Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Drug Rehab Near Becahi Faces Strong Opposition

Dave Harte, Blake Marles
At least sixty people crowded into Town Hall on October 31 for a second night of testimony concerning Abe Atiyeh's proposed 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center. Most of them are opposed to its location at 111 Dewberry Avenue, the site of the recently vacated Calvary Baptist Church. That property borders a Bethlehem Catholic High School baseball diamond and is only a block away from the Bernie Fritz playground on Atwood Avenue. Kirkland Village, one of the City's largest assisted living communities, is only a few hundred yards away.

During a five-hour hearing on October 19, Atiyeh attorney Blake Marles was only able to call four witnesses as a result of numerous concerns raised by residents.

Three City Council members - Dave DiGiacinto, Eric Evans and J Willie Reynolds - attended that October 19 hearing. And after it was over, they persuaded Council members Bob Donchez and Jean Belinski to notify the Zoning Hearing Board of their opposition in an October 28 letter. On October 31, Mayor John Callahan expressed his written displeasure, too, stating that "[d]rugs and schools don't mix."

In addition to the Complaints from five City Council members and the Mayor, Attorney Jay Leeson entered his appearance on behalf of Bethlehem Catholic.

Finally, a group of six Bethlehem residents calling themselves the North Bethlehem Action Committee fired off a letter to Mayor Callahan and City Council, asking the City to intervene. That group includes Judge William Moran, who helped write Northampton County's Home Rule Charter and recently recently stepped down from the bench. In addition to having a distinguished jurist as one of its members, North Bethlehem Action Committee retained Easton attorney Steven N. Goudsouzian.

So when zoners met for their second night of testimony, a barristers' row of four prominent attorneys were girded for battle. The combined weight of the Catholic Church, a City Council majority, the Mayor and a citizens' collective was up against Abe Atiyeh, who sat in Town Hall with his usual bag of hard candy, waiting for his lawyer.

When Atiyeh Attorney Blake Marles arrived, he quickly went to work. He called City Council member Dave DiGiacinto to establish that City Council itself had not formally intervened. Marles suggested that a letter from a majority of City Council, who had yet to meet publicly, might constitute a Sunshine Act violation. More pointedly, he complained about the "ex parte communications" from the Mayor and five City Council members, the very people who appoint and confirm members of the Zoning Hearing Board.

Zoners decided that, for now, those letters will not be admitted. They also assured Marles that they had received no ex parte communications from anyone, trying to influence their decision.

Marles then called Bethlehem Catholic High School principal John P. Petruzzelli, who admitted to sending emails and an automated phone calls to parents, urging opposition to the rehab center. As Jay Leeson repeatedly objected that "the Catholic Church is not on trial here," Marles just as repeatedly questioned Petruzzelli about the risk to students posed by the facility, which will be operated by The Malvern Institute.

Petruzzelli stated that his problem with the proposed rehab is a "perception" of an unsafe neighborhood. "It will affect enrollment and our standing in the community," the principal testified. He admitted he had done no research to determine whether it would actually pose a danger.

David Harte, a professional engineer employed by Atiyeh, described the facility in detail. He indicated that there would be no changes to the exterior of Calvary baptist Church, although security cameras would be installed. He added there would be a 6' high fence surrounding the property, as well as landscaping. Entrances will be gated. Only employees and invited guests will be admitted and there will be 24 hour security, although Harte was unable to state how many guard would be employed.

When Harte testified that the reason for the fence was really to keep outsiders off the property, the audience began to laugh.

Although patients will be able to leave of their own free will, Harte told zoners they would be unable to leave from the courtyard inside the complex, and that only employees are provided with the access codes to open and close the gates. "They don't just let somebody walk out and wonder down the street," he testified, adding that it is impossible for patients to even see the athletic fields from the building. He also testified that the church is located 300' away from the baseball diamond.

Harte added there is a need for this kind of facility in the Lehigh Valley, which would include 29 employees per shift. He pointed out that the building is currently vacant, although it is rented out to another church on Sundays. He added that this adaptive reuse of a church is a "greener use," noting that Bethlehem has several vacant churches.

Harte also stated that this new use would be "in harmony with the neighborhood," but that was challenged during intense cross-examination by Attorney Goudsouzian. Tony Marascio, who lives only two doors away, asked whether an addict walking around the neighborhood at 3 AM might affect the harmony of the neighborhood.

But Attorney Marles objected to that question. "I could reach across the table and strangle [ZHB Solicitor Eric Schock], but that doesn't mean it's likely," he argued.

