Two school principals and a psychotherapist spoke against Abe Atiyeh's quest for a residential drug and alcohol rehab center during a 4 1/2 hour hearing before Bethlehem's five-member Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) on October 16. About thirty-five people attended this second night of testimony concerning this proposed facility, which would be located at 2110 Center Street. That's just 380' from Bethlehem High School, and right next door to Vitalistic Therapeutic Charter School.
At an earlier hearing in September, Atiyeh's engineer, David Harte, outlined plans for a 28-bed facility, 2 1/2-story treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, to be staffed by a maximum of 16 people at any one time.
Ron Deiaco, principal and acting CEO of Vitalistic Therapeutic Charter School, told zoners he had concerns about the possibility of inappropriate contacts between treatment center residents and the 100 elementary school children under his care. "As a principal, my first concern is the safety of my children," he testified, noting that kids playing outside during recess could come into contact with residents taking smoke breaks outside.
Just that day, Deiaco testified, somebody wondered into the school, looking for the yet-to-be-built rehab center.
When ZHB member Bill Fitzpatrick asked whether a fence would address those concerns, Deiaco acknowledged that "it would certainly be a start." He also admitted, in response to cross-examination by Atiyeh Attorney Mark Malkames, that he conducted no Megan's law search before moving into his new school in September.
According to the Megan's Law Website, two registered sex offenders live within a mile of his charter school.
|Principal John Petruzzelli|
Petruzzelli conceded, under questioning by Attorney Malkames, that he had no evidence demonstrating that a treatment center would lead to increased crime or violence in the neighborhood.
But William Henry, a psychotherapist who can walk from his home to the proposed center in thirty seconds, claimed that there is a connection. Between 50-75% of people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction also suffer from an underlying mental disorder, said Henry. He insisted this could lead to "complete breakdowns," resulting in violence.
For that reason, he argued that no rehab center should be built near a school. "I don't think there could be a worse place," he said.
He also ridiculed Atiyeh's proposal because there "clearly" is no treatment plan in place.
When questioned about rehab centers like the Keenan House, located in Allentown, Henry responded, "I don't like to go to Allentown. It's a little dangerous."
When Attorney Malkames asked Henry whether he really believed that a DUI offender is suffering from some kind of psychosis, Henry responded, "That's an incompetent statement."
Testimony in this case will continue, and hopefully conclude, in a hearing on November 20, 6 PM, at the Bethlehem Public Library.