Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem zoners reject Bethlehem Manor addition request

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Some residents of west Bethlehem's Rosemont neighborhood were delighted to hear following only a 15-minute debate session Wednesday, the city's zoning hearing board rejected a request by the owner of Bethlehem Manor on Pennsylvania Avenue to erect a new three-story assisted living residential wing.

During a lengthy three-hour meeting, owner Abe Atiyeh's wife Nimita testified her company, Pennsylvania Avenue Development, aimed for the third of their four senior living facilities to offer more single rooms with accompanying private baths. It would have been a 77% bed increase as opposed to the triple suites currently offered, which are currently only 76% occupied.

She said inquiries, especially those interested in single-room accommodations, have increased dramatically in recent days.

The new wing to be located on the west end of the property will consist of 18 private rooms on three floors with dining rooms on each level totaling nearly 30,000 square feet of new space. Parking will increase by 45 spaces to accommodate 16 new employees and additional visitors.

Atiyeh confidently stated she was sure she would have all 54 of the newly proposed single rooms filled within six months' time and attributed that in part not only to market conditions, but also because Bethlehem prevails as a highly desirable location.

However, neighbors at the meeting voiced their concerns not only about an expansion they assumed to date would never happen, but also about noise pollution including emergency vehicle sirens at night accompanied by flashing lights. They also pointed out standing water on the property serving as a breeding grounds for an already noticeable mosquito population.

A weeping Elaine Torres lived for the past three years in a house located across the street from the rear of the nursing home on Cambridge Avenue. She fervently begged Atiyeh and her attorney to withdraw the expansion plan. She claimed the new three-story wing would block most sunlight from reaching her home.

Torres left the meeting abruptly accusing Eugene Berg, an architect with Gouck Architects of Allentown of shameful behavior for designing the new wing and asking the board for several variances including those for use, parking and setback requirements.

Berg said residents' complaints about standing water lying in both of the site's allegedly ineffective rain gardens would be addressed in addition to sewer, landscape, utility and trash plans as part of the final land development process.

Neighbor Brian Nicas of Tioga Avenue in Bethlehem presented the board with a petition full of neighborhood signatures against the expansion to be included in the record, however, less than half of a dozen neighbors attended Wednesday night's meeting.

Atiyeh's next step is to appeal the zoners' decision in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.

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