Friday, September 30, 2011

Facelift Planned For South Bethlehem's Eastern Gateway

Planning Director Darlene Heller, joined by Ellen Larmer of Bethlehem's Community Action Development Corp., unveiled plans for a facelift to the "South Bethlehem Eastern Gateway" during a meeting of City Planners on September 27. Although the Route 412 approach to Bethlehem from Route 378 is the "hub of a lot of activity" from a skate park, Daly Avenue and Sands Casino, Larmer lamented a "lack of sense of arrival" for City visitors. More importantly, she expressed concern for the safety of pedestrians in an area of the City dominated by mass transit users and walkers. "It's pretty intimidating to walk there," she noted.

About 5,000 City residents live in this area, and a survey of them reflect "a lot of concern about the conditions of the sidewalks," states Larmer. She and Heller are proposing a "lighter, quicker and cheaper" approach to improvements in that area, amounting to $100,00 per year over the next ten years.

These projects include planters with seasonal plantings on 4th St; wildflowers on sloped areas; encouraging local food vendors outside the Sands, Slateplaza and Gateway area; benches at the Skateplaza; trees at the Sands and Skateplaza entrance; murals on vacant facades; a sheltered bus stop; and more signage in appropriate areas.

Small businesses, especially restaurants with outdoor dining, will be encouraged in the area, as well as affordable housing. There was even discussion of housing that would appeal to the 74% Hispanic population in that area, including courtyards and larger bedrooms. Heller stated that, over time, these improvements will "serve the neighborhood," making it a safer to walk and more pleasant to live.

Because Route 412 is a state highway, City officials will meet with PennDOT to discuss pedestrian improvements.

Meet Macungie Mayor Rick Hoffman

LV Mayors' Dinner Will Knock You Off Your Feet ... Literally


That's what happened last night to Portland Mayor Lance Prator. He had just received the "Best Presenter" award following a four-minute speech from all the Mayors present at the Greater LV Chamber of Commerce Mayors' Dinner, sponsored by TD Bank. While walking off the stage at Best Western's LV Hotel and Conference Center, Hizzoner took a header and damaged his knee.

Fortunately, numerous lawyers were at the event. They immediately rushed to Prator's side, and instructed an ambulance to wait while they took depositions.

I must be slipping myself because I felt pretty bad for the Mayor. He had just delivered a heartfelt speech, and that award was a big deal to him. It was sad to see him on the ground, and I hope he makes a full recovery.

Over the next few days, I plan to present speeches from some of our local Mayors. Too little attention is paid to them. Day in and day out, these are the men and women who make their communities work. In addition to their humor, they provide a unique perspective on their small corners of the Lehigh Valley.

Some of them, like Slatington's "Most Entertaining" Mayor Walter Niedermeyer and Roseto Mayor Desiree Denicola, were downright hilarious. Macungie Mayor Rick Hoffman was there, too, and filled us all in on his very public battles with his police department. As he and Ron Angle talked to each other, I couldn't help but comment that here are the two biggest bad asses in the Lehigh Valley.

They both agreed.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and Easton Mayor Sal Panto both seemed to have a blast. In fact, Callahan originally sat at my table until he realized he was supposed to be one table away. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was probably in his mancave throwing darts or sitting in his jacuzzi, but he did send his DCED Director, Sara Hailstone. She's not just a pretty face.  She took some brutal shots at just about everyone, including King Edwin. Very impressive

Everybody picked on Tony Iannelli. Callahan, for example, accused him of hiding a keg under his suit, although the Business Matters host claims it's just water retention.

Walt Garvin's Got the Blues

As Northampton County Dem Bossman, Walt Gravin has continued the dictatorial style set by his predecessor, Joe Long. When Vice Chair Kiki Schock resigned in June, she decried "the secrecy, the lack of transparency, the lack of respect for rules and proper order, the lack of respect for rights, the disregard to democracy, and the bully tactics that are used to repress." A month later, he refused to allow me to vote on Kiki's replacement, even though I am - believe it or not - a committee person.

Apparently, his control tactics extend to another group, the Lehigh Valley Blues Network, where he is President. He's been accused of attempting to intimidate some members.

Hard to believe that!

In addition, he is accused of taking money for newsletter ads from groups hosting events, and then failing to run the event until after the event has taken place.

Unhappy members have been hounding him for a general membership meeting, which traditionally occurs on Sunday afternoons in Emmaus. But he's set one up for this Monday, 6:30 PM, at the Tally Ho in Bethlehem. This will present conflicts for half of the members, which apparently is what he wants. Complaints about his arbitrary style are being deleted from LVBN's Facebook page as fast as they are posted.

How ironic that a person who complains about Charlie Dent's lack of transparency is himself a person who tries to stifle differing opinionions, even to the point of altering LVBN minutes.

This is the message that Mary Pierce and Les Houck are trying to circulate:

Your Voice Should be Heard!!

Walt Garvin has called a general membership meeting for the Lehigh Valley Blues Network on Monday October 3rd in response to the overwhelming demands voiced by disappointed members on the LVBN facebook. Despite the fact that he publicly posted (then later deleted) that the meeting would take place later in October after the IBC competition was over.

It was suddenly announced, late Monday night on Facebook that a meeting would be held in 6 days.
Unlike past LVBN meetings, Jams and other functions that typically are held on Sunday afternoons in a private setting this meeting is being held on a Monday evening in a public place, no doubt by design.

The meeting should be rescheduled to accommodate the membership not the current leadership agenda.

We urge you to make every effort to be at this meeting so that the voices of the ACTIVE paid members will be heard. If for some reason you are unable to attend we further urge you to publicly state your concerns, opinions and suggestions on the LVBN facebook page.

Bethlehem City Council Race: Rubberstamp Reynolds?


Like Russell Crowe did to a corrupt Roman Emperor in Gladiator, Bethlehem City Council candidates Tony Simao and Tom Carroll have unleashed hell on Bethlehem politicians. In a youtube video so powerful that it caught the attention of The Morning Call, two men have presented a compelling indictment of Bethlehem's financial mismanagement under Mayor John Callahan.

Blogger Jonathan Geeting, who is an expert on ... well ... everything, huffed that he was "not impressed" by 241 page views in less than 24 hours. It's now up to 643 views. I have over 389 videos uploaded on my Youtube channel, and the only ones with more views than that are, believe it or not, some of  my Bethlehem Steelers football shots.

I'm impressed.

Simao and Carroll are still unleashing hell. In their second segment, which you can see above, they take specific aim at Bethlehem Council member J. William Reynolds, whom is labeled as "Rubberstamp Reynolds."

I contacted Reynolds for his response to this video. Unfortunately, his grandmother recently passed away, so he was in New Jersey today for the viewing and away from the computer. He'll send me his reaction in the next few days.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elias Farmers' Market Expansion Approved a Third Time

It was an anti-climatic end to Bethlehem's most controversial zoning matter in recent years. But on September 28, as a hard rain pelted Town Hall, few of the original participants were present. Gus Elias, one of the owners of Elias' Farmers Market, located at 3131 Linden Street, sat in a back row, flanked by his attorney, Joe Piperato. On the other side of the room sat City Council candidate Al Bernotas, one of the three litigants who have fought this proposed expansion tooth-and-nail. He was flanked by a West Easton Borough Council candidate.

