City officials are marshaling their legal forces to defend a zoning hearing board ruling that is keeping developer Abe Atiyeh from building a 47-bed rehab facility in northeast Bethlehem.

Mayor John Callahan told city council Tuesday night that city solicitor John Spirk Jr. filed the necessary papers in Northampton County Court earlier in the day to be part of the defense team.

City council's solicitor, Chris Spadoni, will likely be joining in the defense against Atiyeh's appeal, when council votes on allowing him to do so at its next meeting on March 19.

Atiyeh's company, Pennsylvania Venture Capital Inc., of Whitehall, Lehigh Co., filed a suit on Feb. 20 challenging the zoners' 5-0 decision to deny Atiyeh's request for a special exception and a variance needed to build the rehab facility on a 2.3-acre tract at 2349 Linden St. The suit says the zoners' decision in December was illegal, arbitrary and discriminatory, and their written decision, issued Jan. 24, contained several factual errors.

Tuesday night, Mayor Callahan said the zoners acted properly by preventing a rehab facility at the former retail florist business called the Moose & Bug because it would be too close to Spring Garden Elementary School and a residential neighborhood.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, council was urged by three people living near the proposed facility to side with the zoners. One of them, Steve Barron, whose daughter attends Spring Garden, asked council to "stay engaged,"  adding, "That's the best path to protect students and the neighborhood."

Tim and Diane Mason told council they supported Barron's statements.