How Bethlehem’s Zoning Rules Are Stifling a Walkable Retail Strip on Linden Street

The main thing standing in the way of the southern end of Linden Street more quickly blossoming into a better retail strip is Bethlehem’s zoning regulations.

If you look at the zoning map, you’ll see that this area of Linden Street  is zoned CL – Limited Commercial. It’s in bright red over on the right side. CL is a watered down version of the CB (Commercial/Central Business District) zone, which is in dark maroon:

The biggest problem I see is the minimum parking requirements. If you want to open a restaurant or a bar on this part of Linden Street, then you need to be able to supply:

Restaurants, Night Clubs and Taverns – One parking space for each two employees,
plus one space for every four seats for customers. A use without seats shall include a
minimum of one space for every 4 persons of allowed building capacity under the
Fire Code.

So if you want to open a restaurant with 50 seats and 6 employees, you need to supply about 16 off-street parking spaces. Obviously that’s not going to be possible for any of the existing empty attached retail spaces on Linden Street, so if you want to open a restaurant over there, you’re going to have to persuade the Zoning Hearing Board to grant you a variance. Instead of just being able to open your business, you need to get political approval.

ZHB is a veto point for NIMBYs to shut down your business, and they shut down new housing and businesses over trivial parking concerns all the time. Every single business that might want to use a retail space on this strip of Linden Street is going to end up having to go through the political ringer.

Indeed, this seems to be the whole point of the CL. They say it earlier in the document:

CL Limited Commercial District – To provide for less intensive types of commercial
uses in areas that include many existing homes or small lots that are immediately adjacent
to residential neighborhoods. The intent is to control uses that are most likely to generate
nuisances or hazards for nearby residents
, such as 24 hour operations.

If you give the near neighbors a chance to reject every proposed use on these blocks, suffice it to say that you’re not going to get a significant restaurant and retail cluster any time soon.

This is why Bethlehem needs to scrap the new zoning code, and adopt a form-based code that doesn’t regulate the uses of properties. Businesses should be allowed to freely contract with property owners to use empty retail spaces by right, without political approval. Segregating residential uses from commercial uses increases car dependence, hurts neighborhood walk scores, hurts jobs and investment, and depresses the city tax base.

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