City Council officially entered the legal fray against developer Abe Atiyeh's effort to overturn a zoning hearing board decision on his 47-bed rehab facility in northeast Bethlehem.

Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to have solicitor Chris Spadoni help defend the zoners 5-0 decision in December denying Atiyeh's Pennsylvania Venture Capital Inc., of Whitehall, Lehigh Co., a special exception and variance needed to build the rehab facility on a 2.3-acre tract at 2349 Linden St.

Atiyeh filed a suit on Feb. 19 in Northampton County Court to reverse the zoners decision, saying it was "illegal, arbitrary and discriminatory," and that the zoners' written decision, issued Jan.
24, was full of factual errors.

Atiyeh has lost all of his battles to build some sort of rehab facility at several sites in the city. But his constant barrage of plans -- and the court appeals when they are denied -- are starting to get under the skin of the public and council alike.

The frustration bubbled up Tuesday night when three city residents opposed to Atiyeh's plan for the former retail florist business called the Moose & Bug spoke in support of having Spadoni intervene.

One of them, Bill Scheirer, of 1890 Eaton Ave., told council that Atiyeh's appeals "are getting rather tiresome." He then cited the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, saying the best way for the city to battle Atiyeh is to "present him with overwhelming force."

Council member Karen Dolan seemed to pick up on Scheirer's frustration. Before the vote, she asked Spadoni, "When does something become a nuisance?"

The solicitor replied, "I'd be hard-pressed to use that phrase. ...
[Atiyeh] is a citizen and a property owner with rights we all have."

Dolan tried again: "What constitutes a nuisance then? I believe the city even offered him a location where he could build his facility."
Dolan said she found objectionable Atiyeh's "toying, taunting behavior toward neighbors [who oppose his plans] and tying up the time of the city solicitor."

Asked what could be done about it, Spadoni used a quote from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Council member J. William Reynolds echoed Dolan's frustration.
"Appeals take up the time of employees at city hall. They take a lot of time away from other things they could have been doing. I don't even need to mention the amount of taxpayer money that is lost."

Council president Eric Evans promised those opposed to Atiyeh's plans, "We will be vigilant."