New Draft Zoning Ordinance

New zoning ordinance summary

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The goal of Bethlehem’s new zoning ordinance is to encourage appropriate development in the city’s core while maintaining developed neighborhoods and protecting environmentally-sensitive areas.

Design guidelines have been added to the Central Business District (CB) and Limited Commercial District (CL). While not as strict as historic regulations, the guidelines follow the established urban style including:

Building to front lot line or average front setback on the block;

Main pedestrian access facing front street;

No residential units on the first floor;

Display windows on the street; and

Putting parking in the rear.

The guidelines will ensure infill development is compatible with existing structures.

In addition, the CB district will be expanded to additional areas near Five Points and the CL district has been expanded to include Broad and Fourth streets outside Center City. Parking provisions are included to provide some flexibility for shared or off-site parking in some commercial areas.

Several parts of the ordinance deal with environmental issues. New provisions curtail development along South Mountain and in the 100-year flood plain along the Lehigh River, Monocacy Creek and Saucon Park. The steep slopes section mimics Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s model ordinance and required only minor revisions. An Open Space Development Option is proposed in the Rural Residential district to promote clustering of housing and retain open spaces in environmentally sensitive areas.

Outlying areas of the city which are primarily residential will remain so. Zoning in these areas seeks to maintain the existing density of neighborhoods. The conversion of a building into apartments will no longer be allowed in the RR District. Multi-family dwellings and Planned Unit Developments are no longer allowed in the RS District. Twin homes are an added use in the RG District.

The General Commercial District (CG) allows a mix of housing types primarily in outlying areas. New multifamily (apartment) units are only allowed in buildings that include street level commercial use. That provision also applies to the CL and CB District.

New provisions are included to create work force housing incentives. There is a shortage of affordable housing in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley and this new section will allow a density bonus for developments that include affordable housing units.

Green building is also addressed in the new ordinance. Provisions are added to permit solar panels and wind turbines. Green building incentives are added for developments that are designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards.

The next step for the new zoning ordinance is seeking input from the public, including environmental, preservation and neighborhood groups and the business community. The ordinance must be reviewed by the Planning Commission before going to City Council for final adoption.

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