Kristine Borges, a Becahi mom, asked about four Health Department citations filed against Malvern this year alone, including citations for a bed bug infestation. "I'm sorry, but there were so many [citations], I couldn't fit them all on one page.

"Does a bed bug infestation pose a harm to the community?" she pointedly asked.

At one point during the testimony, a relaxed Judge Moran suddenly stood up, and the entire room froze. "Excuse me, may I have a glass of water for my wife?" he asked.

After that, everyone else relaxed, too.

Marles wrapped up his case in two hours, making Zoning Hearing Board Chair Gus Loupos very happy. He was also pleased by everyone's courtesy. "You done good tonight," he told everyone. "You still have time to go trick-or-treating."

Testimony will continue in Town Hall on Tuesday, November 29, at 6 PM. Marles estimated he'd have tow more witnesses from The Malverne Institute, but dismissed Jay Leeson's request for more detailed information. "I don't want to try my case before being required to try my case," he noted.

64 comments:

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

Looks to be another case of NIMBY as explained by the great George Carlin. http://youtu.be/5aKlMr-fcnM
Nice to see the Bethlehem Catholics have a case of NIMBY, I'm sure Jesus would be proud of not helping others.

Anonymous said...

"Nice to see the Bethlehem Catholics have a case of NIMBY, I'm sure Jesus would be proud of not helping others"

or maybe the zoning is just improper.

Anonymous said...

The zoning is proper, that's why its permitted by special exception. It's the rich, holier than thou neighbors who apparently rather the poor people on south side have the treatment center. And apparently, if they don't see a treatment center, than no one has a problem with alcohol...so all is good in the world, right?

Anonymous said...

This is classic Atiyah. he buys property at rock bottom prices because zoning does not allow many uses. Then he strong arms municipalities into changing the zoning to do whatever he wants.

There is a reason Bill White refers to him as the Rajah of Rezoning.

No NIMBY just law. Stop drinking and start reading.

Anonymous said...

In your post of May 17 of this year you noted that Abe Atiyeh gave Mayor Callahan $2000 in a campaign contribution. in this post Mayor Callahan is on record opposing the detox center. should there be some credit to the mayor for opposing the proposal of one of his major contributors?

Anonymous said...

Whats the "rock bottom" price for the church Anon 3:27?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have de Ted a comment taking a needless shot against an Allentown blogger.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:26, you are correct. The mayor did not allow himself to be influenced by a campaign contributor, which is something I had speculated about before. I will note that when I write about this topic again, as I'm sure I will.

Anonymous said...

It's depressing to see anti-Catholic statements made and not refuted. Anti-Catholic bigotry is actually politically correct these days. Spike's a hateful prick from whom such puke is expected whenever he manages to form anything close to a coherent sentence. There are many with actual brain cells, however, who gleefully participate and encourage the hate. First they came for ....

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute... Central Catholic in Allentown has Sacred Heart Hospital across the street which has psychiatric and drug rehab beds, Hogar Crea group home for recovering drug addicts, and a jail right up the street. I don't hear the Catholics complaining in Allentown about their kids getting mugged, raped, and murdered there, and certainly it's not a problem or they would have enrollment problems there like they are claiming will happen in Bethlehem if a private treatment center is there that only accepts private payers.

I think this is a case of the rich Catholics and North Bethlehem residents crying wolf and finding bogeymen wherever they can to convince the zoners that the law shouldn't be applied to them. Couldnt anyone raise these same bogus concerns in any place where a treatment center is allowed? The answer is yes, but since they have more money, apparently the spineless mayor and council will bow down to the political pressure as opposed to stand up for their own ordinance and the spirit of helping the less fortunate. God bless Karen Dolan since she is the only one who gets it.

Anonymous said...

The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

God Bless Dolan? Please! 100s and 100s of people know what's right. They go nuts when this topic is discussed, because anyone with common sense knows the project is absolutely ridiculous. You hangin with people who agree with the project, then you hangin with kooks. Besides Atiyeh and the dudes on his dime to testify, Dolan has been the only person to publicly state that she thinks this improves the neighborhood. A drug rehab, with 6 foot fence and gates and cameras all over the roof, in that spot. Improvement? Really? Really??? Good luck selling your house on Dewberry! Would you buy a house there if the project was approved? No chance. Not fair to residents, having their home values depressed further than they already are in this market. Maybe they can build the rehab next to Dolan's house.

Anonymous said...