After a thirty-five minute executive session, zoners approved the expansion for a third time in a 2-1 vote, with Ron Lutes dissenting. After four hearings, a judicial remand, four lawyers, and fourteen hours of testimony before packed houses, Bethlehem zoners reached the same conclusion they've already reached twice.

Once again, there are very strict conditions: use of the warehouse for wholesale distribution is banned; idling by any vehicles or storage of any buses or trucks not already owned by Elias is prohibited; no refrigerated trucks may run on the property; compressors must face Linden Street, away from residences; buffering and landscaping is required; no expansion in hours of operation; no additional retail space is permitted; no future expansions of the warehouse will be permitted; and no trash pick-up before 8 AM.

Bernotas has vowed an appeal, once he receives the written opinion.

I have two more stories about last night's meeting. A "zero carbon neighborhood" is being planned on the South Side. And Bethlehem zoners are going to the dogs. I'll give you the details, but need my beauty sleep. I'm getting up at 6 AM to speak to a college class.

They must be desperate.

Judge Baratta Asks Commonwealth Court to Dismiss Otter Appeal

I've never seen this before. Judge Baratta himself is asking the Commonwealth Court to dismiss a Larry Otter appeal. Let me fill you in.

In the never-ending Gracedale saga, Larry Otter recently appealed Judge Baratta's August 30 refusal to reconsider the imposition of attorney fees against Ron Angle and yours truly.

After the appeal was filed, Otter was directed to file what is known as a 1925 statement, in which he explains what's bothering him. He responded with a rambling and repetitive recitation of 11 reasons. But according to Judge Baratta, many of them are "wholly irrelevant."

Baratta originally denied attorney fees in this matter on March 4, 2011 because there simply "was no proof of any conduct that could be considered vexatious, in bad faith or otherwise improper." Otter never appealed that denial, but 52 days later, claimed there was "newly found evidence" of bad faith. He amended that petition in May, and then amended it again in June. Then he withdrew one of them.

Otter's "newly found evidence" is Eckert Seamans, a law firm hired to represent the County in expediting Gracedale's sale. Those lawyers billed the County for reviewing my proposed complaint and their suggestions, which made it a better pleading. According to Otter, this is just like Bonusgate. In fact, he had us going to jail in WFMZ-TV69 interviews. According to Judge Baratta, "[w]e were unable to follow Counsel's analogy."

Judge Baratta concludes that, even if Otter is correct in claiming that the County acted improperly, that has nothing to do with Angle or me. "[W]e found that such evidence is irrelevant to the issue before the Court related to proving vexatious, obdurate, dilatory or bad faith actions or motive on the part of the pro se litigants. We have already ruled that Mr. O'Hare and Mr. Angle raised legitimate and justiciable issues and further presented competent and compelling evidence challenging the legality of thousand signatures. In fact, Mr. O'Hare and Mr. Angle successfully established that thousands of signatures were invalid ... ."

Unfortunately, we still fell short.

Baratta goes on to say, "We suggest that this appeal be dismissed."

It's rare to see a judge suggest to the Commonwealth Court that an appeal has no merit, but there it is. Undoubtedly, Baratta is signalling these jurists that Otter's appeal, like his numerous motions, is frivolous.

Something tells me they already know.

Updated Friday Afternoon - On another blog, someone who anonymously claims to have read Judge Baratta's opinion makes this accusation: "No where did the Judge say 'DUMP THE APPEAL'. This must be the law by bo. Again half truths and lies."

I quoted Judge Baratta accurately. I'll add that I can find no indication that Otter's appeal has been indexed in Commonwealth Court.

Stoffa to Release 2012 Budget Friday ... I Think

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa will release his budget this Friday ... I think. He's invited me to a news conference "this coming Friday, October 1, 2011." I'm pretty sure this Friday is September 30, but Stoffa must have created a new calender again by Executive Order. This is what happens when he has no Director of Administration.

John has changed Septemeber to Stoftember, and eliminated January so we don't get so cold.

This will be no "budget of choices." He will propose a combination tax hike, as well as a partial depletion of the County's rainy day fund.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Citizens on Patrol in Bethlehem Township

Bethlehem Township's Police is accepting applications for its Citizens' Police Academy until Friday at the Municipal Building, located at 4225 Easton Avenue. Applicants must be 18. You don't have to be a Township residence, but they will be given preference in the 25-person class.

During a Tuesday night class that runs from October through January, the curriculum will include Traffic/DUI Enforcement, K-9 Program, Investigations, Scene Processing, Use of Force, Firearms Simulator Training, Police Culture, Patrol Ride-Along, School Resource Officer Program, the DARE and Every 15 Minutes Programs, Conduct and Ethics, a Staged Crime Scene, and much more.

Zoners to Rule on Elias Expansion Today

Although its parking lot was full on Saturday afternoon, I doubt customers were aware that Elias Farmers Market, located at the corner of Johnston Drive and Route 191, is the subject of a hot zoning controversy. Neighbors have fought tooth and nail against plans to expand its warehouse, as well as a loading dock. Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board is expected to rule today, for the third time, on whether the market may expand. Its previous two opinions were in favor of Elias, but a missing transcript made a new hearing necessary.

Simao's "Letter to Bethlehem Politicians" Catching Fire

Tony Simao might be fighting an uphill battle for a seat on Bethlehem City Council, but his career in Hollywood is assured. His riveting video, Open Letter to Bethlehem Politicians, is going viral, at least by Bethlehem standards. When I first saw it late Monday night, there were just 4 hits. Less than 24 hours later, there were 241 views.

Simao tells me he put it together using video editing software called Nero. Its score reminded me of the beginning scenes of Gladiator, while others thought it was more like The Omen.

No matter what movie it reminds you of, it's a very telling indictment of Mayor John Callahan's mismanagement at the helm of Bethlehem. It comes fast on the heels of an independent audit showing that Bethlehem finished 2010 with a jaw-dropping $14.2 million deficit.

Amazingly, Bethlehem again made a late pension payment again, incurring a fine, despite assurances last year that it would never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen again. t continues to play games with EIT money collected for other municipalities. And most disturbing of all, it took a cool million out of federal CDBG money, without even bothering to inform Council.

Unfortunately, the video is very accurate.

"There'll be more," Simao told me last night.

Vote For Allentown's 1SGT Michael “Rich” Buckles in Chevy Competition

Chevrolet is running a contest among six Pa. servicemen called "Chevrolet Military Salute Pa." The winner gets a "one week-long vehicle loan, hometown celebration in the serviceman/woman’s honor and other surprises." It's not exactly Powerball, but it's still a very kind gesture and I'm sure the generosity will be appreciated. I'm posting about this because Chevy will let us stiff the ballot, and I'd love to see a local serviceman win.

I met the Marine Corp's 1SGT Michael “Rich” Buckles, when he ran in the Ashly 5k, which raised money for the Blue Star Mothers and a scholarship in honor of Ashly Moyer, a soldier from Emmaus who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Not only did Buckles beat me, but so did his wife.

In spite of this insult, I'm asking you to vote for him, and you can do it here. Currently, some bastard from Philly is in the lead, and we can't have that anymore.

