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Zoners agree to delay consideration of proposed Atiyeh drug and alcohol rehab center for adolescents

Published On: Jul 29 2013 11:48:13 PM EDT

A confrontation between developer Abe Atiyeh and residents who oppose his plan to put a rehab center in their Allentown neighborhood was put on hold Monday night.

Atiyeh, through his attorney, William Malkames, asked Allentown Zoning Hearing Board member Scott Unger to recuse himself from considering a request for a variance so the vacant Hunsicker School building at 324-330 North 6th St. could be turned into a center that would provide drug and alcohol treatment for up to 87 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18. The zoning ordinance allows up to 30 patients to be treated.

The building that would house the proposed center in the medium high density residential neighborhood was a Lehigh County Corrections Center until 2010.


The rehab center would be part of an institution that serves the aged and handicapped. The variance request also asks for permission to erect a non-illuminated free-standing sign.

After Unger agreed to recuse himself, board chairman Daniel McCarthy said the variance request would be heard sometime in August by himself, board member Michael Engle and either Juan Camacho or Michael Rosenfeld, one of the board's two alternates.

Malkames pointed out that Unger has recused himself in the past when Atiyeh projects have come before the zoners. This time, Malkames noted, Unger said he was unaware that Atiyeh was a principal in Column Realty, the company requesting the variance for the rehab center.

Five people were on hand to object to the variance request. One of them, Milagros Canales, president of the Old Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association, told the zoners she wanted to submit a petition signed by 65 residents opposed to the variance. The zoners advised her to wait until they consider the variance request.

After the vote to delay consideration, Canales said the residents were against the rehab center because two of them are already located in their neighborhood, and Atiyeh's proposed center would be within 1,000 feet of them, which violates the zoning ordinance.

Malkames explained that Atiyeh's objection to Unger considering the variance was nothing personal. "Mr. Atiyeh considers [Unger] part of the city administration, and he does not consider it appropriate that a member of the city administration be on the zoning board," Malkames said.

In other business, the zoners voted 3-0 to deny a variance that would have allowed Osiris Guzman to convert a vacant first-floor at 335 North 6th St. into a unisex barber and beauty shop.

Guzman told the zoners that he acquired the property last July and wanted to move his business, VMT Barber Shop & Beauty Salon, 322 North 7th St., before January, when his lease expires.

He and one other person would work at the North 6th Street shop, which would be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Guzman said.

Richard Newman, 341 North 6th St., Eleanora Bell, 313 North 6th St., and Canales objected to the variance. All of them worried that the shop could become a hangout in what they described as a quiet residential neighborhood and worsen an already bad parking situation.

The zoners noted that even though the property was occupied by businesses off and on since the 1950s, the last commercial use of the space was more than two years ago. A lower intensity use, such as a real estate or law office, might be appropriate, they added.

In denying Guzman's request, the zoners said his application did not show that the variance was absolutely necessary for him to get any use out of the building.