Dolan is the only one that is standing up for the little guy. It's mob rule with crazy conspiracy theories and the almighty dollar in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

"The zoning is proper, that's why its permitted by special exception"


um....wrong. it does not meet the criteria to be a special exception, which is why the city solicitor's office is opposing it.

Anonymous said...

"Dolan is the only one that is standing up for the little guy. It's mob rule with crazy conspiracy theories and the almighty dollar in Bethlehem."

Atiyeh the little guy? Good one. A developer spending all his wife's money. Is it the rehab co. that's the little guy? No, Malvern is a huge for-profit corp. Is it just the idea of a rehab? No again, as many agreed there are places it would fit in our city. Who is this little guy? Why put it in any neighborhood anyway? No patients allowed outside and the place is fenced in. The work is being done inside. And is it a conspiracy that it would hurt property values?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:04: Because the zoning ordinance permits it by special exception in this neighborhood and similar residential zoning districts and does not permit it ANYWHERE else in Bethlehem by right. Tell me what makes this neighborhood any better than any other residential neighborhood in the area except that these people have more money to threaten the city with. Where would you put it?

Anonymous said...

LOL...the City is opposing it for votes and money, not because it doesnt meet the law...LOL.

Anonymous said...

The law is the law. Step away from the bar.

Anonymous said...

This use is not allowed by right in the zone, it needs a Special Exception. You don't get it just by asking for one. Defined, exception is something not of the norm. It should be considered if it is special - something that improves the neighborhood. That's one of the qualifications it needs to have. One of several. It should be used sparingly, for "special" cases. Hence, the name SPECIAL EXCEPTION! Clearly, this does not meet the special exception benchmarks. Clearly. If it were permitted by right, there would be an argument here.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 8:43: you couldn't be more wrong.

Anonymous said...

Lord... I wonder if Bob Donchez can sleep at night knowing that his boss Joe Brennan, fresh from a treatment center, is freely walking the streets at night!

It's also good to know that Brennan or Boscola are not permitted to live on Dewberry Avenue or visit Becahi. Gotta save those Catholics from those criminals!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I really liked the comment at 8:3, and would love to learn why he is wrong.

As for the Catholic comments, this is neither a pro- nor an anti-Catholic matter. The concern of many parents is they do not want a treatment center near their children. I think you'd see the same reaction if one was proposed next to Liberty or Freedom.

But is this a legitimate fear? And, can Atiyeh establish the express standards and criteria set forth in Bethlehem's zoning ordinance? I agree it is not automatic, and the Commw Court has sustained denials of special exceptions. But if those criteria are met, then it has to be granted, even if it is unpopular, subject to reasonable conditions.

Marles is a very good lawyer who knows this is unpopular, but who also knows zoning law. I suspect he is creating a record for his appeal.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

Check out this link...from the State of PA website.
http://www.newpa.com/webfm_send/1512

Go to page 2, paragraph 3 under "Special Exceptions." Special exception is a misnomer...It is neither special nor an exception. It is not a deviation from the zoning ordinance. A special exception is a use envisioned by the ordinance and if the express standards or criteria are met, the use is one permitted by the ordinance.

City Council expressly authorized this use in this zoning district in this neighborhood. Yet, they are bowing down to political pressure rather than defending their own legislation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your link is appreciated.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It's also good to know that Brennan or Boscola are not permitted to live on Dewberry Avenue or visit Becahi."

You can add me to that list, too. I went thru a rehab and am a Becahi graduate, although I think my name has been expunged from the record.

Most of the people in a place like Malvern are the same people you work with every day. They are nor gang members or drug dealers, but users and drunks.

I know these treatment programs are very intense, and there is very little contact with the outside world. When I was there, I felt like a Trappist monk.

I'll be interested to hear whether that has changed.

Anonymous said...

The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

and Atiyeh is running for City Council. What happens when he wins? Will he have enough votes to put this in anyway. His signs are everywhere.

Anonymous said...

"A special exception is a use envisioned by the ordinance and IF the express standards or criteria are met"

Anon. 9:47, you need to consider the word "if." IF it meets the standards/criteria. That means it doesn't always happen. BIG if. That's where the zoning board will use their judgement. You can say it does, I say it does not. If either of us were on the board, it would matter. To me, and to the 95%+ (est.) it is clear. Our judgement is that it does not meet the standards set. And please don't argue the 95%. Walking/talking around city, who have you heard say, "Boy, I hope that Atiyeh project is approved." I would expect (hope) zoning board would reflect the same judgement. And lawfully rule against this project.