Here's what Chevy has to say about Top Sarge Buckles:

A native of Allentown, 1st Sgt. Buckles has honorably served his country for 17 years. He has been deployed five separate times in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and currently serves as the Inspector-Instructor 1st Sgt. in his hometown, ensuring the health, welfare and professional development of 126 Marines and sailors. According to his commanding officer, he also handles one of the most solemn duties of the United States Armed Forces; he exercises genuine care and sincere devotion that is synonymous with caring for our fallen servicemen and women and their families during the conduct of condolence and casualty assistance calls. Taking time out of his personal life, Buckles developed the Marine-n-Me summer camp program in West Reading. His peers describe him as “an exemplary citizen-soldier who is truly respected, admired and a model to be emulated.”

Who Can Replace John Conklin in Northampton County?

Conklin & Stoffa
The Express Times broke the story that Northampton County's Director of Admin., John Conklin, is leaving for a homeland security job in the private sector, effective October 31. The Morning Call has told you that two people are in the running to replace John Stoffa's right hand man. I'll tell you who they are, but before I do that, I want to say a thing or two about Conklin.

He's originally from the Johnstown area, but became known in this area when he worked in Lehigh County's emergency management. He left Lehigh County for Florida in 2003, but continued working in emergency management until he got the call from Stoffa.

Unlike most Directors of Administration, he's completely apolitical. He just did his job, and did it well. His weakness was his unwillingness to play the political game with an erratic Council, but that was also his strength. He played no games. He just executed flawlessly.

First, he applied his managerial skills to rescue an election office that was out of control. Second, he took the lead in establishing many of the innovations in Northampton County's emergency management, from reverse 911 to coordinating with other groups in Lehigh County. He could also be counted on to execute plans flawlessly.

Over the years, I became friendly with John and will miss him. Whoever is getting him is very lucky.

Now who's under consideration as Conklin's replacement? One of them is Bob Mateff, the current Director of Emergency Management. His office is among the most efficient and successful in Northampton County. It's hard to decipher where Conklin's expertise ends and Mateff's begins, but there's no question that Mateff has played a big role. From chemical spills on Route 33 to a swine flu scare to the recent handling of Hurricane Irene, Mateff has been there.

But like Conklin, Mateff is also apolitical. He may be an expert at dealing with tornadoes and hurricanes, but those are nothing compared to the snakepit known as Northampton County Council. Many people have gone into their star chamber, never to return.

The second contender is right at home in the political world. Alicia Karner, the County's Economic Development Analyst, knows how to deal with the politicos. After all, she was State Senator Lisa Boscola's District Chief of Staff. Karner serves as the Administration's eyes on the gaming authority, general purpose authority, industrial development authority and a host of other projects. She is the person who recently made an excellent presentation concerning the proposed Rte 33 TIF in Palmer Township. That will probably pass unanimously, thanks in large part to her fine work.

She even persuaded me!

Another difference between Karner and Mateff s that when you call her, she gets back to you. That's not a strong suit with Mateff. Sooner or later, that will get him in trouble with the politicos.

I believe Karner would look better to the administration that follows Stoffa, too.

Either one of these people would be an excellent choice. I would prefer Karner, but the County Executive makes his own decisions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carroll & Simao Unleash Hell Against Bethlehem Politicians


Now this is one powerful video, definitely worth the time spent watching it. I reminds me of a blockbuster movie preview, and I half expect Russell Crowe to jump out in the end and lop off the head of some decadent Roman Emperor. Instead of Crowe, it's Tony Simao and Tom Carroll, who are running for City Council in Bethlehem. Aside from the Hollwood style, this preview is a very compelling indictment of Mayor John Callahan's mismanagement.


Will it get them elected?

Council President Bob Donchez is unbeatable, and they leave him alone, very wisely. They instead focus on incumbent J. William Reynolds and candidate Mike Recchiuti, both of whom are tied to the Mayor.

I think it will be tough to beat Reynolds. He might be a Callahan cheerleader, but seems to work hard at his job and put in the hours. There's something to be said for that work ethic, which I respect. Also, his skin has to be incredibly thick because he never lashes out at the people who criticize him, even when they do it with silly grades in an open meeting.

Maybe he should start a blog.

I have not quite made up my mind about Reynolds, but agree Recchiuti is a joke who cold not even keep his job in some law firm. His Callahan-financed campaign should be seen as an attempt to stack the deck in favor of the Captain of a sinking ship.

Interestingly, fellow Republican Al Bernotas is absent from this clip. That's probably a good thing. I called Al recently, and he surprised me by telling me he was in the middle of a class on zoning at LVPC. The guy really cares. But he's grown increasingly bitter over the Elias zoning expansion, in which he is a litigant, and has lashed out at many people unnecessarily. At a recent City Council meeting, for example, he actually chided members of Bethlehem's Planning Bureau for not dutifully writing down his pearls of wisdom concerning a new zoning ordinance. If Reynolds or Donchez had done something like that, they'd be strung up in a heartbeat.

Back in the Saddle

Before the ride
A few Saturdays ago, I suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Express Times Editor Joe Owens in a 5k. I've been out there every day since late May, while he's done nothing. He even popped a Slim Jim a few minutes before the race started. Now he's calling himself "Irish lightning."

Since that fateful day, I've intensified my training. My bicycles kept beckoning me, but I've resisted them because I was afraid the tires would pop the moment I got on one of them.

On Sunday, for the first time in six years, I hopped on my BUV (bike utility vehicle). It's a monster equipped with headlights that will blind you, bad-ass Kevlar tires and a frame that can smash right through the thickest bushes. I enjoyed the brief ride so much that I decided to ride it from Nazareth to the courthouse on Monday. My sore ass and throbbing thighs are telling me I should have waited a few months or years, but what the hell do they know? I had a blast and will be doing it again soon, maybe this week.

Believe it or not, I made it to the courthouse. Sure, I had to walk up three mountains, but I made the nine miles in a blistering time of 53 minutes, which is about 60 mph.

Before walking into the courthouse, I stopped at a friend's office to show off and impress his hot secretary. But when I stepped inside, the blast from the air conditioner made me break out in a sweat, and it wasn't long before I was dripping all over both of them.

I plopped down in one of his cumfy chairs to take a load off, and discussed all the world's problems for about thirty seconds before realizing I really needed a drink of water. But when I got up, my buddy's chair was full of sweat that was now pouring out of my ass for some reason.

At least I think it was sweat.

I cleaned up that mess with a bottle of Fabreze. Hey, if it works on cat shit, it should work on me.

After wowing everyone at the office, I strolled across the street to the courthouse, where my bicycle helmet was immediately confiscated. Those things must be dangerous.

I confronted another friend who has been thinking about getting an e-Bike (battery assisted). "Suck it up!" I told him, and then proceeded to brag about how fast I made it in from Nazareth, which is mostly a downhill ride.

As I exercised my jaw muscles, I noticed that I was beginning to get stiff ... not there ... but in all the places where a man does not want to be stiff. My legs felt like rubber. Even my wrists were sore.

After
No problem. I could just hop on a bus heading to Northampton Community College, which would reduce my ride home to just 5 miles.

And that's what I did. While waiting outside of the Easton Area Community Center, I started sweating (I know, I should say I perspire) again, and one of the ladies inside took pity on me and gave me a bottle of water, which was delightful.

As we discussed flu shots, a courthouse worker who religiously walks to and from the courthouse everyday, saw me on her way home. All three of us talked about flu shots until the bus came.

The bus was packed, mostly with students heading to the Community College. I pretended I was a professor. Most of them have iPods and tuned me out anyway.

