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City council offers legal help to opponents of developer Abe Atiyeh's hospital plan

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Sep 03 2013 11:17:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 04 2013 04:38:36 AM CDT
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

City council turned to a tried-and-true remedy to deal with developer Abe Atiyeh's latest plan for a hospital near Bethlehem Catholic High School.

Council voted 7-0 last night to again have its solicitor, Chris Spadoni, scrutinize an Atiyeh proposal before the planning commission -- this one for an 80-bed hospital on a five-acre tract at 1838 Center St.

Before council voted, residents battling the hospital plan urged council to have Spadoni intervene, while Atiyeh's attorney, Blake Marles, said he was "perplexed" that council would oppose his client's proposal for a hospital -- a permitted use for the property under the city's recently adopted zoning ordinance.

Marles' words had some effect, causing council to tinker with the wording of the ordinance authorizing Spadoni's participation.

Originally, the ordinance called on Spadoni to "oppose" Atiyeh's plan. Council president Eric Evans suggested changing that to "insure" that Atiyeh's plan makes clear what kind of hospital Atiyeh wants to build.

Evans pointed out that the sign on the property saying a hospital will soon be built there also says a treatment center -- a use that is not permitted in the zoning district -- is coming.

Spadoni will make sure than Atiyeh's plan is "truthful, and in good faith," Evans said, noting that the kind of hospital built on the property "should not be based on market conditions," as Atiyeh has suggested it will be.

Council member Karen Dolan agreed, saying Atiyeh's plan is "not clear" and "potentially misleading."

"Just because you say something's a hospital doesn't make it a hospital," Dolan declared.

In other business, council held up making a decision on whether a property owner at 443 High St. should be allowed to repaint the rear section of his house black, as recommended by the city's Historic and Architectural Review Board.

Council hesitated because John Guranich, whose property at 441 High St. shares a common wall, raised an objection.

Guranich said his neighbor's black matte sheen finish would clash with his home's Victorian tan paint, and that the review board ignored some of its own guidelines in making its recommendation.

Council decided to wait until Oct. 15, after council member David DiGiacinto told his colleagues "the neighbors are talking to one another" to settle their differences.

"Give them a chance to work it out, rather than black and white it tonight," said DiGiacinto, adding with a smile, "no pun intended."