The frustration of Bethlehem residents was voiced yet again over a proposal by developer Abraham Atiyeh to build an apartment complex at the southeast corner of Center Street and Dewberry Avenue.
The latest plan, a scaled-down version of a previous proposal that was denied by zoners, was turned down by the city’s planning commission Thursday because of a number of deficiencies.
But neighborhood opposition to the project went unheard by the developer, as neither Atiyeh, nor a representative of his Bethlehem Mews company, attended the meeting to speak about the proposal.
The current plan calls for four, three-story apartment buildings on a 5-acre site at 1838 Center St., with 85 dwelling units and 165 parking spaces. Traffic from the complex would exit onto Dewberry Avenue with an emergency exit on Atwood Street.
Commission member Andrew Twiggar cited notable deficiencies with the plan’s storm water management, gas lines, retaining wall, traffic improvements and fire hydrant placement. No provisions were included for waste disposal. In addition, multi-family use is not permitted in an industrial zoned area. The applicant would need a variance from the city’s Zoning Hearing Board.
Attorney Steven Goudsouzian, who represents a neighborhood residents association, said the group appeared at the meeting to again object to the plan. Pointing out that “no one is here for the applicants," Goudsouzian said, “We’re asking you to reject the plan outright.”
Bridle Path Road resident John Schadt charged that “The developer has made a mockery of Bethlehem.” Citing the frustration of residents with multiple proposals, Schadt said the developer purchases distressed properties and “counts on zoning changes to make his projects feasible."
“He represents a threat to every individual in this town,” he said in a prepared statement.
More than two years ago, Atiyeh had proposed an assisted-living facility on the property and received approval from zoners. He later changed plans to an apartment complex, citing unfavorable market conditions. When zoners denied that application, . When zoners denied that plan, he appealed to Northampton County Court. That decision is pending.
On May 29, the developer submitted plans for the 85-unit apartment complex to planners, but in recent days signage saying “Hospital. Coming soon.” was posted on the 1838 Center St. property.
Additionally, the developer has said he now will pursue plans to build two drug rehabilitation centers -- one across from the 1838 Center St. property that upon approval to build a larger facility in the former Synthetic Thread factory at 825 12th Ave.
Zoners gave approval to that plan. City officials are preparing a court appeal challenging the validity of zoners’ approval of the plan because Atiyeh did not follow through on his promise.
The second rehab facility, a 47-bed unit, is proposed for ., a former flower shop. Zoners have not heard that appeal.
“This is a game,” said city resident Sue Glemser, testifying that “this company only cares about the bottom line.”
Following the meeting, Northeast Bethlehem Action Committee member Greg Zebrowski said the commission’s action was appropriate. Noting that the group supports responsible development, Zebrowski reiterated that the group’s mission is to protect the quality of the neighborhood.