When we got there, I popped onto my BUV and made my way onto Rte 191 for the ride to Nazareth. Although it was rush hour, only three people tried to run me off the road. I did get an email from a friend - an avid cyclist - who saw me struggling up the hill near Rte 191 and Newburg Road. "I think I saw you on a bike at about 5:45 tottering out of Newburg and heading towards Nazareth. I was worried about you.........at the pace you were setting and the distance yet to travel, I was not sure you would make it before dark!"

He's obviously jealous.

He denied he was one of the bastards who tried to run me down. "I was going in the opposite direction. I am also a member of the NRA. I certainly would not miss a target that size!" He added that he's been reading my blog. "I do believe there are some folks on there who truly do not like you! I guess they just need to take the time to know you better! LOL"

Yeah, he's funny. He should be on Saturday Night Live. We'll see how much he laughs when he tries to start his car tomorrow.

Despite this guy's obvious attempts to murder me, I made it to Nazareth before nightfall. I even had time to stop at Giant for a few slices of watermelon, my favorite treat. While standing outside and admiring all the ladies who were parading in and out of there, another old fart came over and started talking to me. He's 84, a WWII vet, and must have thought I was in his age bracket.

"Have you had a bypass, too?" he asked.

I kicked the shit out of him and rode off.

Matt Connolly: More With Less


Matt Connolly is running against incumbent Lamont McClure for the Northampton County Council seat that includes Allen Tp, Bath, Bethlehem Tp, East Allen Tp, Freemansburg, Lower Nazareth Tp, Lower Saucon Tp, Nazareth, North Catasauqua and Northampton.

An Emmy For Lehigh Lawyers?

Back in August, I told you that Lehigh County's Bar Association had just snagged an Emmy nomination for Not Behind the Wheel, a video that discourages teens from texting while driving. It's the second time this conclave of barristers has been nominated for a regional Emmy.

Since that time, Executive Director Dan LaBert has been pretty much insufferable. He insists on being called Megatron for some reason, and demands three chilled bottles of San Pelligrono delivered to his office daily, which he's started calling his dressing room.

It's only going to get worse. The Bar Association won a Mid-Atlantic Emmy on September 24 at some swanky hotel in Philly.

"I want to thank my parents for having a child as good-looking as me. This is not as much fun as chasing an ambulance, but it's close. Looks like I finally got lucky."

FEC Proves Court of Cuckoo Had It Right

Pennsylvania Avenue tells us that the FEC has fined Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan $1,200 for his improper use of his state campaign treasury to help fund his Congressional race against Charlie Dent last year. Callahan let his local fund pay close to $10,000 for opposition research, and now he has to pay it back.

Back in February 2010, when I first told you about the complaint filed with the FEC, I was bashed in 81 comments. "Nothing will come of this complaint," said one expert. Pa. Progressive, a goofy Berks County blogger, lectured me. "There can be no violation for expenses incurred before filing with the FEC as a federal candidate." He also warned me that I was "wide open" for a libel lawsuit. Another pundit stated "Last I checked, the FEC is the relevant body here, not the Court of Cuckoo, and it has not even opened an investigation. Your repeated assertions that Callahan is definitely guilty and is certain to be fined are absolutely reckless and possibly defamatory. I can't believe what a fool you've made of yourself."

It now appears that something did come of this complaint. Pa. Progressive should probably have Obama appoint him to the FEC so he can straighten them out. The Court of Cuckoo prevailed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Should Parents Be Banned From Kids' Football Games?


Last week, the Bethlehem Steelers (125 lbs.) were playing the Mustangs in Lower Macungie. With a little over a minute to go, and the Steelers up by 20, a young Mustang was injured.

Unlike most kids, who might yell in pain or even cry (you can cry in football), this boy was just lying there. He was out. When he came to, he was not moving. He complained of numbness in his shoulder and arm, and everyone waited what seemed like a half hour for an ambulance to drive out onto the field and take the boy away.

Who the hell would want to play after something like that? The Mustangs and the Steelers, that's who. They played a pointless minute in a game that was already decided and after the kids had lost their enthusiasm.

Coaches were still screaming, with veins popping out of their necks and foreheads. So were moms and dads. But the kids knew better. The game was over.

Yesterday, the Steelers played a very good team from North Parkland. They're called the Buffaloes and they are big. I was on the chain gang.

Before these games start, the kids on both teams start whooping it up and hitting each other or slapping their pads, reminding me of primal warriors from our distant past. Cheerleaders encourage them with a banner they run through to their bench.

But the kids aren't the only ones who get psyched. Parents and coaches start screaming, too.

During yesterday's game, which was very close but eventually won by the Buffaloes, one of their boys fumbled the ball in the backfield. As Steelers scrambled for the ball, one of North Parkland's 900 coaches (they all have more coaches than players and with very nice matching shirts) shouted out, "Step on his hands!"

WTF? These are 11 and 12 year-old kids, not the NFL. Would this guy appreciate another adult telling some boy to step on his son's hand?

I turned to the coach, from where I was on the chain gang, and asked him what the hell was wrong with him. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior. To his credit, the coach immediately apologized, told me he had never said anything like that before, and did not know what had happened to him.

I believe him, too. I don't think any of his boys heard him in all the confusion, with so many adults screaming conflicting orders at the tops of their lungs. And if they did, they'd ignore him. The kids knew better.

I'm sure this coach could be removed, but that's not the problem. The problem is that perfectly nice people can turn into animals very quickly. Does the violence inherent in a sport like football cause us all to become primitive tribesman, devolving about 30,000 years for the two hours that we stand in a 100-yard filed of grass?

My grandson loves the game, even more than baseball. So do his teammates. But I'm not worried about them. It's their parents.

Is The Morning Call Worth 35 Cents a Day Online?

If you say No, you're insulting many fine reporters and columnists at the Morning Call. But if you say Yes, then aren't you insulting many other fine reporters and columnists at The Express Times, WFMZ-TV69 and at Patch?

MC Publisher Timmy Ryan dropped in from Baltimore to say that, starting October 10, it will cost you to read The Morning Call on line. Even print subscribers will have to pay something for online access, and that's so the paper can claim two subscriptions from one person. That way, the paper can artificially increase the number of paid subscribers.

The Morning Call must have forgotten to allow people to weigh in on the paper's new business model. No comments are being accepted. So I'll ask you, is The Morning Call worth 35 cents a day online?

I say No, and here's why. For most of us in the Lehigh Valley, we can find out what we need to know from other news sources, except in downtown Allentown. The Express Times's reach does not extend to Allentown, and Patch avoids it, too. So the only place where there might be an information gap is downtown Allentown. But guess what? There's already an information gap in Allentown because, with notable exceptions like former reporter Jarrett Renshaw, the paper refuses to take a hard look at City government.

That's why somebody like J.B. Reilly, a big Pawlowski campaign contributor, just happens to have 8 parcels around the proposed hockey arena, including three properties he bought in March. To you and me, this is insider trading. To King Edwin, it's coincidence.

Or take a look at Jeff Vaughan, who just happens to be Reilly's brother-in-law. He bought 723 W Hamilton in March for $215,000 and then flipped it to the ACIDA, just four months later, for $246,738. In April, he bought 709 W Hamilton for $150,000, and sold that property in July, again to ACIDA, for $174,487.

