The hour had grown late, very late. After more than five hours of testimony Monday night the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board returned from their sequestered session to the rotunda to render their verdict on developer Abraham Atiyeh’s latest controversial special exception request.
The ruling itself was almost anticlimactic. Done succinctly and with no fanfare, the five member body pitched Atiyeh a 5-0 shutout.
What was remaining of the passionate crowd that had showed up to protest the possibility that a 47-bed residential drug and alcoholic addiction treatment facility at 2349 Linden Street would be located in their residential neighborhood - in their words- creating safety and traffic concerns, lighting problems and destroying their quality of life, was content with the decision.
It wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of David Harte, the vice president of land development for Penn Venture Capital LLC, which Atiyeh owns, who did his best to mollify their concerns and testified to many topics, chief among them that the facility posed no threat to the community.
The facility, he said, was a legitimate business designed to assist otherwise decent people address terrible addictions. The stories of menace inflicted on the nearby community of individuals receiving treatment were, by and large, just that.
“We have staff people on site and participants in the program are prevented from leaving the facility without a staff person,” Harte said during the evening, as the entire facility would be key-coded to avoid such transgressions.
He then discussed specifics – a proposed 35,000 square foot, two-story facility on 2.1 acres of land with 45 parking spaces that would employ somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 individuals, with most of them, roughly 25, showing up to work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“The lighting on the property will not spill off into other areas,” he added.
The facility, to go on the site of the former Moose and Bug Florist, was an entirely new bag for residents, who collectively and individually surmised Atiyeh’s plan had more holes than a rusted strainer.
“This will create a dramatic change to the community,” said resident Stephen Barron.
Another resident, Timothy Mason, was concerned about residents of the facilities and their sightlines from their windows.
But the perhaps the biggest issue of all was the Spring Garden Elementary School, home to 563 students and just 425 feet away from the proposed facility.
The very idea of that raised the dander of nearly all the residents who spoke against the proposed facility.
Atiyeh of course has already suffered two previous defeats in his zeal to bring drug rehab facilities to the City of Bethlehem. A man who fights like a wounded grizzly bear, he does not discourage easily. He did not attend Monday night’s hearing. In fact he was rarely mentioned during the proceedings. But rest assured Atiyeh’s request spurred an earthquake of bitterness, distrust and vindication among the neighborhood residents who fought tooth-and-nail to persuade the board to deal him his latest setback.