The Morning Call

Res­i­dents mo­bi­lize against re­zon­ing for Atiyeh se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­ity

- By Kayla Dwyer Morn­ing Call re­porter Kayla Dwyer can be reached at 610820-6554 or at kd­wyer@mcall. com. South Africa News · Pennsylvania · South Whitehall Township · Whitehall, Pennsylvania · Lower Macungie Township · Macungie, Pennsylvania · Whitehall Township · Emmaus, Pennsylvania · Emmaus

When a devel­oper seek­ing to build a se­nior care com­plex made his se­cond ap­peal to South White­hall Town­ship plan­ners Thurs­day night, res­i­dents of the homes sur­round­ing the prop­erty came pre­pared. For the time be­ing, their con­cerns pre­vailed.

Since the first time devel­oper Abe Atiyeh ap­peared be­fore the plan­ning com­mis­sion in September, neigh­bors from both South White­hall and Lower Ma­cungie town­ships col­lected about 300 sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion op­pos­ing the pro­posed Ma­cungie Manor at 900 Hil­lview Road, on a 15-acre tract span­ning the town­ships. Some of them pored through 400 pages of a traf­fic study re­quested by Lower Ma­cungie plan­ners, and dozens gave pre­pared re­marks at Thurs­day’s meet­ing, go­ing point-by­point through their traf­fic and safety con­cerns.

Com­ments evolved into mat­ters of ac­count­abil­ity and in­tegrity on both sides: the pub­lic ques­tion­ing whether town­ship lead­ers have their in­ter­ests at heart, and the devel­oper ques­tion­ing why res­i­dents are fight­ing against what he con­sid­ers a “com­mu­nity ser­vice.”

“We’re a good, pos­i­tive use to the town­ship; we­serve the geri­atric res­i­dents of South White­hall Town­ship and Lower Ma­cungie that ba­si­cally are leav­ing to go to Em­maus, among other ar­eas of the Val­ley,” said Atiyeh, who owns five other se­nior care fa­cil­i­ties in the re­gion. “We con­sider our­selves a model com­mu­nity devel­oper in South White­hall.”

“We live in this neigh­bor­hood and we know this neigh­bor­hood just like each of you know your neigh­bor­hood,” JoAnn Markowicz, who lives di­rectly across from the now-va­cant land, wrote in the meet­ing’s chat box. “Do each of you feel that enough con­sid­er­a­tion has been put into this re­zon­ing to al­low it to go through?”

By a 5-1 vote, the plan­ning com­mis­sion an­swered “no.”

Atiyeh’s Penn­syl­va­nia Ven­ture Cap­i­tal sub­mit­ted plans to both town­ships for, on the Lower Ma­cungie side, two, three-story 86-unit build­ings for in­de­pen­dent liv­ing and per­sonal care and a club­house; and on the South White­hall side, a sin­gle-story, 100-bed build­ing for res­i­dents with higher needs. The plans come to­gether as a cam­pus with open space and walk­ing trails.

In Lower Ma­cungie, the land is al­ready zoned for that use, and the town­ship plan­ning com­mis­sion ear­lier this month rec­om­mended ap­proval of the con­di­tional use of the land, send­ing it to the board of com­mis­sion­ers for re­view.

In South White­hall, the land would need to be re­zoned to al­low for denser build­ing. In September, the plan­ning com­mis­sion unan­i­mously de­cided to ta­ble the re­zon­ing re­quest, with mem­bers say­ing they first wanted to re­view the town­ship’s com­pre­hen­sive plan, which is in de­vel­op­ment.

Atiyeh’s team tried a dif­fer­ent route, pitch­ing a draft or­di­nance to South White­hall com­mis­sion­ers at their Nov. 4 meet­ing to re­zone the 4-acre por­tion of the par­cel in the town­ship. Com­mis­sion­ers re­ferred the or­di­nance to plan­ners for their in­put.