In four months, Vaughn was able to earn a $56,225 profit on a $365,000. That's 15.4% profit, better than most loansharks.

Now it could very well be that there's a reasonable explanation for all of this, but asking the questions is what I would expect from a newspaper that really covers Allentown. If I've heard about this in Nazareth, my guess is that The Morning Call has heard it, too.

The paper digs in Easton or Bethlehem, where it has friendly competition. In Allentown, however, where it is the only game in town, the paper seems to be on automatic pilot. Blogger Michael Molovinsky, fortunately, does his best at keeping local government honest. Many of his stories later appear in The Morning Call.

Because The Morning Call fails to cover the one area where it basically has a monopoly, I think an online subscription is a waste of money.

Will I subscribe anyway? If I do, it will be because I really enjoy the columns written by Bill White, our LV Mark Twain, and consumer watchdog Paul Mushick, who has been very impressive since he got a column.

Oh yeah, then there's Matt Assad, too, a reporter whose hard-hitting style might make him more reviled than me. I'll still want to read him.

Of course, I'd miss Scott Kraus, too. He can make a complete ass out of someone while trying to appear objective.

He's done it to me many times.

I liked Spencer Soper's Amazon expose, too, even though another blogger had him beat by about six months.

Who am I kidding? I'll be subscribing for online access. I just wish print subscribers got the online subscription as part of their package.

I wonder if my blog droppings are worth a dollar a day?

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut Biography Will Be Out in November


I became acquainted with biographer Charles J Shields a few years ago when he contacted me to say he was writing about author Kurt Vonnegut. My Dad and Vonnegut were grunts during WWII, where they were captured together and survived the firebombing of Dresden.

They stayed in touch until my Dad passed away. After that, Vonnegut would call my Mom regularly. And when she left us, he even called me a few times, encouraging me to "give 'em Hell" with absolutely no idea what the Hell I was doing.

My brother, the family packrat, had quite a bit of stuff to share with Shields, which I sent. I posted some of it here, too.

Shields' final product, "And So It Goes," comes out in November.

He also has a very entertaining and informative blog, Writing Kurt Vonnegut.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do We Really Need to Give Chrin a Tax Break - Part Three

Who the Hell would endorse a tax break for a rich dude? Easton School District, Palmer Township and very soon, Northampton County Council. And they are right. Let me explain why.

Before Charles Chrin, Howard Seiple was the largest landowner in Northampton County. A farmer, his tracts extended into four different townships.

After he died, much of this property was sold to developers, who built McMansion after McMansion on what was once verdant farmland. That puts tremendous pressure on school districts, who must educate the children without getting enough money in taxes. It's also a drain on municipal government, which must maintain the infrastructure and provide emergency services to what was once quiet farmland.

Charles Chrin purchased 689 acres from the Seiple Estate. Unlike other developers, he's avoided the residential development temptation. I doubt this is altruism. Chrin knows he can make more money with an industrial park.

But it's still infinitely preferable to another housing development, or a 420-unit apartment complexe. It will increase the tax base, reducing the burden of everyone else. The Chrin TIF will allow him to defer the increase in taxes so he can use that money to finance a Route 33 interchange that will draw business.

As I've told you many times, I'm no fan of corporate welfare or Chrin. But this is no handout. It benefits everyone. No risk is assumed. In the middle of a recession, it could produce thousands of jobs.

Dave Colver, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Palmer Township, is the person who persuaded me that this TIF is necessary. Here's what he told Northampton County Council's Finance Committee last week.

I'm Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Palmer, but I'm here representing all five board members. This was a unanimous decision to opt in. There was no dissension. We have been in favor of this project in general, and the TIF project all along. So all five board members are completely backing this project.


We're all in the same boat - the Township, School District and the County. We need money to operate. We can only deal with tax increases so much. In Palmer, we have looked at the north end of the Township as the way to offset some of that future tax base down the road in the future.


Let's face it, this is not a quick thing. This is not gonna' fix it in three to five years. There's no money coming off of this in the first five years. Everybody gets what they've been getting for farmland. We get about $15,000 on all that land up there. That's it. We can continue to get that $15,000, you folks can continue to get your $25,000, we can all go home and forget about it and Charlie can plant corn. Game over.


Our concerns. Zoning. Our comprehensive plan for every ten years - we're doing a new one now - past twenty years has looked at the north end development and an interchange to handle the infrastructure. We cannot develop the north end of that Township without an interchange, period. There's just no way to do it with the traffic, everything, that's needed in that area. So we have ... my successors [he means predecessors] ... I've only been there 1 or 14 years ... but my successors looked at that as the way to develop the north end. This is a way to make it happen.


The need for the interchange is imminent. The Township will not let, and the developer has pledged, no residential development, period. The Township will not allow it. We're controlling the zoning. No Bog Boxes. We're not gonna' see the million, two million square feet under roof, with twenty or thirty people operating forklifts so that the trucks can run around the clock and get on an interchange. Not gonna' happen. We control it.


We've got a developer who is willing to work with the Township and who is not looking for residential or the Big Box development.


We looked at the exposure. What exposure is Palmer Township, the County and the school district have with this? If it all fails, if it falls flat, is there any tax dollars that Palmer, the school district could be resonsible [for]? As you've heard, in the whole discussion prior to me, it's all being funded - the TIF is being funded - through the increase in the buildings. The taxes? It falls back on the Neighborhood Improvement District, which at this time is the property owner and anyone who would purchase in the future. And if that fails, it's the bondholders. There is zero risk. None. Find it, tell us what the risk is? There is none.


This is a way for all three of us to work together. It's not too often the County, the school district and the local municipality cross paths on a project that comes together to do something with zero risk for the betterment that could create two to three to four thousand jobs over the next eight - ten - twelve years.


My Board voted unanimously for it. he School District, as you heard, voted 6-1 in favor of it. I hope you folks at this Committee level, and when we get to County Council, at the County level, will see the merits of this project and support it unanimously. It's a good project. It's good for the County as a whole, and it brings jobs, it brings construction, all these ancillary things.


We're talking about 689 acres. There's another couple hundred acres outside of this district right there in Tatamy, Stockertown, Lower Nazareth, Forks. Everybody gets the benefit of this interchange.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Habitat LV Dedicates William Street Home

Habitat Lehigh Valley dedicated its 90th home on September 24 at William Street in Bethlehem for Elizabeth Lemos and her two children, Joshua, 16, and Kiana, 12. The three-bedroom home, which includes a garage, was sponsored by the Bethlehem Housing Authority and built with the hard work of numerous volunteers, including 250 hours of "sweat equity" from Lemos herself.

Mark Ehrle, Chairman of the Board of Habitat Lehigh Valley, stated another six homes are "in flight" right now, and are acquired via donations and grants. People are selected for home ownership as a result of an application process requiring good credit scores and an income level that that is 35-65% of the area's median income. He indicated that, so far, all homes have been built in the Lehigh Valley's three cities.

Lemos was presented with housewarming gifts that included a bouquet from Bethlehem Garden Club, an embroidery from LV Embroidery Guild, and a big box of Just Born candies. "Don't eat them all at once," wisecracked mentor Dot Cressler.

Ehrle gave Lemos a Bible as well as an honorary key.

Lemos' son Joshua is a senior at Liberty High School and her daughter Kiana is in 7th grade at Nitschman. Lemos stated that she is looking forward to seeing her son go off to college so she can take over his room as a study.

