Atiyeh sees a ray of hope in panel’s denial
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.