A halfway house for people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is proposed in the former Veterans Sanctuary at 24-32 S. 5th St. in downtown Allentown.
The Allentown Zoning Hearing Board took testimony on the case for about three hours Monday night, but did not make a decision.
Board chairman Daniel McCarthy said the zoners will notify all parties when they set a date to deliberate and decide the case.
The proposal faces some zoning hurdles and needs variances.
Treatment Trends Foundation, Inc., which would operate the halfway house, wants to house 40 people at a time, rather than 30, the maximum number permitted under the city’s zoning laws.
The proposed halfway home is less than the required 1,000 feet from another drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility –Treatment Trends’ own Keenan House, which is only a block away -- and from another halfway house for state prisoners preparing to re-enter society.
And the S. 5th Street property has insufficient on-site parking, but its operators testified that its clients will not be allowed to have cars while staying at the place.
Atty. Joel Wiener of Allentown was the only person who testified against the proposed new use, saying the zoning board should reject it.
Wiener suggested that drug and alcohol rehabilitation is not a good mix with the redevelopment of center-city, including professionals who will work in its new office buildings.
“To bring this many people in for drug and alcohol rehab is putting a tremendous burden on this downtown area,” argued Wiener. “They do alter the character of the neighborhood by increasing the drug and alcohol population that must be borne by this area.
“It is incompatible with the heavy investment that is going on and that has been made. We have no need to further burden this area to become a concentration of drug and alcohol rehab.”
“We should not lose sight of our humanity in this,” countered Robert Csandl, executive director of Treatment Trends, Inc. “Drug treatment is a health issue. It’s no different than having any other kind of health services in a community.”
Csandl said the people who would reside in the proposed halfway home are drug and alcohol free, adding: “You can’t say that about the rest of the community or anybody walking around the street.
“There’s a lot of value to having a drug treatment center, because they really help clean up a lot of problems in a community.”
Csandl said drug addiction is very prevalent, affecting one in four families. But he also said people who become addicted to drugs are stigmatized, adding: “I think that’s part of the problem here.”
One of the facilities within 1,000 feet of the proposed halfway house is Keenan House, a 95-bed drug and alcohol residential treatment facility at 18-24 S. 6th St.
Wiener said Keenan House’s residents routinely “march” through a parking lot and down the streets in the morning. He said that is not conducive to office people and anyone needing to use that parking lot.
The hearing was marked by testy exchanges between Wiener and Csandl.
At one point, Csandl complained: “He’s twisting everything.”
Wiener maintained that when questions are asked, Treatment Trends personnel were providing only theoretical answers and “items that are not well-defined.”
Convert it to an office?
Wiener repeatedly argued that Treatment Trend’s 80-year-old building on S. 5th Street could be turned into office space.
With all the office buildings being constructed in downtown Allentown right now, Csandl asked: “Why would someone want to use our old funky building for that, when you could have Class A office space?”
Csandl told Wiener: “You’re making a stretch.”
Atty. William Malkames, who represented Treatment Trends, made a point that turning that building into offices would create a need for additional parking.