Despite having only weekend free every month, Lemos was able to complete her 250 "sweat equity" hours in just one year. Lemos thanked the twenty or so people at the dedication for all their help, and for removing their shoes. "I am glad I decided to turn to Habitat," she said. "I never thought I would be able to own my own home. Now look at me!"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Do We Really Need To Give Chrin a Tax Break? - Part Two

As I mentioned earlier this week, I am philosophically opposed to incentivizing economic development with tax breaks. To me, the most offensive of these giveaways is the KOZ, under which the beneficiary is exempt from virtually all taxes, excepting federal income tax. But the tax break proposed for Chrin's industrial park in Palmer Township is a less offensive TIF, which uses tax money generated by the project to fund future development.

My thinking about this TIF changed during a public meeting in which Northampton County's Alicia Karner made a power point presentation, which was followed by comments from numerous individuals who support this project. Most persuasive, at least to me, was Palmer Township Supervisor Dace Colver.

Before getting into what Colver said, I want to share Karner's power point presentation, which lays out the nuts and bolts concerning this proposed TIF.
Chrin TIF Power Point

Township Comm'r Bashes Park Benefactor: Discourages Discussion of 420-Unit Apartment Complex

It's not often that an elected official will bash a person who donates $2 million and a 55-acre tract to his own township. But that's exactly what Bethlehem Township Commissioner Michael Hudak did during a Septemebr 22 meeting to discuss Housenick Park. Here's the story.

When Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first Mayor and one-time President of Bethlehem Steel retired in 1927, it was to what he called "Camel's Hump," a large tract along the Monocacy Creek. It included a three-story mansion that the engineer designed and built himself. He spent his last twenty years calling himself a "farmer," but still had The New York Times delivered daily from the open cockpit of an airplane.

Johnston's granddaughter, Janet Housenick, would later convey 36 acres of Camel's Hump to Northampton County as the Archibald Johnston Conservation area. In her Will, she devised another 55 acres, including the mansion, to Bethlehem Township as a park. She also set aside $2 million for the Township to maintain the property.

But Housenick's largess to Bethlehem Township meant little to Commissioner Michael Hudak, who attended the last of seven public meetings conducted by Pennonni engineer Evan Stone and MKSD architect Kim Labrake on September 22.

"She knew what was going on," he complained. "She let it fall into decay. Why didn't she have somebody fix the ceiling? It was never kept up over the years."

One Township resident, Christine Murray, quietly answered, "Did she not leave $2 million to the Township? Is that not something?"

Dr. John Yaswinski, a local veterinarian who grew up in the area and still lives there, has no doubt about the potential of this park and mansion. "People are going to come here," he said, adding that "it would be a real crime not to seize this opportunity." Dr. Yaswinski stated that the park and mansion could actually generate income for the Township from wedding rentals. Other ideas floated included chamber concerts at the mansion, as well as a bed and breakfast.

The Master Plan will be presented to Commissioners on October 3. It is estimated that improvements to the park, phased in over the next ten years, will cost around $1.7 million. Costs for restoration of the mansion will depend on which of several options is approved by Commissioners, but the cost of keeping it in place is estimated at $71,000.

During the meeting, Stone stressed that no Township funds will be expended for these improvements. Costs will be paid by the Housenick Estate, and Stone indicated that the property might be eligible for DCNR and RACP grants.

In addition to money, some of the improvements will be the work of volunteers. Vicky Bastidas, a member of the Housenick Committee, Produced a letter from Brain Williams, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Area Vo-Tech, who called the park "a great opportunity to create a living classroom for many of our programs. We can provide student labor to offset the costs of the project." She also mentioned a similar offer from Northampton Community College.

When Stone recommends a final plan to Commissioners on October 3, it will include a recommendation that this Committee be "actively involved" in the proposed development of a tract right next to the park. Developer Michael Perrucci has proposed a 420-unit apartment complex at that location, even though it is in a conservation district and in an area zoned "rural residential." His plan would require both rezoning and changes to the Township's Comprehensive Plan.

Hudak, an advocate of this development, objected to this recommendation. "What would be the advantage of that?" he asked. "The park committee does not really need to be involved in zoning issues."

But Township resident Christine Murray disagreed. "I'm really sad that there's going to be 420 apartments there. The quality of this park is really going to go down." She referred to the area as a "magical little spot. We really should protect it."

Hudak attempted to discourage comments about the proposed Perrucci development, calling it a "township issue." But Township resident Barry Roth, a recent appointee to the Planning Commission, continued the discussion. "If you want to see what it will look like, go to the Township Park and see the houses ringing around it. You need to come to meetings."

That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Tom Nolan, who claims he "was hooked" on Housenick park after one visit. He called it a "hidden jewel," and urged people to make themselves heard.

"It is important for people who have an opinion, for or against, to come and express that opinion."

After the meeting was over, Commissioner Hudak continued complaining about Housenick. "She lived 100 yards from that house and never spent a dime," he stated. He's also upset that members of the Housenick committee like Vicky Bastidas, who has offered student labor, are not Township residents. He stated that, instead of the mansion, he "prefers to concentrate on the grounds."

"My first concern is that the park be developed for the people," he stated.

Otter: Stick Your Dismissal

As I've told you weeks ago, Gracedale Initiative lawyer Larry Otter has appealed Judge Baratta's denial of a motion for attorney fees aimed at Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle and yours truly. Angle and I, you may remember, challenged that initiative in court. Although we were able to invalidate many signatures, we were unable to invalidate enough of them to prevent a plebiscite on the sale of the county-owned nursing home.

According to Otter, Angle and I were really just spearbearers for Eckert Seamans, the law firm charged by County Council resolution with the responsibility of expediting Gracedale's sale. Otter goes on to claim that, at the same time that Eckert Seamans was secretly representing us, we were secretly representing the County. To spice things up, he occasionally mentions Bonusgate and "unnamed co-conspirators."

Judge Baratta chucked Otter out of Court. The Otter appealed.

Yesterday, he filed a statement to explain why he is appealing. Now he's braying about "criminal acts" by the County Executive, and Angle and I are for some reason responsible. To cinch it, he points out that I am a "disbarred attorney." Obviously, I'm a bad man.

Now with as much as he knows, you'd think the Otter could follow the rules of appellate and civil procedure. Those rules require that, when he files a motion or other document, he must serve the other side. Either in person or by mail. The Otter is very lax about that little requirement.

I've repeatedly reminded him that he has to serve me by mail. Other attorneys have reminded him, too. I want hard copies of any documents accusing me of illegal activity. I'm funny that way.

Yesterday, I told Otter that unless he serves me in accordance with the rules, I'll ask the Commonwealth Court to dismiss his appeal. Here's what he sent back.

YOU HAVE NOTICE
SO SPARE ME THE IDLE RHETORIC
sure
I will mail you the material and you will get it next week
I will add it on to the costs in the end
stick your dismissal someplace else and read Farnese
have a nice day


I doubt I'll receive the hard copy I requested. Neither will Angle. But I'm sure the Commonwealth Court will be delighted to read Otter's remarks.

Very professional.

