Developer Abraham Atiyeh on Monday night finished presenting testimony to the city Zoning Hearing Board supporting his proposal to convert a vacant church to a voluntary inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center.
The hearing, which has already been held over four nights – beginning on October 20 – was continued until January 4 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
Atiyeh is seeking a special exception to convert the former Calvary Baptist Church at 111 Dewberry Ave. into a 70-bed clinic. The building is 300 yards from Bethlehem Catholic High School in a residential area surrounded by playgrounds, an athletic field, homes, apartments and Kirkwood Village, a residence and nursing facility for the elderly.
Atiyeh is currently singlehandedly dominating the Zoning Hearing Board agenda. The board will meet again at 6 p.m. tonight to discuss Atiyeh’s plans to build a 96-unit apartment complex at 1838 Center St., the corner of Center and Dewberry, where he has had two other plans fail – one before zoners and the other before the city Planning Commission.
On Monday, the Zoners heard from Erik Hetzel, a land use planner with Glackin Thomas Panzak, Paoli, who testified that the new facility would be a benefit to Bethlehem because it will provide a socially valuable service that is currently lacking in the Lehigh Valley.
Many Bethlehem residents who need drug and alcohol treatment are forced to leave their community to get that service, Hetzel said.
He also said the project would also benefit the city because it would get a vacant church on the tax rolls. With the recent trend of closing churches in eastern Pennsylvania, many of these vacant buildings have become community mill stones, he said.