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Salisbury Township denies arts academy expansion

SALISBURY TWP., Pa. - Saying finances are not a part of zoning decisions, the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board denied an appeal from West Bethlehem Ventures, owned by developer Abe Atiyeh, during a Tuesday night meeting. The vote was 4-1.

"Economics are not a part of the variance process," said Chairman James Kelley.

The rejected variance request was for a 50-foot setback required for a garage at 1610 Emmaus Ave., the Arts Academy Charter School. The school had sought to use an existing garage located on the property for use as a classroom.

During Tuesday night's sworn testimony, Arts Academy CEO William Fitzpatrick said the building in question had been used "as a storage facility for gas use." He added that its conversion from a garage to a classroom would be an asset to the community and would not impact the immediate surrounding neighborhood.

"We have no intention of expanding the building," Fitzpatrick said at one point. "...And it will not be used for public performances."

When the 2012-2013 school year ended the school boasted an enrollment of 350. Fitzpatrick told the board that with the additional classroom enrollment would increase to between 380-390 students. The school's charter permits no more than 400 students.

Members of the public who turned up to voice their discontent with the board granting the proposed variance, expressed concern about the additional traffic that would result from the additional students and potential loss of their property value.

Fitzpatrick did his best to mollify those concerns, saying at one point that "adding 30 more students will not impact the neighborhood."

In the end the board was not swayed by the testimony, instead raising the specter that the school could construct a building elsewhere on their property other than at this location. While the proposition would prove far more expensive, the board noted that was not in their decision criteria.

After the ruling was dispensed, Fitzpatrick's faced was drenched in disappointment and frustration as he quickly left the hearing room.

The school provides artistic instruction to students in grades 5 through 8. The curriculum includes instruction in dance, figure skating, theater, music and the visual arts.

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