BeCaHi Principal: Rehab Center Would Hurt School

Opponents of Atiyeh drug & alcohol treatment center present case to Zoning Hearing Board.


Witnesses testifying in opposition to a proposed addictions treatment facility adjacent to told the city’s Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday night how the center would have a negative impact on the school and the community.

Citing safety concerns for the 758 students at Becahi, which is contiguous to the property at 111 Dewberry Ave., Becahi principal John Petruzzelli said, “Association of narcotics addiction with violence and crime will unquestionably color the decisions of families in their choice of whether or not to send their sons and daughters to Bethlehem Catholic.  I am very concerned that they will deem the area as potentially unsafe for their children.”

Further, Petruzzelli said, the facility would negatively impact the continued existence of the school and its property value, as well as that of the surrounding residential area, which includes playgrounds, Little League fields, churches, a day care center, senior living facility and nursing care center.

Developer Abraham Atiyeh is seeking a special exception to operate a 70-bed inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in the vacant Calvary Baptist Church. This was the fifth hearing on Atiyeh’s appeal.

Echoing the issues of children’s safety were witnesses William Nelson, former principal and director of student services, and Gregory Zebrowski, a former teacher and behavior analyst at Centennial School at . Both witnesses outlined their work in addictions programs, and agreed treatment facilities are needed. Both reside in the neighborhood.

 “My concern is the folks can come and go,’’ from the unsecured facility, Nelson said, emphasizing, “Reality is we are talking about the potential for children to interact with drug addicts.”  He concluded, “I don’t think you can find a much worse [site].”

Zebrowski, who objected to “putting an addictive clientele next to a high school,” said he has worked with addicted youth who were irrational, agitated, anxiety-driven and unpredictable. The “most serious concern” is residents could walk out and interact with children, he said, adding, the operator “cannot guarantee that interactions would not take place.”

Blake Marles, representing Atiyeh’s Penn Venture Capital firm, objected to testimony by Tracy Samuelson, the city’s assistant director of planning and zoning. Marles characterized Samuelson as “a biased witness,” as a city employee, prompting a 20-minute recess to determine if testimony would be allowed.

City Council solicitor Christopher Spadoni said Samuelson was presenting a professional opinion about whether a special exception would be in the “public welfare of the city of Bethlehem.”

Allowed to testify, Samuelson said that a 70-bed facility, “a facility of this large size is not compatible with the neighborhood.”  Special exceptions are intended to be in harmony with the community, Samuelson stated, noting that in her professional opinion it is not. After lengthy questioning by Marles, Samuelson gave the analogy, “The elephant may not be as compatible as a puppy.”

Several neighborhood residents also spoke about safety issues, including two who wanted to present a petition in opposition, signed by nearly 140 residents.

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. Jan 25 to hear testimony by a witness for Atiyeh and take concluding statements.

Kimberly Blat January 06, 2012 at 06:25 PM
For parents who are afraid of the possibility of their children interacting with drug addicts they should be prepared to just keep them at home. The rampant use of drugs starting in the grade and middle schools makes the contention that the high school students would be adversly affected by it ludicris. Substances abusers are present in every occupation and every walk of life. They can be your neighbor, your minister, your "anything". Perhaps the catholic school and it's members could embrace the teachings of Jesus and look at this as an oppotunity for the students to learn life's lessons from those who have lived it and perhaps keep them from following the same path. Everyone always wants these facilities in someone's backyard, but the clients are from all of our yards. It would be nice to keep them closer to hame.
Rosemary B January 06, 2012 at 09:41 PM
As a parent of children in BECAHI and an elementary school child who plays football for the little hawks on that property, I am very proud and happy that Mr. Petruzelli spoke out against placing this facility adjacent to a school and in a residential area with parks and playgrounds.He definitely was the voice of common sense. It will adversely effect the business that is Bethlehem Catholic because their are other private and public school choices out there. Having that large a concentration of drug addicts will not be something that attracts students. Would you pay to send your child to a day care adjacent to a drug rehab if you had another choice? I am sure addicts are present all over, but no one seeks to put their children in such close proximity to them on a constant basis. THAT would be ludicrous. Their are plenty of empty spaces in local commercial parks and medical parks where a facility like this would be more appropriate. And, FYI, Bethlehem Catholic students embrace the teachings of Jesus by doing tons of community service for the elderly, homeless,unwed mothers and disabled children.


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