Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem zoners weigh plans for former Rosemont Elementary

Developer proposes 75-resident assisted living...

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Zoning Board heard more arguments Wednesday for turning the former Rosemont Elementary School into an assisted living center.

Developer Abraham Atiyeh proposes a 75-resident facility on the roughly 3-acre property at 815 Pennsylvania Ave. The zoning board must decide on whether to approve a use variance for the project.

Attorney John VanLuvanee, representing Atiyeh’s Pennsylvania Venture Capitalist, presented testimony from various experts to support the project. Atiyeh himself did not attend the meeting.

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During the three-hour hearing, VanLuvanee presented a civil engineer, an architect and staff at Whitehall Manor and Saucon Valley Manor, Atiyeh’s two current facilities.

Peter Terry, with Benchmark Civil Engineering Services, testified that he completed a traffic impact analysis for the nursing home, determining the facility would generate less traffic than a school. Robert Furst, an architect with Buckl Architects, testified it would be cost prohibitive to bring the building back up to code as a school, estimating it would cost $4 million to $5 million.

The zoning board and attorney Larry Fox, who represented residents opposed to the project, questioned the relevancy of Furst's testimony. VanLuvanee said it was to demonstrate the building had no economical use as another school.

Fox objected, arguing the point as irrelevant since the Bethlehem Area School District already sold the property after determining the school was unnecessary. When cross-examined by Fox, Furst conceded that the cost to get the building up to code for a school would be the same as building an assisted living facility.

Mickey Thompson, chief operating officer of Pennsylvania Venture Capitalist, testified to completing an analysis of alternatives that could be used for the property.

Concerns that arose from some residents and zoning board members included the operation of a 24-hour facility open 7 days a week and how traffic and the facility itself would impact local residents.

Thompson argued that medical emergencies were minimal and said people would still be living there 24 hours a day if apartments were built. He also argued the elderly were generally harmless as opposed to having the varying clientele that an apartment complex would attract.

The board stated it will hold a third meeting to hear final arguments from the public, who oppose the project. Fox said he will presenting testimony from local residents at the Dec. 16 final hearing.


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