When Robert Ashford purchased his home on Creek Road he tried to make sure the property across the street from his development was off limits to local developers.
The nearly 7-acre property is in a flood plain spread across low-lying ground between the Saucon Creek, Friedensville and Creek roads, and Ashford said the Bethlehem Planning Commission assured him it would be very difficult for anyone to build on the flood plain.
Earlier this year, however, local developer Abraham Atiyeh set out to do just that.
Atiyeh purchased the property at 2105 Creek Road in January of 2018 for $215,000, according to county property records. He now wants the land rezoned to a residential retirement complex (RRC) designation that would allow construction of a 40-unit apartment complex and 60-space parking lot he’s proposed to proceed, if approved.
Ashford said he was first made aware of the rezoning request when he received a letter from the city about a February planning meeting to discuss Atiyeh’s proposal.
After speaking to his neighbors, he said he realized he wasn’t the only one opposed to development on the property.
“We all agreed that this is not smart development in the area,” Ashford said.
There are 24 homes on Creek Road, nearly half of which are in a development called Stever Mills, which lies directly across Creek Road from the property Atiyeh wants to develop. Ashford said a homeowners association for Stever Mills owners recently met with Creek Road residents to discuss what they can do to oppose the development efforts.
Ashford also started a website called “Save Creek Road,” which provides information about what is being proposed on the property, a timeline of upcoming important dates for the development and an online petition opposing the development. The petition has so far received more than 200 signatures, according to Ashford.
The site lists a variety of reasons to oppose the rezoning of the area. For example, it points out that the area is known for extensive flooding, which has occurred when storms such as Hurriance Ivan in 2004 have caused the Saucon Creek to overflow its banks.
The site also points highlights the narrowness of Creek Road–which at some points is too narrow for two cars to pass side by side–and claims it would not be able to support the additional traffic.
Ashford pointed out that many Lehigh University sports teams run along Creek Road, and said the increased traffic could pose a risk to the athletes.
There may also be environmental concerns with rezoning and developinment of the flood plain.
Atiyeh’s property is located along a stretch of Saucon Creek classified as Class A Wild Trout water. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has classified Saucon Creek as High Quality-Cold Water Fishery, Migratory Fishes (HQ-CWF, MF). According to “Save Creek Road,” the proposed residential complex is going to create contaminated runoff containing salt, fuel and fertilizer, which could endanger the area’s ecology.
Ashford said he is familiar with Atiyeh, and commended him for his other efforts to improve the Lehigh Valley.
“He’s done very good projects around the valley,” Ashford said.
“Stever Mills is a nice community,” he continued. “I just want to make sure it’s protected.”
“I’m not against development,” he added. “It just has to be smart development.”
Ultimately, however, any decision about that will be up to the City of Bethlehem, as Atiyeh’s property lies within its jurisdiction.
The Bethlehem Planning Commission will discuss the rezoning at its meeting this Thursday, March 12 at 5 p.m. at Bethlehem Town Hall on Church Street. Bethlehem City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss the rezoning Tuesday, March 17 at 7 p.m.
Ashford urged anyone who is opposed to the development to sign the “Save Creek Road” petition and to attend the upcoming Bethlehem meetings to show their opposition.