Bethlehem City Hall and Police Department

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem City Council rejected a proposed zoning change that would have allowed developer Abraham Atiyeh to build a Lidl grocery store in the city’s Institutional Zoning District.

It failed by a 0-7 vote at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The store, which would have been at 1833 Center St. near Dewberry Avenue, was presented by Atiyeh as something Bethlehem needs.

“This is not what Abe Atiyeh needs,” the developer said during a Sept. 1 public hearing. “This is what Bethlehem needs. ... This would be a Class-A grocery store.”

Prior to the grocery store idea, Atiyeh pitched a psychiatric hospital, 125-unit apartment complex, assisted living and a drug treatment center at the site he purchased in 2005.

Two council members spoke against the zoning change Tuesday night.

“This is a wide over-reach,” said President Adam Waldron.

“This doesn’t match the character of what the neighborhood looks like now,” said Councilman Michael Colon.

Bethlehem planners also found the plan lacking.

At their Aug. 13 meeting, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend city council should not support the proposed zoning amendment to allow a grocery store as a permitted use in the Institutional Zoning District.

This, they argued, would open the floodgates for grocery stores to materialize in the district everywhere.

Planning Director Darlene Heller said neighbors who attended that meeting were opposed to the project.

The request wasn’t Atiyeh’s lone zoning map amendment request on Tuesday evening’s council agenda.

A proposal to rezone two parcels at 2105 Creek Road from Rural Residential to Residential Retirement Complex Zoning District received a public hearing.

Two separate memos to council - from the Bethlehem Planning Commission and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission - advised against approval. Several neighbors also voiced opposition.

Atiyeh proposes to construct a four-story, 40-unit assisted living facility occupied by senior citizens. He described the land as a “wow, wow location” that would address a need for affordable senior living in the city, which he said is currently unavailable.

In her comments to council Tuesday night, Heller noted that the location is an “environmentally sensitive area” and was not conducive to this type of development.

She agreed with Atiyeh on the need for additional senior housing in Bethlehem, but said that she wants “to do it in an area where it is more appropriate.”

In considering Atiyeh’s request, Councilman Bryan Callahan said: “We have some hard thinking to do in the days ahead.”

No vote was taken Tuesday night. The bill’s first reading is scheduled for Oct. 6, according to Waldron.

Finally, Eric Evans, the city’s business administrator, told council that Bethlehem’s next police chief will come from within the department.

No date as to when the decision would be rendered was announced. Chief Mark DiLuzio abruptly retired Sept. 4 amid controversy surrounding a social media post.

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