Bethlehem Planning Commission members took up developer Abe Atiyeh on his offer of more time to decide if he should be permitted to build a one-story, 80-bed hospital near Bethlehem Catholic High School.
After 50 minutes of discussion on Atiyeh's land development plan for a five-acre tract at 1838 Center St., Atiyeh's engineer, Dennis Harte, told the planners that his client would give them an extra two months -- until Sept. 13 -- to render their verdict. The planners voted 3-0 to accept.
The planners had until July 10 to recommend or turn down Atiyeh's land development plan, which was submitted on March 27.
City planning bureau officials said Atiyeh's plan was lacking in several areas, but one of the major stumbling blocks was how stormwater runoff would be handled.
Matt Dorner, the city's chief engineer, said the plan could not satisfy the city's ordinance.
Harte countered that claim, saying the property already met the runoff standards because it received land development approval in 2007 when Atiyeh proposed an assisted living facility there.
The amount of stormwater runoff is determined by the size of the building and the size of the parking area, and both are the same for the proposed hospital, Harte noted. "The only thing different is the name [of the facility]," he said.
Harte said repeatedly that many aspects of Atiyeh's hospital plan were covered by the previous land development approval, and that deficiencies cited by city planning bureau officials would be shown in architectural drawings. "We'll make everything match," Harte promised.
Planning commission member Andrew Twiggar was puzzled by Harte's statement. "It doesn't add up. … I'm missing something."
Planners chairman James Fiorentino wasn't buying Harte's logic. "The prior project is not relevant to us," he stated.
Fiorentino also questioned why Harte had not shared his information with Dorner and other city officials, especially in light of various concerns outlined in letters written by city officials on May 23. "You certainly knew we had problems," Fiorentino said. "I'm left at a loss as to why you don't have [the information] here."
Harte responded that the city already had it, "because the permit for this property is in the city's possession."
Several residents who have been fighting Atiyeh's various proposals for the property were on hand to voice opposition to the hospital.
Stewart Early, who lives on Main Street near the proposed hospital, was among them. He said he doubted Atiyeh's hospital plan could meet the stricter standards required of a hospital versus an assisted care facility. "What I see is [only] 40 bedrooms, two beds a room," Early said.
He also said Atiyeh should "specify his hospital's target market," and questioned the need for a hospital because of so many similar facilities with three miles of the proposed site.
Even though the planners have until Sept. 13 to decide on the plan, Harte said he intends to come back sooner to seek the planners' approval. "I plan on being here next month," Harte said, adding he "will make half of those [deficiencies] go away" by then.