Maybe he should have been a blogger.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GOP County Council Candidate Matt Connolly Behind on Real Estate Taxes ... Again

When Matt Connolly ran against Lisa Boscola for the state senate last year, she blasted him for failing to pay taxes on three Lower Saucon Township properties owned by his business, Matt Connolly Motor Sports, LLC. "Who are you gonna' vote for, somebody who doesn't pay his taxes?" she asked. Connolly did delay payments on those business parcels in 2008 and 2009. He explained, "I chose to cover other expenses, like paying my employees, instead of paying the taxes on the due date. Of course I did pay them, but they were late." Connolly was never late with his tax bill for the real estate he owns personally.

Now Connolly is the GOP's choice for the Northampton County Council seat currently held by Lamont McClure. And once again, Connolly is late on real estate taxes owed by his business. In fact, at the September 22 annual upset tax sale, one of them was exposed to sale. Nobody bid because of a lien, and it will now be scheduled for a judicial sale in January.

At the last minute, Connolly was able to pay $9,000 to keep the other two properties from going to sale.

How did this happen?

According to Connolly, he and a silent partner were each responsible for $5,500 of the bill. When his associate was unable to come up with his share, Connolly began scrambling for the rest, but it was not enough.

Connolly explained that the real estate market has been very tough for him. He lost a $100,000 loan when Easton's Mount Vernon Ale house was sold at tax sale, as well as another $48,000 when the Magic Wok lost its magic and filed for bankruptcy.

Connolly states he expects to have the funds for the third property in a matter of weeks.

Will this hurt Connolly? It won't help.

The seat that Connolly and McClure are fighting for includes Allen Tp, Bath, Bethlehem Tp, East Allen Tp, Freemansburg, Lower Nazareth Tp, Lower Saucon Tp, Nazareth, North Catasauqua, and Northampton.

Do We Really Need To Give Chrin a Tax Break? - Part One

Charles Chrin is definitely the smelliest person in Northampton County. He's worse than me! Driving by his landfill is always a treat, especially on a hot Summer day. It's just agreed to pay a $114,000 fine to the state DEP because, basically, it stinks.

In addition to being smelly, Chrin is definitely the largest landowner in Northampton County and he's probably the richest, too. So naturally, people hate his guts. He could probably get away with stinking up the place, but none of us like people who have more money than the rest of us. You could say we're all socialists at heart, but I think we're just jealous. Chrin can donate land for Williams Township football fields and community centers bearing his name, but nobody really likes the guy.

He might be a gazillion years old, but he's still going gangbusters on getting as much money as he can before he dies. His latest venture? Ripping apart over 600 acres of greenfields in northern Palmer Township with a humongous industrial park. And because that park will result in lots of heavy truck traffic, he wants on Interchange off of Route 33, right around Tatamy.

Now Chrin originally promised to foot the bill the $25 million plus bill himself, but he now wants to finance it using tax money, with a TIF. Sounds outrageous doesn't it?  That has to be approved by the host municipality, school district and County. It passed unanimously in Palmer Township, had only one dissenting vote on the Easton School Board and looks like a winner in Northampton County.

This is exactly the kind of project I love to rip apart. Corporate welfare, I scream. Good ol' boys taking care of each other, I complain. Nobody listens.

I went to a Finance Committee meeting last week, expecting to have my usual opinion confirmed. Instead, I was persuaded that this proposal is actually a very good idea. I was impressed by the presentation made by Northampton County's Alicia Karner, as well as the comments of former State Rep. Rich Grucela (he must be getting paid by Chrin) and Palmer Township Supervisor Dave Colver.

I'll explain why, despite my natural hatred of anyone who has more money than me, this is a good idea. But before I do that, I'll note the excellent argument against this idea by Frank Castrovinci, the sole Easton School Director to say No.


My name is Frank Castrovinci.  I am a Controller at a local company, and was recently appointed as a director on the Easton Area School Board. I apologize for contacting you at your personal e-mail address, but I have an important message as a resident of Northampton County that I hope to draw attention to.
The Easton School Board was presented with the TIF proposal for the Rt. 33 Interchange at Main Street in Palmer Township on August 18.  The proposal was approved 6-1, and I was the dissenting vote.  I am writing to you because there are a number of issues that I believe many are not considering with this proposal, and I wanted to contact the county council to highlight these concerns.
1.       TIF financing should not be used for projects that would go forward without the incentive.  On this project, the developer was intending to pay for the cost of the interchange prior to the cost increasing given the need to replace a bridge.  Porsche chose to be located in the same industrial park as the land that will be within the TIF disctrict after screening greater than 50 sites, and Majestic has a large facility in this general area, all without the interchange.  I understand that at full development an interchange at Main Street would be beneficial, but given the developer’s original plans and apparent attractiveness of this location, I do not believe a TIF is warranted for the full funding of this project.  I questioned this during the presentation to the school board.  The reply was that the cost of the interchange increased, and without this financing the developer would need to front the cost of the project.  This was their plan prior to the bridge replacement requirement.  A reasonable (and logical) request would be for the cost of the bridge to be covered by the TIF plan.
 
2.       The two existing TIF districts in Northampton County are excellent examples of the use of TIF financing.  Both are at locations that would likely have not been developed without the financing.  I am not sold on the fact that this is the case for the Rt. 33 Interchange proposal.
 
3.       The presenters of the proposal draw attention to the Dietrich Group study and the potential payout to the taxing authorities if they agree to the plan.  They also state there is no financial risk to the taxing authorities.  In my view, the issue is how much the taxing authorities should be willing to give up to pay for the interchange.  If the economics of this industrial park at full build out as projected by the Dietrich Group are sufficient for the Chrin Company to finance the interchange, an incentive of the magnitude they are requesting should not be provided. The bridge is deficient and should not be the cost of the developer, and something we should consider assisting with.
 
4.       The developer has some exposure to cover cost of the interchange through the Neighborhood Improvement District that will be in place for this location.  My understanding of this concept is that there would be an additional assessment made on property owners within the TIF district if the development has not been sufficient to cover the cost of the loan.  As the developer would be one of the property owners, they would be liable to kick in some funding to cover the shortfall.  In my view, if the developer is willing to do this, they should be willing to pay some portion of the interchange cost up front, allowing the taxing authorities to receive a higher amount of the taxes to be collected from this industrial park, and alleviating some of the burden placed on our existing taxpayers.  I am not aware of any effort to negotiate a more equitable proposal.
 
5.       The Chrin Company will be pricing this land at the market, and will seek to undercut the competition by just enough to attract prospects to their industrial park.  They in effect will control how much of this incentive is passed through to companies considering property in this area.  This gives me a high degree of discomfort, and translates into a huge potential windfall for the developer rather than an incentive to attract high quality jobs to our area.
 
6.       The magnitude of this incentive is excessive given the lack of definition around the companies and jobs that will be located in this industrial park in the future.  Palmer Township’s claim is they will not allow large distribution centers to cover this land, though as we see the Lehigh Valley is popular for these types of facilities.  Though this area appears to be promising, I am concerned about offering an incentive of this magnitude for jobs that are not defined.  If the next Olympus was moving into the Lehigh Valley, I would likely be agreeable to including an amount above the cost of the bridge in the TIF financing plan, if that is what it would take to close the deal.  This is not the case for this proposal.
 
