The Lehigh Valley’s first drug and alcohol residential treatment facility for 12-18-year-old boys was proposed by businessman Abraham Atiyeh to the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board Monday night.
Up to 87 young males would be confined for 28 days in the treatment facility proposed at 324-330 N. 6th St., a former elementary school last used as a Lehigh County work release correctional facility.
Zoning board chairman Dan McCarthy said the place was a county-run women’s correctional facility from 1988 till 2011.
Atiyeh’s proposed state-licensed facility will offer “intense” in-house treatment to end drug and alcohol addiction. He said friends and families will not be allowed to visit during the 28 days of treatment, those in the program will not be allowed to leave the property and they will receive no phone calls, mail or packages during those 28 days.
Atiyeh said alarms will be on doors of the building and the boys staying there will be watched around the clock with surveillance cameras.
“We’re going to save lives here,” maintained Atiyeh. “That’s our mission.
“Our kids here in Allentown need help. Once they get treated, they won’t need more prisons. We all know if a kid’s not treated for his addiction, he’s going to be over here in the county prison.”
He said his own older brother became addicted at age 12 or 13.
Atiyeh said only a couple of facilities in Pennsylvania now offer adolescents residential drug and alcohol treatment programs.
“Our Lehigh Valley kids are going elsewhere when they need treatment here,” he said. “This is a good use. I don’t think it’s going to be offensive to the neighbors at all. We think we’re going to be a plus to the community and the neighborhood.”
But representatives of the neighborhood did not exactly welcome the proposal with open arms.
Most agreed such a treatment facility is needed. They just don’t want it in their neighborhood.
In response to their concerns, Atiyeh said he would be willing to reduce the number of occupants to 60 as a condition of zoning board approval, saying that still would be financially viable.
Residents didn’t accept his claim that property values in the neighborhood will increase if his “high-class treatment center” is approved.
Atiyeh said the nearest residents live right next door to the building. He said if the requested zoning variances are approved, he may buy up some neighboring homes “to give us a little more space.”
Residents also didn’t appreciate threats made by Atiyeh and one of his associates that they could continue using the place as a correctional facility if they don’t get zoning board approval to use it as private drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Atiyeh told the zoning board that if they deny his application, he will pursue a contract “with one of the counties” to create a court-ordered facility where treatment is an accessory use to the incarceration of juveniles.
But he added he really doesn’t want to go that route and doesn’t even know if there is a need for such a correctional facility. “I’m not in the corrections business. But our only fallback position here is to open a corrections facility for juveniles.”
The zoning board heard testimony on the proposal for three hours Monday night, but won’t make a decision on the case until a future meeting.
The place is being called God’s Grace Adolescent Treatment Center.
Atiyeh, who wore a small crucifix, said if the zoning board approves his facility “we will open, God willing, within 60 days.”
He told zoners he plans to spend $2 million to $3 million on the residential treatment facility.
Atiyeh and his associates were unable to provide statistics regarding the success rates of such 28-day programs in ending drug and alcohol abuse. They also did not explain how boys would continue their educations while restricted to the facility or why 18-year-olds are not considered adults.
The property covers nearly a half acre. Atiyeh’s representatives testified 26 parking spaces are along Church Street behind the three-level structure, which has a total of about 15,000 square feet and is known as the Hunsicker Building.