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BETHLEHEM COUNCIL Atiyeh pushed for food oasis

Developer Abe Atiyeh’s bid to get a zoning change at 1838 Center St. and 200 Dewberry Ave. was heard at a public hearing prior to Bethlehem City Council’s regular meeting Feb. 16. There was no vote on the project at the hearing.

Atiyeh says the seven-acre, two-lot parcel is in the middle of a food desert. He calls the area a food desert because there are no nearby grocery stores.

The area is located in the I- Institutional Zoning District which does not allow grocery stores.

“The proposed overlay will benefit the surrounding neighborhoods by convenient access to groceries and other basic needs within walking or biking distance of local residents,” according to a letter from engineer Sue Kandil, president of Penn Technology Consulting, LLC, who wrote a letter in support of the project.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission rejected the project Jan. 14, but the developer has persisted in his effort to get council to give him the go-ahead on the project. The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission also disapproved of the project.

Atiyeh joined the meeting to argue his case. “It adjoins two residential zones and fronts on Center Street, which is basically retail. It’s a highway now,” he said.

Director of Planning and Zoning Darlene Heller answered some questions for council members. She said hospitals, medical buildings, churches and schools are examples of permitted use in that institutional zoning district.

Heller explained that Atiyeh’s request for an overlay allowing a grocery store would only affect the seven acres that he owns.

Councilman Bryan Callahan expressed a desire for Mayor Robert Donchez, the administration, local citizens and developer Atiyeh to “try to come up with something. We could end up with a facility there that we really don’t want to have.”

No one called in for public comment on the issue, so City Council President Adam Waldron placed the overlay request on the March 2 agenda. He then opened the meeting for regular council business.

Waldron also put on the agenda agreements to authorize the police chief to sell service firearms to retiring police officers, and permits for the North Bethlehem Little League to use city-owned ball fields.

An ordinance determining stormwater user fees and credits will also be on the agenda for the next regular meeting of council.

Council approved the mayoral reappointments of Nik Nikolov and Vince Gentilcore to the Fine Arts Commission with a unanimous vote.

Nikolov is an associate professor at Lehigh University where he teaches architectural design and technology. He holds a professional master of architecture degree from Rice University (2002) and a bachelor of arts in Architecture from Bennington College (1997).

Also approved was a revised Fire Safety and Code Enforcement and Inspection Fees ordinance.

Mayor Donchez reported that there has been an outbreak of COVID at the emergency shelter, and the city will provide testing and will vaccinate all eligible homeless residents.

He reported that to date there have been 6,272 cases of COVID-19 reported and 97 deaths in Bethlehem.

Donchez said the city is partnering with local nonprofit companies to conduct outreach to the Hispanic and African-American communities.

He said the Bethlehem Health Bureau has created a mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit to vaccinate people who live in senior living facilities in Bethlehem. Donchez said the health bureau has developed a partnership with Meals-On-Wheels to vaccinate home-bound residents.

Council approved a new ordinance, the student housing overlay map amendment, that will affect how student housing is managed in Bethlehem.

Council also approved a lease agreement for concessions to operate at the Earl E. Schaffer Ice Rink and Memorial Pool concession stands.

press photo by jessica lee (BFAC) City council approved the mayor's reappointment of Vince Gentilcore to the Fine Arts Commission with a unanimous vote.