Also, using "their own" is a stretch. I understand you're trying to frame an argument to sound as though council wrote this zoning and is now changing their mind for this case, but it's a stretch. Council is working on zoning law now. Current zoning was written/approved in 70s. Most folks who approved that are no longer walking this earth. For the most part it hold up OK. Even in this case, sanity should prevail.

Anonymous said...

The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

...And the law says it shouldn't be stopped (by this zoning board). Just to clarify.

Anonymous said...

Not alowed by current law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on the law. I agree with Bernie that it should not be stopped by this board. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Not allowed in the current form as per the law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

It's inspiring that a city founded by Christians would turn a blind eye to its fellow citizens who have addiction problems from mostly alcohol or prescription drugs. Now, who wants to meet me for blackjack at the Sands?

Anonymous said...

Permitted use at Sands. Drug center not supported by current law as written. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Because the City allowed the casino to write its own zoning code. And the treatment center is permitted by special exception, so the law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Special exemption requires an action adjusting the current law. As it stands it is not allowed without an action, In summation it is not at this moment allowed, the law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Clearly allowed in the current form as per the law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

If a special action is required before desired use, it is therefore not currently allowed. I can respect the persistence of drug addicts and their feelings of persecution but reality is reality, not a disease. Not allowed under current law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

I just looked this up to double check. Bernie's analysis is correct. It should be allowed in this case. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

If it is not clearly allowed now, then an alcoholic disbarred attorney's opinion is as meaningless as another addict's. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

The law is blind to the petitioner, addict or rude ignoramous alike. Unfortunately, all taxpayers will have to foot the bill if this gets denied. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Any desired action that needs special consent over and above the law is a change. Not allowed without special consent, therefore not currently allowed. Being blind drunk is no defense. the law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Wrong on the facts and wrong on the law, which is of course the law.

Anonymous said...

Drug rehab needs exception, not currently allowed under law. Not all problems can be solved by politically correct pol's calling a no self-control drunk an addiction disease. Not currently allowed. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

PA Supreme Court: Zoning Bd cannot deny if the established conditions for exception are met. Bernie's analysis is spot on. Deniers should donate into the Bethlehem legal fund, aka the Atiyah restitution fund.

Anonymous said...

An exception, by definition, is an extension beyond the stated parameters of stated use. Current law does not allow use. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

6:16 is correct about how the zoning board is bound. They should not deny a proper application. Regardless of what 12:34 states, which I don't deny,but 6:16 is correct. And so is Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Not currently allowed. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Should not be denied...as Bernie describes above. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Special exemption to the existing law is a privlege, not a right. A respected senior jusde agrees, a disbarred alchoholic person disagrees. Mr. O'Hare is less than correct. The law, is the law.

Anonymous said...

The jsude is with the NIMBYs and the spelling disabled. Strategy is to delay and make final approval difficult and expensive, not to follow the law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Not allowed under current wording without special action. Insults are not law. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Agree with anon 12:34. Very smart. The law, is the law.

Anonymous said...

The pot calls the kettle black. Can dish it out but can't take it! Remove the plank from your eye and make a contribution to the Atiyah restitution fund.

Alcoholics can read too. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Agree w/ PA Supremes. Judge is a NIMBY--good political strategy, but abuses the legal system.

Anonymous said...

Cannot be done without special act, over and above current status. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Disagree with the SC at your [and taxpayers'] peril. This proposal should not be stopped by the ZB.

Anonymous said...

The point is this is not permitted without special action by board. On its face currently not permitted. Very simple. No threats necessary. The law is the law.

Anonymous said...

It is very simple. ZB does not have a proper cause to deny the special exception. It's folly to believe otherwise and taxpayers will pay for it.

Anonymous said...

No cause needed to not take action on a "special" exception. No action required, no action necessary. The law,is the law.

Anonymous said...

I've gotta walk away from this and not waste any more time, but on one hand is the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and on the other is a retired jsude and anonymous commenters. That's a tough one.

Please don't selfishly waste taxpayer's money with fake justifications for a political campaign that delays what should be a perfunctory decision given the facts of the proposal. Have a nice day, goodbye.

Oh yeah, the law is the law.

Anonymous said...

Someone posted on an earlier blog that we need this facility so parents won't have to drive to Philly or Scranton to see their kids. If your kid is in this kind of facility then you probably didn't see him/her on a daily basis to begin with. And what was wrong with the Allentown State Hospital Facility. Tell Atiyeh to get off of Dewberry Ave and go buy that building.

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