Citizens continue to challenge Atiyeh
The southeast corner of Center Street and Dewberry Avenue, once part of a sleepy cemetery, is now the most hotly litigated piece of property in Bethlehem. Frustrated residents, normally very cordial, lashed out against owner Abe Atiyeh during an Aug. 16 meeting of the Planning Commission. But neither he nor anyone from his sundry business concerns was present, despite having submitted plans for review. Atiyeh, who has zoning approval for an assisted living facility at the 5-acre site, has abandoned that project as a result of market conditions. He instead planned to build luxury apartments, but zoners shot that proposal down. So did a Northampton County judge. So did the Commonwealth Court.
Rebuffed on that idea, he presented plans for a psychiatric hospital. Those were rejected too, and that matter is now under review in court. But while a judge ponders a medical facility for the mentally ill, Atiyeh has again submitted plans for four three-story apartment buildings at this controversial site. Across the street, he's proposed a voluntary, inpatient addiction rehabilitation center at the old Calvary Baptist Church. He's also proposed converting a residence at the northeast corner of Center and Dewberry into a command center for himself and is staff. He's been rebuffed on those ideas as well.
Along the way, a small army of concerned Bethlehem residents has galvanized to fight the developer along every step of the way. Aug. 16 was no exception. A platoon of about 20 residents descended on Town Hall to protest Atiyeh's latest plans. It made no difference that the developer was himself absent.
A grassroots group calling itself the North Bethlehem Action Committee, made up of prominent citizens such as retired Judge Bill Moran and retired educator Greg Zebrowskis, has retained Easton attorney Steve Goudsouzian to advise them and oppose Atiyeh. After Goudsouzian voiced his objections to Atiyeh's latest plans, Bethlehem citizens John Schadt and Sue Glemser challenged Atiyeh's integrity. Glemser described Atiyeh as a "rich developer who does poor due diligence," and told planners that his plans have damaged "the peace and tranquility" of Bethlehem. Charging that Atiyeh's vision is "perverse and regressive," Schadt argued that Bethlehem "already has enough slumlords as it stands now." He labeled Atiyeh "an extremely callous, uncaring developer" who "has made a mockery of Bethlehem." "He needs to be told to go away," said Schadt, after reading from a prepared statement that he has declined to provide to the media. Planners did reject Atiyeh's plans, although not for the reasons stated by Schadt. They instead said they were concerned about an apartment complex that failed to include basic items like a fire hydrant. "It's a matter of public safety," explained Planner Andrew Twigger. Contacted after the hearing, Atiyeh said he expected his plans to be rejected because the apartment use has already been rejected by zoners. In other business, planners did approve a 16-home townhouse subdivision at the northeast corner of East Boulevard and Chester Road. Called "The Meadows," it has four sets of townhouses, with four in each set, proposed on a 16-acre lot located next to an apartment complex.