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South Side Bethlehem residents voice concerns over student housing

South Side Bethlehem residents Thursday implored the city’s Planning Commission to take a long, hard look at a proposal for additional student housing in their neighborhood before recommending it move ahead.City dwellers living nearby First Terrace took turns voicing their displeasure over Lehigh Property Management’s intention to add two four-unit townhomes each numbering five bedrooms with three floors above garages to the narrow, hilltop street zoned high-density and overlooking the Asa Packer Campus of Lehigh University.Austin Siboni, managing member of Lehigh Properties and landlord of several houses on First Terrace, proposes to raze four homes he owns on lots 496, 508, 514 and 520 to make way for the new housing on 0.7 acres.The proposal will require zoning variances related to impervious coverage, location of garage doors, cars being permitted to back out to First Terrace and minimum lot size.They will go before the Zoning Hearing Board at 6 p.m. June 26 in the City Hall Rotunda at 10 E. Church St. in hope of obtaining them.The plan will then come back before the planners for land development approval if the variances are granted, said Darlene Heller, director of planning and zoning.Gretchen Starke, a resident of First Terrace for 12 years, said bringing in more students will add to an already jammed parking situation on their street.“Parking obviously is a huge issue for our block already,” she said.The board reviewed a sketch plan revision from one presented to them in March and opted by a 2-1 vote to advance it to the zoning board with no action for or against.Vice Chairman Matthew Malozi, who cast the lone no vote, said he’s concerned that the project might not fit within the community, and urged those in attendance to return for the zoning hearing and speak again.“I want to see the plan continue to evolve in a less dense fashion,” he said.Chairman Rob Melosky was absent.Changes since March include the addition of curb and sidewalk and cutting a single proposed building of 10 units in half and reducing the number of dwellings to 8, said Engineer Karl Leitner of Barry Isett & Associates.“We’ve created a plan that conforms to all of the ordinances of the city,” he said.They also removed second-floor balconies from the units, said Heller.Seth Moglen, of Hillside Avenue, said the proposal amounts to a money-grab by an out-of-state developer who wants to cash in at the expense of students and the surrounding community.“The neighborhood will be destabilized by this project,” he said.Kristin Handler, also of Hillside Avenue, said the proposal will change the character of a thriving, diverse neighborhood.“These are conditions where we would seriously consider moving,” the 17-year resident said.Siboni did not attend the meeting and was unavailable for comment.Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.
Source: Morningcall

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