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Schadt v. City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Bd.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 26, 2015

Mary E. Schadt, Appellant
v.
City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board

Argued March 9, 2015

Appealed from No. C-48-CV-2013-12719. Common Pleas Court of the County of Northampton. Roscioli, J.

James F. Preston, Bethlehem, for appellant.

Erich J. Schock, Center Valley, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 440

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, JUDGE [1]

Mary E. Schadt (Applicant) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County (trial court) denying her request for zoning relief. The trial court affirmed the decision of the City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board (Zoning Board) holding, inter alia, that Applicant failed to demonstrate the requisite hardship for a use variance to convert her

Page 441

home into a suite of professional offices. We affirm.

Applicant's property is located on the corner of West Market and New Streets in the City of Bethlehem's RT High Density Residential District[2] and North Side Historic District. There are three detached buildings on the property. The property's centerpiece is a 164-year old three-story single-family dwelling that fronts on West Market Street. Behind the home is a detached garage with a vacant apartment above. At a right angle to the house, two small, one-story, book shops are located in a single building along New Street. An apartment has been constructed above one shop, but it is vacant. The book shops, constructed of wood, are connected to each other but not to the house. Shops are not allowed in the RT High Density Residential District, but those on the subject property predate the zoning ordinance and are lawfully non-conforming. The house is a high-value property where Applicant's family has lived for 40 years.

Applicant[3] applied for a variance under Section 1325.06 of the City's Zoning Ordinance to convert the existing single-family dwelling into a financial services office, which is a commercial use not permitted in the RT High Density Residential District.[4] At a hearing before the Zoning Board, Applicant testified that the financial services office would have eight employees, all of whom would park off site. No retail services would be conducted on the premises, and only two to three clients would visit the office per week. Office hours would be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Applicant testified that no changes would be made to the exterior of the building, any renovations would comply with applicable Historic District guidelines, and signage would be limited to a single address plate.

The surrounding neighborhood contains a mix of residential and commercial uses. On the same block as the property are two single-family dwellings, a four-unit apartment building, a two-unit apartment building, a law office, and a financial planner's office. The building directly across New Street from the property contains three businesses. Also nearby are two Moravian Academy sites, a cemetery, commercial space, single and multiple-family dwellings, and law offices.

Applicant's real estate agent testified that the property is atypical because it contains both commercial and residential uses. The combined square footage of the three buildings is 10,000 square feet. The house has a small back yard, no setbacks, and is on a busy corner. Applicant listed the property for sale in May 2013 and had 19 showings, but the presence of the apartments and retail shops presented a challenge; buyers ...


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