Anthony Roberti argued that any rejection has to occur within 30 days of the application. He also said an undue hardship is occurring because the building was purchased after the applicant received approval.
Quinn said he received correspondence from John Ruppell, a resident in the neighborhood, who served a spokesperson for several of the neighbors. He said Ruppell stated the concern is that "the plan is not in the best interest of the residents."
Quinn said he also received a letter signed by 16 neighbors indicating opposition to the project.
The opponents to the proposal hired attorney Gregory Mousseau to represent them. Mousseau argued that the matter shouldn't be in front of the zoning board because the borough's planning commission had not reviewed the plans. He said the borough ordinance requires that the planning commission make recommendations to the zoning board.
Roberti disagreed with Mousseau's interpretation of the borough regulations.
George Petrole, chairman of the zoning hearing board, called for an executive session to discuss the matter with its solicitor, attorney William Bayer.
After the executive session, Petrole said the matter will be forwarded to the planning commission, which meets on July 13. Unless a special meeting is called by the zoning hearing board, the matter likely will be taken up by the zoners on July 28.
"This is costing the applicant thousands of dollars," argued Roberti. "Why wasn't this done before?"
Mary Lou Brophy, the longest serving member on the zoning board, responded, "This should have been submitted to planning before it was submitted to us."
"Not true," responded Roberti.
He added that the Blockers "paid for this meeting. I hope you don't expect him to pay for another meeting." He was referring to the $500 fee charged for a zoning board hearing, which is applied to the cost of advertising and stenographer services.
Roberti said he also will not agree to any deadline extensions.
"We need to continue it (the hearing) pending review from planning," said Petrole. "For us to do anything else would cause us to be in direct violation to our ordinance."
Roberti told the zoning board, "Our understanding is it's a permitted use."
He added, "I think you should reverse your decision very quickly."
"I will cease discussion on this issue," Petrole said, bringing the matter to a close. "We will have a hearing as soon as possible."