Saying that he’s keeping his options open, developer Abe Aityeh presented plans for a 175-bed personal care home at 1838 Center St., a grassy parcel on the corner of Dewberry Avenue where Atiyeh has also proposed a psychiatric hospital, apartment complex, and most recently a Lidl grocery store.
The layout of the facility is essentially the same footprint as the 125-bed apartment complex that was shot down by zoners last year because it was not allowed in the city’s institutional zoning district. The personal care home would include four four-story buildings. The only addition is a single-story, 50-bed building for senior citizens with mobility issues.
Atiyeh said the rooms wouldn’t be double occupancy. If a couple needed a unit, there would be doors that could turn a unit into a suite with two bedrooms.
The planning commission gave an initial review of the plans at their meeting Thursday night.
“One of my concerns is that we just need some clarification on how do we define this as a personal care facility? It’s laid out as apartments and it has the same kind of parking you’d demand if it were apartments,” said Darlene Heller, the city’s planning director.
Atiyeh is proposing 228 spaces, though only 63 are required. He argued that most baby boomers continue to drive and there also needs to be spaces for visitors.
Heller said in her experience, parking demand is much less at a personal care home because many of the residents no longer drive.
Planners also raised concerns about green space, noting that the parking spaces back up to Center Street. Rob Melosky, chairman of the planning commission, said he was concerned about how that would look in an area he considers to be a gateway into Bethlehem’s downtown.
“I’m not asking you to eliminate parking but accommodate with some type of welcoming green space,” he said.
Unlike the psychiatric hospital, apartment complex and supermarket, a personal care home is allowed by right in Bethlehem’s institutional overlay district.
Atiyeh has been fighting with Bethlehem for more than a decade over the 7-acre parcel near Bethlehem Catholic High School.
Last November, a Northampton County judge upheld zoners’ rejection of the psychiatric hospital, saying it qualifies as a treatment center, which is not allowed in that zoning district.
Atiyeh argued that his proposal for an 84-bed facility — including 21 beds for people with mental health and addiction diagnoses — was a hospital, which is permitted in the institutional zoning district. Atiyeh has since appealed the decision in Pennsylvania Superior Court and is awaiting a decision.
Atiyeh subsequently proposed a 125-unit apartment complex, but that also didn’t gel with the zoning, and the Zoning Hearing Board shot down his request for a variance last October.
For the Lidl grocery store, Atiyeh was requesting an amendment to the city’s institutional zoning to permit grocery stores. The change would have had a citywide impact. Bethlehem’s institutional zone is one of the largest districts in the city with properties owned by Lehigh University, Moravian College and Lehigh Valley Health Network.
City Council shot down the request last month, but suggested Atiyeh apply for a zoning overlay instead.
This week, Atiyeh said Lidl is still interested in the site and he intends to apply for the overlay, but wants to have a backup plan in case the grocery store falls through.
“Our market is turning around, it’s getting busy again. It takes eight or nine months just to get the planning all approved, this gives me other options,” he said.
Morning Call reporter Christina Tatu can be reached at 610-820-6583 or [email protected].
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