7.       I have read that some counties have ceased allowing TIF financing for greenfield sites, as this financing was intended to cover blighted areas as defined by the Urban Redevelopment Law.  Allowing TIF financing for greenfield sites has the opposite effect of what I believe the true intent is of this legislation.  The definition of blight is so broad that it appears almost anything can be considered blighted property. We must limit offering this type of financing on projects such as this, and reserve it for properties that are truly blighted, as the county has in the past.
I respectfully request that you consider these points as the TIF financing plan is presented to yourself and the rest of the Northampton County Council.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is Bethlehem Township Solicitor Jim Broughal Conflicted?

It's unclear whether he's conflicted, but he does have a bad back.

Bethlehem lawyer Jim Broughal is a man of many hats, but is it one hat too many? That question will soon be answered by Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners as a result of a possible conflict of interest that Broughal himself has brought to their attention.

In addition to his private practice, Broughal is Solicitor to Hanover Township, Bethlehem Township, the Bethlehem Parking Authority and the Bethlehem Authority. He's also a member of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

He gets around, but denies he is met by a paladin and servants when he reaches the Toll Bridge Commission parking lot. They do blow a trumpet.

When developer Michael Perrucci pitched a 420-unit luxury Woodmont Mews apartment complex in Bethlehem Township in a low density conservation area on September 19, it sounded very similar to a Woodmont Mews development on 8th Avenue a few years ago. Broughal would know. His firm represented Perrucci's Woodmont at that time.

Broughal has already alerted Township officials that there is a potential conflict.

Developer Michael Perrucci wears a few hats himself. His firm is Solicitor to the Toll Bridge Commission, but only serves the New Jersey contingent. Pennsylvanians like Broughal are represented by a separate firm.

Libraries? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Libraries!

Arthur Murphy
An increasing library contribution is making Bethlehem Township think twice about whether it wants to remain among the six municipalities currently participating in the Bethlehem Area Public Library. Thomas Nolan reported to fellow Commissioners at their September 19 meeting that the Township's share of the cost will increase from $372,000 to nearly $410,000.

Six municipalities - Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Lower Saucon Township, Hanover Township, Freemansburg and Fountain Hill - all help fund the library. All, excepting Fountain Hill, will see an increase next year.

According to the latest census figures, population in the Township has risen 21,171 to 23,730 over the past ten years, and each person is assessed $17.25.

Commissioner Michael Hudak complained that the "library runs on its own, without any oversight." He resents the library "dictating to us what we owe." But the library staff reports to a 14-person board that includes representatives from each of the six member municipalities. Bethlehem Township has two representatives, including Janet Barry and Commissioner Nolan.

Arthur Murphy, President of Bethlehem Township's Board, thinks the Township should start its own library in a portion of the Community Center.

"The last people I know who use the library are young mothers who take their kids down there and read stories and getting mostly stuff like that," noted Murphy, who stated the Township could do that itself. "Just what services do they provide to Bethlehem Township, other than having a big library up there and we're free to go into it and take out books and use their computers?" he asked. Hudak agreed, stating that information is at everyone's "fingertips," thanks to the Internet.

According the the library's 2010 annual report, 46% of the Township's population are cardholders.

Unlike Murphy and Hudak, Commissioner Jerry Batcha believes pulling out of the Bethlehem Area Public Library would be a mistake because the Township would be unable to provide the same level of service on an ongoing basis with $409,000. "Unless the intent is not to provide that service," Batcha pointedly remarked. Nolan agreed with Batcha, arguing that Township officials should instead urge the library to be more careful with their costs.

So with two in favor of leaving and two in favor of staying, that makes Commissioner Paul Weiss the swing vote. He listened.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs Change Course on Perrucci Plan

When developer Michael Perrucci appeared before Bethlehem Township Commissioners at their May 16 meeting, he received a chilly reception. He'd like to build a 420-unit luxury apartment complex and commercial buildings in one of the last remaining rural areas of the township. Located right next to Housenick Memorial Park, and close to County-owned park land, Perrucci wants three-story highrises in a conservation area that is zoned rural residential. His plan would require both zoning changes and modifications to a 2004 comprehensive plan.

Perrucci was back before Township Commissioners at their September 19 meeting. Despite the absence of any intervening public meetings concerning this project, three Commissioners suddenly seemed much more receptive than they were in May. Before the night was over, Commissioner Michael Hudak was openly advocated the plans and sparring with the two Commissioners who still had reservations.

Accompanying Perrucci was his General Counsel, Steve Santola, who spoke about other Woodmont developments in the area. He indicated a trend towards apartment living by people who do so as a matter of choice. To prove his point, he stated that 54% of his Bethlehem units have an average household income of $70,000, and 30% have an average household income of $90,000. He spoke of amenities attracting young professionals that include a pool, fitness center and club.

Perrucci told Commissioners he'd install walking paths from his apartment complex to the park, a 55-acre tract off of Christian Spring Road, which includes a mansion that was once home to Bethlehem's first Mayor, Archibald Johnston. The late Janet Johnston Housenick devised the property to the Township.

She also donated an adjoining 36 acres to Northampton County as a conservation area, and concerns over the proposed development brought Northampton County Council member Ron Angle down from the Slate Belt. "I would think this would be a bad move," Angle said. "Your citizens need a place to go, where they can walk along that magnificent creek." Speaking of Janet Johnston Housenick, whose Will gave the Township that land as a "natural area," Angle doubted whether "she was thinking you'd want to change your zoning next door and put in another 400 units."

On May 19, Hudak had told Perrucci that a consensus at Housenick Park meetings was to keep the area "low impact." But on September 19, Hudak stated there were "natural buffers" to shield the park from the apartment complex, and that development is inevitable. His only request was that the buildings have a "rustic look."

Unlike Hudak, Commissioner Jerry Batcha is adamantly opposed to the high-density development. Waiving the Township's 2004 Comprehensive Plan, he noted that the tract is zoned rural residential, which would only allow for limited development. Batcha added that the area is also in a conservation overlay district, which was designed to conserve the quality of Monocacy Creek and protect environmentally sensitive habitats. He added that traffic in that area would present public safety concerns.

"It's almost hypocritical when communities or people say, 'We're going to preserve open space,' until there's money to be made from it by somebody down the road. Is this going to be a conservation district or not?" asked Batcha.

Agreeing with Batcha, Commissioner Thomas Nolan noted there is "great concern" among those planning Housenick Park, and added he still regards a nearby high-density development "very negatively."

Although agreeing with Hudak that development is inevitable, Commissioner Paul Weiss stated he is still a "little bit concerned" about the traffic a 420-unit apartment complex would unleash on Rte 191. "That's a lot of traffic," he said.

President Arthur Murphy, noting that the Moravian Church is the current owner of the land that Perrucci would like to develop, stated they have a "God-given right to do whatever they want with it." Like Hudak and Weiss, Murphy believes the land will eventually be developed anyway.

Tim Brady, a member of the Housenick Advisory Committee, Housenick Estate trustee, member of the Moravian Church and a former Commissioner, suggested that the Township open its comprehensive plan, but require Perrucci to foot the bill. He added that the Deed to the Moravian Church contains no restrictions. But he also noted that seven months before her death, Janet Johnston Housenick opposed an attempt by her sister to have an area of Bethlehem rezoned to permit more dense development.

Commissioners took no action on Perrucci's plan, but three out of five indicated they view it favorably. Perrucci indicated that he would be willing to submit a less dense plan, was looking for a "middle ground," and wants to work with the community.

Photo: Steve Santola explains the advantages of apartment life, as developer Mike Perrucci listens.