Zoners approve Atiyeh residential complex located on Linden Street
Colorful and controversial entrepreneur Abe Atiyeh had three matters scheduled for Bethlehem’s Zoning Hearing Board Sept. 3, enough to prompt an early start to what promised to be a long evening. But when the meeting started at 6 p.m., he had already continued hearings for a billboard variance near Route 378 and an assisted living facility on Pennsylvania Avenue. The only matter left was a plan to convert the former Moose and Bug nursery, at 2349 Linden St., into eight single family attached dwellings. After a lengthy hearing, the board unanimously approved Atiyeh’s request for a rare zoning use variance. But they imposed conditions to address concerns raised by residents during a lengthy hearing.
Three years ago, Atiyeh wanted to convert the nursery into a 47-bed drug and alcohol treatment center. That went nowhere. Following a lengthy and crowded meeting filled with complaints about the possible danger to a nearby elementary school, zoners unanimously panned that proposal. Atiyeh had nowhere to go but up.
Prominent Bethlehem zoning attorney Jim Preston methodically went through the plans for eight single family attached dwellings on two three-story buildings (35-foot) with the required parking on an existing lot in front of the building instead of at the rear. David Harte, Atiyeh’s in-house engineer and right-hand man, said that there would also be an emergency fire lane next to the parking lot, with room for a fire truck to turn around on the 2.1-acre lot. He also pledged to replace a gravel area with grass.
Linda Shay Gardner was skeptical, saying Atiyeh purchased this property knowing Harte testified that several attempts had been made to continue running the business as a nursery, but they all failed. The unusually shaped property is also encumbered by several utility easements, which limit the ability to develop. Harte’s contention was that single family attached dwellings are “absolutely appropriate” and consistent with nearby apartment buildings and Linden Townes Condos.
The most serious concern was raised by Brent Pondelek, whose family once owned this and several other nurseries. His home is located just eight feet from where one of the three story buildings is proposed.
“I’ll look out my window and see a brick wall,” he said.
Speaking for the Linden Towne Condos, Robert Malkames said are no sidewalks. He isworried about the public safety of children on their way to and from school, especially since the complex is located on a private road leading from Linden Street. But Peter Terry, a traffic expert, testified that the traffic created by this development will be about one-fifth what someone could expect from a functioning nursery.
The one question that Atiyeh’s witnesses were unable to answer? What if the homes don’t sell?
“Could this become apartments?” asked neighbor Timothy Mason.
“We have not made that decision,” Harte responded.
In granting relief, zoners incorporated recommendations made by the planning commission. They also are requiring that the building be spaced at least 25 fgeet from Pendelek’s home.
Chairman Gus Loupos recommended that Harte continue consulting with the neighbors. Loupos missed the last two meetings, but presided over 3 1/2 hours of testimony.
“I told the doctor I couldn’t afford to miss another hearing,” he joked.
Atiyeh relied on Harte and Preston, and was absent.
In other business, the zoners granted a dimensional variance to Jerry Moore so he can build a new home on the footprint of an existing home at 67 E. Garrison St., but they delayed a Gaspar Properties’ proposal for four apartments at 413-415 Buchanan St., which served for many years as the heart of the Jolly Joe Timmer empire. No one is certain whether there’s one building there or two.