Atiyeh sees a ray of hope in panel’s de­nial

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Charles Mal­in­chak

De­vel­oper Abe Atiyeh didn’t get ex­actly what he wanted from the Beth­le­hem Plan­ning Com­mis­sion but it came close which is a path to build­ing an apart­ment com­plex on Cen­ter Street.

Atiyeh went be­fore the com­mis­sion Thurs­day night seek­ing ap­proval to de­velop his prop­erty at 1838 Cen­ter Street into a 125-unit, four-story apart­ment com­plex. The project was de­nied by a 5-0 vote.

The de­ci­sion, which will be passed on to the city Zon­ing Hear­ing Board, wasn’t all bad for Atiyeh be­cause it in­cluded a rec­om­men­da­tion that the project should be con­sid­ered if it re­duced the num­ber of apart­ment units.

“I’m happy about it. Less is bet­ter than no,’’ Atiyeh said.

Com­mis­sion Chair­man Robert Melosky said af­ter the meet­ing that the prop­erty, ad­ja­cent Beth­le­hem Catholic High School, has been in flux for at least 10 years.

The most con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal was for a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal which was de­nied by the zon­ing board and is wend­ing its way through the court sys­tem.

That court case, Atiyeh said ear­lier this week, is one he thinks he can win.

An apart­ment com­plex is not per­mit­ted in an in­sti­tu­tional zone, but com­pared to what Atiyeh said would be al­lowed there, the apart­ments should be the least of­fen­sive to neigh­bors.

In his pre­sen­ta­tion to the plan­ning com­mis­sion, he re­cited pas­sages from the city’s zon­ing rules and what they listed as ac­cept­able uses in an in­sti­tu­tional zone. Some of those uses in­clude an arena, laun­dro­mats, cre­ma­to­rium, col­lege, man­u­fac­tur­ing, movie the­ater, hospi­tal and ur­gent care fa­cil­ity.

“This use I have is the least of­fen­sive to the area. It is sur­rounded by res­i­den­tial yet I still get op­po­si­tion (from neigh­bors),’’ he said.

At­tor­ney Chad DeFelice, rep­re­sent­ing sev­eral res­i­dents in the area, said Atiyeh re­peat­ing what can be built on the site shows there are other uses be­sides apart­ments or a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal.

“He just doesn’t want to do it,’’ he said.

DeFelice called the com­plex a “great idea but one that just won’t work there.’’

Apart­ments were pro­posed there about seven years ago that in­cluded 96 units which DeFelice said was a pro­posal de­nied by the city.

“It makes no sense. I’m not sure why we’re con­sid­er­ing this,’’ he said.

Neigh­bor­hood res­i­dent Chris­tine Ussler ad­dressed the com­mis­sion and said what­ever is built there, cor­rect­ing an al­ready fail­ing storm wa­ter drainage sys­tem needs to part of the plan.

“It’s stressed to the limit,’’ she said.

Atiyeh’s next move is to re­design the apart­ment plans, called Beth­le­hem Mews, with less units and then go be­fore the Zon­ing Hear­ing Board for a vari­ance to con­struct the hous­ing project in the in­sti­tu­tional zone.

“Maybe that would be three sto­ries. Just some­thing with less units,’’ he said.

The plan­ning com­mis­sion did vote on a pro­posal, be­fore the one they passed, that sought to ap­prove the plan with the con­di­tion it have only 96 units. That pro­posal failed in a 3-2 vote.

Melosky said af­ter the meet­ing that if a vari­ance is granted and the project moves for­ward, it would end the decade long un­cer­tainty of what will be built on the site and bring some­thing more ap­pro­pri­ate to one of the key en­trances to the city.

“It is the gate­way to the city from Route 22. When peo­ple en­ter from there we want some­thing that shines. This would en­hance that,’’ he said.

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