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City Zoners Hear More Testimony on Proposed Inpatient Drug Treatment Center

Board listens to four more hours of testimony on Atiyeh project; hearing continued to December.

After another four and a half hours of testimony on a proposed drug and alcohol inpatient treatment facility on Dewberry Avenue adjacent to Bethlehem Catholic High School, the Zoning Hearing Board continued the hearing to 4 p.m. Dec. 19. 

Blake Marles, attorney for developer Abraham Atiyeh, who is seeking a special exception to operate the facility, told the board Tuesday night, he had one more witness to testify before wrapping up the appeal. He would not name the last witness. Zoners suspended testimony at 10:20 p.m. and decided to continue the hearing.

Penn Venture Capital LLC, owned by Atiyeh, is proposing a 70-bed voluntary substance abuse rehabilitation program in the vacant at 111 Dewberry  Ave. The sale of the former church to Penn Venture is contingent upon zoners’ approval of the plan.

Malvern Institute, a for-profit Chester County based addictions treatment facility, has a memorandum of understanding with the developer to operate the facility. The memorandum, dated November 1, was presented to the board and attorneys for the opposition after more than two hours of testimony. Marles initially rejected revealing the document because, he said, the “terms are not germane” to the zoning appeal.

The location of the treatment facility is being opposed by the , Bethlehem City Council and the North Bethlehem Action Committee, a group of citizens residing in adjacent neighborhoods. Attorneys representing the opposition are Jay Leeson, representing Becahi; Christopher Spadoni, city council, and Steven Goudsouzian, the committee.   

A petition signed by 285 parents, teachers and students at Becahi opposing the location, was presented to the board by Christine Borges of Bethlehem.

Malvern Chief Executive Officer Joseph Curran testified that the institute does not conduct substance abuse testing at discharge, but does test clients before they enter detoxification as part of an overall admissions process. That process includes collecting information from insurance carriers, families and friends, Employee Assistance Programs and others. Criminal and Megan’s Law checks are not part of the admissions process, he said. Malvern accepts only insurance paid or self-pay clients.

In addition to Curran, Marles called to testify Malvern’s chief of security, Timothy Hubbard, who also is a full-time corporal with the Westtown-East Goshen Police Department, where the institute is located. Hubbard testified the only issues with Malvern neighbors were noise complaints, and the only in-facility incidents were a theft of an item from a client, and a confrontation with a Malvern staff member. Hubbard said security is in place during nighttime hours because staff is available during the daytime.

Marles also called Malvern’s director of marketing, Monique Sexton, who testified Malvern markets in the Lehigh Valley because there is a huge need for drug and alcohol facilities, such as Malvern’s, in the Lehigh Valley. Malvern gets 10 to 15 referrals a month from the Lehigh Valley, she said, and some 10 to 15 others go to facilities in the Philadelphia area.

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