Beth­le­hem board de­nies Atiyeh’s apart­ment plan

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Peter Blan­chard

Beth­le­hem zon­ing of­fi­cials re­jected a pro­posal Wed­nes­day night for a lux­ury apart­ment build­ing in Beth­le­hem, the lat­est de­nial in a se­ries of set­backs for Le­high Val­ley de­vel­oper Abe Atiyeh as he seeks to de­velop land he bought more than a decade ago.

Atiyeh, on be­half of Penn­syl­va­nia Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Inc., sought a use vari­ance to build 125 mul­ti­fam­ily units in four apart­ment build­ings at 1838 Cen­ter St. dur­ing a zon­ing board hear­ing at City Hall. The prop­erty is in the city’s in­sti­tu­tional zon­ing dis­trict, where con­struc­tion of apart­ment build­ings is pro­hib­ited.

Res­i­dents, con­cerned about the neigh­bor­hood aes­thetic, brought le­gal coun­sel.

“Every­body’s fight­ing with me. I don’t un­der­stand this,” Atiyeh said, ad­dress­ing the board and roughly a dozen at­ten­dees. “I’m look­ing at compatibil­ity with the neigh­bor­hood, I’m try­ing to be rea­son­able, and the neigh­bors are still fight­ing.”

When pre­sented with the plans at its meet­ing last week, the city Plan­ning Com­mis­sion de­cided not to rec­om­mend the project and ad­vised the Zon­ing Hear­ing Board to fol­low suit.

Atiyeh bought the 5-acre site — a short dis­tance from Beth­le­hem Catholic High School — for $1.4 mil­lion in 2007 to con­struct an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity. That pro­posal was ap­proved by the zon­ing board, but Atiyeh ul­ti­mately de­cided not to pur­sue the project, cit­ing an over­sat­u­rated mar­ket and na­tional com­peti­tors in the in­dus­try. In­stead, Atiyeh sub­mit­ted plans for up­scale apart­ments, and when that was re­jected, a 50-bed psy­chi­atric hospi­tal, which the zon­ing board re­jected in 2009 but is the sub­ject of lit­i­ga­tion in Northamp­ton County Court fol­low­ing an ap­peal from Atiyeh.

Atiyeh said he was ap­proached by an apart­ment op­er­a­tor who ex­pressed in­ter­est in build­ing lux­ury apart­ments on the site. Atiyeh de­clined to name the in­ter­ested party.

Lo­cal at­tor­ney Chad DiFelice, rep­re­sent­ing the res­i­dents, said they are con­cerned be­cause the project doesn’t re­flect the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood.

“I think [res­i­dents] would be OK with res­i­den­tial apart­ments,” DiFelice said. “It’s the vol­ume and the num­ber of units you want to squeeze in there that is the is­sue.”

Atiyeh ini­tially pro­posed a 125-unit build­ing but told the board he would be will­ing to scale down to 96 units.

Vicki Evert, who lives on Bri­dle Path Place, brought up con­cerns about the ex­tra traf­fic the project would bring to the area. “The park­ing and the traf­fic is al­ready ex­tremely dif­fi­cult dur­ing school hours,” Evert said, men­tion­ing specif­i­cally the nearby in­ter­sec­tion of Il­lick’s Mill Road and Cen­ter Street.

The board voted unan­i­mously to deny the apart­ment pro­posal, though Atiyeh said he plans to ap­peal the board’s de­ci­sion while also pur­su­ing other op­tions for the site.

His law­suit chal­leng­ing the de­nial of his psy­chi­atric hospi­tal plan re­mains in lit­i­ga­tion.

“If the pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion ruled in my fa­vor, I would pur­sue that,” Atiyeh said in a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day morn­ing.

Peter Blan­chard is a free­lance writer for The Morn­ing Call.


This ren­der­ing is the type of apart­ment build­ing that de­vel­oper Abe Atiyeh is propos­ing at 1838 Cen­ter St. in Beth­le­hem.

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