Friday, April 06, 2012

Atiyeh Wins Prison Zoning Challenge in Commonwealth Court

Atiyeh, with relief pitcher Dickie Noles
After suffering a series of legal setbacks before zoning hearing boards and planning commissions, Abe Atiyeh has finally won one. A three-judge Commonwealth court panel has cleared the way for a privately run, 300-bed facility in Bethlehem Township.

Speaking for the Court, Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman rules that the Township's exclusion of prisons from its zoning ordinance makes it unconstitutional. Pouring salt into the wound, she also awards Atiyeh site-specific relief, enabling him to build a prison at 4255 Fritch Drive, located in an industrial park near Route 191.

That's where Atiyeh had originally intended to build a 300-bed work release and treatment center for Northampton County but Bethlehem Township zoners repeatedly blocked him. Atiyeh and Executive John Stoffa eventually decided on a smaller facility in West Easton.

"We won the case, but lost the customer," Atiyeh complained, condemning the stall tactics he faces from many municipalities, even when zoning relief should be obvious. "They find a way to stall you and block you until the customer goes away," Atiyeh lamented, noting that he has spent over $300,000 in legal and engineering fees for the Bethlehem Township site.

"It's about time that somebody stands up to those municipalities and slaps them with a lawsuit to teach them a lesson, and I just might be guy to do it," Atiyeh declared.

But Paul Weiss, President of the Township's Board of Commissioners, said the Township never rally had any control over Atiyeh's proposed work release facility. "That's a function of the Zoning Hearing Board," he said. "Our hands were tied."

Weiss added that, although Atiyeh did seek a zoning change to allow for prisons, he never saw an actual plan. "We told him, 'Submit a plan and we'll look at it.'"

Atiyeh stated he will now market the site to county, state and federal governments for a private prison.

The Commonwealth Court's decision reverses both the Township's Board of Commissioners as well as a 2011 decision of Senior Judge Michael Franciosa. Weiss indicated it's unlikely Commissioners will ask the Supreme Court for review.

Updated 1:42 PM,  4/7/11, to correct a factual error. The Zoning Hearing Board had no involvement in the curative amendment. 

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is just a more of Franciosa's legal work being cleaned up by higher courts. It's time for him to stop pretending to be judge.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Abe, I think u should break ground, start building, and sell it to the GEO group and turn a quick, deserved profit

Bethlehem township resident

Anonymous said...

Good for the zoning board they kept the druffies out. Shallow victory for Abe.

Anonymous said...

Either way, Abe is still a loser!

Sheldon Jacobs said...

Weiss - hiding behind smoke and mirror facts once again. What a girly man he is.

Anonymous said...

Bernie-

I believe this decision is on the curative amendment matter-not the zoning appeal.
That zoning appeal for the treatment center was decided long ago by Franciosa, and not appealed by either party. He ruled the conditions imposed by the ZHB were not legal and allowed the Township and Atiyeh to agree on conditions, that he approved.

The curative amendment is 100% the Township commissioners, the ZHB had not part in that matter. Weiss is attempting to spin this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is an appeal on the curative amendment. You are correct. But the curative amendment would never have been sought had the ZHB been reasonable with the special exception for the treatment center.

zoid said...

Weiss is not trying to spin anything. The treatment center and the prison use issue are two distinct and separate issues. The zhb laied an egg several times on the treatment center, had nothing to do with the curative amendment.I have followed this whole Abe fiasco and the board by majority believed based on the testimony at the curative amendment hearings that the township ordinance allowed the use. Further as documented and noted in the current Express Times article on this issue, It was suggested to Abe by Attorney Margle that we permit the use, submit a plan, we will review it like any other application and we will put it through the land development process like any application. To my knowledge, no such plan was ever submitted.Abe would rather fight and that coming from a township taxpayer. Speaking of which he is also the guy behind the lawsuit filed against the township for their approval of the Madison Farms preliminary plan. Just read the newspaper, his actions speak for themselves, it is not just here in BT it is in the city of bethlehem, allentown, etc, etc.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Doc Rock is right. I know that the BOC actually had a different view about Abe's proposed use than the ZHB. But that was not their call. They also were willing to consider Abe's curative amendment, and just asked to see a plan. That sounds reasonable to me, but

Abe has a legitimate beef against the Township ZHB, but I think the BOC really wants to be fair to everyone, including him.

zoid said...

Bernie, how do you juggle all these balls!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Easy. I just make shit up!

Anonymous said...

What the latest on his NIZ dispute?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'll check that out. Good question.

Sheldon Jacobs said...

now weiss wants to piss even more money away with an appeal. where does the township get these people?

Anonymous said...

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is an appeal on the curative amendment. You are correct. But the curative amendment would never have been sought had the ZHB been reasonable with the special exception for the treatment center.

9:37 PM

Yeah, but your article state this decision reverses the ZHB decision. That is not true.

zoid said...

To sheldon jacobs, I suppose you cannot read because from what I read in Bernie's post it was indicated that this would probably not be appealed. Further any decision one way or the other needs to come from the entire board at a public meeting not one member.

Anonymous said...

More legal bills. It isn't cheap in the court room. Unless you have a slam dunk fast case, you lose whether the case goes for you or against you, way too often.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem Township is right to oppose Atiyeh. These bully developers (Jaindl is another one) come into these communities and try and force, threats and scare tactics to get their way with their b.s. money making schemes. He'll make his quick buck and then the municipalities and community are left holding the bag for years to come. KEEP UP THE FIGHT.

Sheldon Jacobs said...

zoid, i stand corrected. However, Abe is now going to sue the township for discrimination. Thus more wasted money. Sooner or later you NIMBYs will pay.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"our article state this decision reverses the ZHB decision. That is not true."

You are correct and I will make the update.

Anonymous said...

As I recall, the Township never DENIED any prison application for approval. The developer simply said that he could not find a prison use in their Ordinance and went right to court. I believe the Township encouraged him to submit a Prison plan all along. Not sure what the purpose of the developer's challenge and appeals. All seems moot when the people he is challenging were welcoming him???? Someone correct me if I am wrong.

political parasite said...

5:15 must be the kings ex king court jester that is now a magistraight in allentown what a joke he was and always will be. Micheal De Hoemoe