|Erik Hetzel under cross|
Hetzel told zoners that, under Bethlehem's zoning ordinance, a 70-bed voluntary inpatient substance abuse center like the one proposed by Atiyeh would be permitted as a special exception in any residential district. He added that the vacant Calvary Baptist Church site, located at 111 Dewberry Avenue, is bordered by institutional and residential uses and would serve as an "effective transitional use" as a "hybrid" of both uses.
Asked whether he was aware of similar facilities located near schools, Hetzel stated that a cursory examination revealed a dozen such uses, although he only described two in detail. One such facility is the Livengrin Foundation, located only 1/4 mile from Ben Salem High School, and surrounded by residential properties. The other rehab center, Penn Foundation, is bordered by West Rockhill Elementary School recreational fields. Unlike Atiyeh's proposed rehab at Calvary Baptist church, there is no fence or landscaping buffer at Penn Foundation.
Hetzel spoke to the principals at both schools about security concerns, but hearsay objections prevented him from sharing what he was told.
After discussing these two similar facilities, Hetzel went on to cite the reasons why this rehab would be beneficial.
First, it would generate less traffic than it did as a church, which often had overflow parking along Dewberry and in Becahi's parking lot. Hetzel noted there would be no more than 29 employees on site at any given time, with a 147-space parking lot.
Second, the proposed rehab is a good adaptive reuse of a church. He added that empty churches often sit vacant for long periods in Eastern cities and become blighted.
|Spadoni gets critiqued|
Fourth, the proposed rehab is a "socially valuable service" that Bethlehem needs. He pointed to previous testimony about the lack of rehabs in the entire Lehigh Valley. he added this rehab would provide a convenience to residents in need of treatment, who would no longer have to leave the area.
Finally, Hetzel testified that the rehab would maintain the same "physical integrity of the neighborhood" that currently exists because it would still look like a church, although he conceded it would be a church surrounded by a fence, gate, guard and security cameras.
Under stiff cross-examination by City Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni, Hetzel conceded that he never contacted the Diocese of Allentown, Bethlehem Catholic administrators, Kirkland Village managers, a nearby day care operator or any of the neighbors who surround the proposed rehab. In fact, Hetzel was unaware there even was a nearby day care center. Spadoni grilled Hetzel how he could be so sure the proposed rehab would be "in harmony" with the existing neighborhood when he never spoke to any of the neighbors in it.
When Hetzel finished testifying, Attorney Marles rested his case in chief, and his 26 exhibits were admitted into evidence without objection.
Bethlehem zoners will convene again on January 4 at Town Hall, to listen to the testimony of Objectors. Attorney Steven N. Goudsouzian represents the North Bethlehem Action Committee, which includes Judge William Moran among its members. Bethlehem Catholic is opposed to the request, too, and is represented by Attorney Jay Leeson. Finally, City Council has intervened.