The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board will announce its decision on a proposed inpatient addictions treatment center adjacent to at 6 p.m. March 5.
Final arguments were presented Wednesday night by four attorneys, three representing groups opposed to the facility, and the fourth representing developer Abraham Atiyeh, who is seeking a special exception to operate a in the former at 111 Dewberry Ave.
The proposal, hotly contested by the school, parents, students, neighbors, city council and the mayor, has required seven, hours-long hearings before the board.
More than 90 percent of a packed stood when Jay Leeson, counsel for the high school, asked those opposed to the facility to rise from their seats. Leeson pointed to the “unusual breadth and depth” of opposition: “The mayor, council and citizens coming together collectively to say this is not good for Bethlehem. “
“I submit the evidence is concrete,” Leeson said, exhorting the board to deny the appeal.
An institutional facility is permitted with special exception in a residential zone, however, the board must find the use is in the best interest of Bethlehem and the public welfare, and a substantial improvement to neighborhood property.
“You must find the appeal is in harmony and appropriate to the character of the general vicinity, Leeson said, asking the zoners to “turn it down for the right reasons.”
Atiyeh attorney Blake Marles cited testimony of his previous witnesses who stated the facility would have no negative impact on the neighborhood, an area Marles characterized as a “somewhat disjointed neighborhood.” Additionally, he argued “this became an issue for city council because it became an election issue.”
Marles pointed out that all opposition has been “speculative,” with no evidence the treatment center or its voluntary, self-paying clients pose a threat to a private high school,” or surrounding athletic fields and neighborhood. He said opposition witnesses “tried to make this a referendum on Abraham Atiyeh.”
Christopher Spadoni, City Council’s solicitor, rejected strongly Marles’ characterization of city council’s objection to the proposal, stating, “To say it is of a political nature, we find that offensive.”
Spadoni said, “We’ve never seen an outcry in the city of Bethlehem like this.” The use would adversely impact the surrounding community, he said, noting a city planning staff member had testified it would be deleterious to the community. “City council is asking you to protect it residents and children,” he concluded.
Steven Goudsouzian, counsel for North Bethlehem Action Committee, a group of neighbors opposed to the treatment center, told the board the developer has offered conditions “to try to sell you a package.“ “Ninety-nine percent of the room could not think of a worse place to put this facility. This is the worst location.”
Youth case manager Molly Hornbrook of Bethlehem, among a half-dozen speakers against the treatment center, pleaded with the board to “see us as a community” and “hear what we’re saying. It only takes one incident,” she said.
The zoning board will issue a written decision in 45 days.