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Bethlehem Twp. Zoning Hearing Board listens to case where developer argues hardship in zoning denial

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 28 2012 10:47:09 PM CST
BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. -

Mercurial developer Abe Atiyeh is many different things to many different people.

On Wednesday night the Bethlehem Township resident took on the role of spurned public watchdog.

That assignment was delegated to him by the Zoning Hearing Board when they refused to hear his case alleging spot zoning involving a strip mall to be built on William Penn Highway on the basis they lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case and that Atiyeh did not have the standing to bring the case before them. The votes were 5-0 and 4-1 respectively.

The challenge was to a decision made by the board of commissioners that involved a proposed gas station/fast food and strip mall project to be constructed on William Penn Highway, across from Farmersville Elementary School. His case was based on the fact that he owns property near the location and that his private residence is also within close proximity. The reason for the challenge was that the project would adversely impact residential areas with additional traffic, lower quality of life and the attraction of a seedy criminal element.

Atiyeh sat passively next to his attorney, Mike Carr, during legal arguments, periodically gulping a drink from a large green thermos he carted with him to the table and shaking his head in disagreement to opposing arguments. And a uniformed police officer assigned to dispel any potential problems also stood by passively, as the evening was devoid of theatrics. While a few dozen people turned up, the room was nowhere near packed.

Township solicitor James Preston shot holes in Atiyeh’s case from the get-go, arguing that Atiyeh’s premise for hardship amounted to little more than a publicity stunt designed to foster political mischief of which he could exploit.

“His case is essentially throw it up against the wall and see what sticks,” Preston said of his challenge.

Carr reiterated a central theme throughout the oral arguments that the zoning adopted by the township's legislative body was not consistent to previous decisions and zoning designations.

Preston’s counterargument was essentially based on the fact that the challenge was baseless and purposely ambiguous.

Board Chairman Stephen Szy mostly agreed. After much verbal acrobatics, he described Atiyeh’s case this way.

“You just don’t like the ordinance,” he said. He added that if he wished to pursue the matter further he should take it up with the Northampton County Court, the only body with the authority to overturn the commissioners’ decision.

However the zoning hearing board has not seen the last of Atiyeh, who has another hearing scheduled before them at 6: 30 p.m. on December 5th on a housing complex known as Madison Farms off of Freemansburg Avenue.

The board agreed Wednesday night to hear arguments for that case independently from the decision on the William Penn Highway challenge, although Szy note the premise of the cases were nearly identical.