Atiyeh told the plan­ning com­mis­sion he would move for­ward with the Lower Ma­cungie por­tion — pend­ing com­mis­sioner ap­proval in that town­ship — re­gard­less of whether the South White­hall por­tion gets ap­proved. But he said this would be a detri­ment to res­i­dents of the fa­cil­ity — the de­sign of the cam­pus is such that res­i­dents could tran­si­tion eas­ily from in­de­pen­dent liv­ing to as­sisted liv­ing, right next door, as they age and need more care.

“If you’re go­ing to vote us down, please, give us a good rea­son why you’re vot­ing us down,” Atiyeh pleaded.

The plan­ning com­mis­sion wants de­vel­op­ers to use the newly adopted com­pre­hen­sive plan, aimed to be com­pleted in spring 2021, to guide the re­zon­ing re­quest. The com­pre­hen­sive plan is be­ing put to­gether with sig­nif­i­cant in­put from the pub­lic, and some peo­ple have ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment over sev­eral con­tro­ver­sial, large-scale projects in re­cent years, in­clud­ing the 780-unit Ridge Farm de­vel­op­ment.

“Cit­i­zens feel like they’re not be­ing heard,” said South White­hall res­i­dent Mon­ica Hodges, who was also ac­tive in the op­po­si­tion to Ridge Farm. “Lis­ten to us, please. We have to stay here, and we have to live here.”

Be­ing em­bed­ded in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood is a pos­i­tive in the eyes of Atiyeh’s team, which ar­gued in a let­ter in­tro­duc­ing the draft or­di­nance that com­mu­nity in­te­gra­tion is im­por­tant to com­bat the ef­fects of se­nior iso­la­tion.

“It is im­por­tant, and in the best in­ter­ests of the two com­mu­ni­ties, that se­nior fa­cil­i­ties be in­te­grated into neigh­bor­hoods and not ghet­toized, both for the men­tal and phys­i­cal health of the res­i­dents, but also to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for neigh­bor­hood res­i­dent in­ter­ac­tion, so that they come to know and un­der­stand the se­niors in their com­mu­nity,” reads the let­ter, writ­ten by at­tor­ney Blake Mar­les.

Per the re­quest of Lower Ma­cungie plan­ners, Atiyeh com­mis­sioned a traf­fic study of the Lower Ma­cungie side of the prop­erty, which es­ti­mated an added 784 trips to and from the fa­cil­ity on the sur­round­ing roads. But the study con­cluded the ad­di­tional traf­fic would not have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on con­ges­tion of the in­ter­sec­tions. It did find an ex­ist­ing speed­ing prob­lem on Hil­lview and Kressler Roads, which res­i­dents ex­pressed con­cern about dur­ing the September plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing.

The in­ter­sec­tions are not res­i­dents’ great­est traf­fic con­cern, but they worry about adding more cars to their streets, which are al­ready used as cut-through streets to avoid Route 222.

“Adding more cars (and am­bu­lances driv­ing very fast) into the equa­tion is a huge safety is­sue for our neigh­bor­hood and per­son­ally our fam­ily,” res­i­dent Julie Bar­tocci wrote in the chat func­tion. “I am very sup­port­ive of help­ing se­niors, how­ever, it should not come at the ex­pense of the safety of our chil­dren.”

The plan­ners’ vote on the mat­ter is merely a rec­om­men­da­tion. The or­di­nance now goes to the South White­hall com­mis­sion­ers for a vote.

If the project goes for­ward, constructi­on could be­gin in 2022.

 ?? GOUCKARCHI­TECTS/CON­TRIB­UTED ?? A ren­der­ing of Ma­cungie Manor, a se­nior liv­ing com­plex devel­oper Abe Atiyeh is hop­ing to add to a 4-acre par­cel on Hil­lview Road that spans both Lower Ma­cungie and South White­hall Town­ships.
GOUCKARCHI­TECTS/CON­TRIB­UTED A ren­der­ing of Ma­cungie Manor, a se­nior liv­ing com­plex devel­oper Abe Atiyeh is hop­ing to add to a 4-acre par­cel on Hil­lview Road that spans both Lower Ma­cungie and South White­hall Town­ships.

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