|About 40 Rosemont neighbors attended the zoning hearing.|
At the first hearing, Atiyeh unleashed his secret weapon - his wife.
Nimita Kapoor-Atiyeh has considerable experience as an administrator at two assisted living facilities known as Whitehall Manor (215 beds) and Saucon Valley Manor (250 beds). She testified that demand his high and she has a waiting list at both facilities. Both facilities are licensed by the state. That testimony was backed up last night by Mickey Thompson, who once served as Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board Solicitor.
Current plans call for an adaptive re-use of the vacant school as a 75-bed facility, very much like the adaptive reuse of the old Hellertown High School into Saucon Valley Manor. Thompson, quoting from Attorney Bill Malkames, stated that Abe Atiyeh specializes in taking "unwanted, unused and unloved properties and putting them back on the tax rolls" to "provide a home for somebody."
Atiyeh paid $850,000 for the vacant school.
Attorney Larry Fox, representing neighbors opposed to this adaptive re-use, has argued that Atiyeh is in the "wrong church and wrong pew" and should be in front of the Planning Commission, seeking a change to the zoning ordinance.
Thompson was grilled about why he didn't explore some of the permitted uses, like a government building. "Much as Abe Atiyeh thinks he's a government unto himself, we don't think that's feasible," joked Thompson.
Thompson called the building "functionally obsolete" and testified its "highest and best use" is as an assisted living facility.
Architect Robert Furst, who is a member of Bethlehem Township's Zoning Hearing Board, told zoners that the 34,000 sq ft building, erected in 1926, needs asbestos remediation, doors, a new elevator, ADA improvements, roofing, insulation, lighting , a sprinkler system and security system. That would cost about $5 million, which is also around what it would cost to convert into an assisted living facility with large rooms.
Atiyeh is represented by Attorney John VanLuvanee, who completed his case after three hours of testimony.
The case, and a possible decision, will resume again on December 16.
As one of the neighbors walked out, she grumbled, "I'll be ready for an assisted living facility by the time this is over."