|David Harte describes site|
Nearly forty neighbors attended this hearing. Many expressed concerns about a diminished quality of life, increased traffic and a potentially dangerous situation.
In addition to neighbors, Bethlehem Area School District administrator Dean Donaher opposed the proposal on behalf of the school district. Spring Garden Elementary has an enrollment of 563 students, according to Donaher, making it one of the largest schools in the district. Between 60-65% of these children walk to school.
In two previous appeals, developer Abe Atiyeh was unsuccessful in pitching drug and alcohol rehabs near Bethlehem Catholic High School. In all three appeals, Attorneys Mark Malkames and Blake Marles, representing Atiyeh, insisted that there was no factual basis for these concerns. Marles called it speculation, while Malkames spoke of "inappropriate fears of the unknown." But Diane Mason, at the December 10 hearing, offered several examples in which residents and employees at voluntary rehabs have stolen cars, broken into nearby homes, and used drugs.
After hearing this testimony, neighbor German Berrio told zoners he has twelve grandchildren who will no longer be able to play in the back yard next to the proposed facility. "That's going to be the end of my children visiting my home," he protested.
Representing several of the concerned neighbors, Bethlehem Attorney Jeremy Clark argued Atiyeh failed to submit a specific plan of operation. He added that the developer has no track record with drug and alcohol rehabs, and failed to reach out to school officials or neighbors.
"That's a two-way street," answered Malkames, who countered that nobody from the schools or neighborhood had reached out to Atiyeh. He also argued that since a rehab is already a permitted use, opponents would need to show consequences beyond what could be seen at a typical rehab. He has vowed to appeal this decision.