Monday, April 30, 2012

NIZ No longer "Insider Baseball" Issue

When I was discussing this matter with some state Reps a few months ago, several told me nobody really cares about the NIZ. But that has changed. Now they are being cornered by constituents and local officials, upset with the way this has been handled.

Over the weekend, a friend overheard some women visiting an Allentown nursing home unexpectedly begin a spirited discussion about - the NIZ!

Two of the women stated that they lived in Bethlehem. The others were from various communities. The gist of their conversation was that they opposed the "tax grab," and that if Allentown wanted to build an arena, "they should use their own money." They applauded the whole fight by the suburban municipalities.

He didn't catch them saying anything bad about Mayor Pawlowski, or even Allentown. Their feelings were that if Allentown wanted to improve itself, it should be done with Allentown's money, not theirs. They then left the dining room and went off to the hospital floor.

I think it underscores the depth of the anti-NIZ sentiments outside of Allentown - and perhaps inside, too. This is no longer just an "inside baseball" issue.

Then we have this recent Morning Call poll.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

TODAY'S QUESTION: Are the suburbs wrong in jeopardizing the 2013 Phantoms hockey season? (Poll closes at 7 p.m.)
·         YES (483 responses)
7.3%
·         NO (6133 responses)
92.7%
6616 total responses
(Results not scientific)
This poll is closed to voting
If I were Allentown, I would be concerned about the "negatives" here, regardless of the sampling methodology.

Arena Traffic Has Allentown Police Worried

When Allentown's Planning Commission gave their green light to the latest version of a new downtown hockey arena, they did so even though no traffic study has been conducted. "Those details haven't been honed out yet," claimed a City engineer. But highly placed Allentown police officials are privately very concerned about how - or whether - the City's downtown will handle the load.

What about the Iron Pigs? There seems to be few serious traffic problems there. Police explain that Coca Cola Park is more accessible. In addition, they claim baseball traffic is much different.

People visiting Coca Cola Park tend to arrive at different times. Some are early, to soak in the atmosphere or get autographs. Others are just as happy dropping in as late as the first or second inning. People also start leaving in the sixth or seventh inning, which reduces the number of traffic jams.

But hockey is unlike baseball, police claim. Fans tend to arrive right before the game, all petty much at the same time. They tend to stay until the bitter end, too.

For obvious reasons, I am unable to identify these officers. A Mayor who is willing to sue someone for exercising his constitutional rights will certainly retaliate against police officers who worry about his "transformation."

St. Luke's Half Crazy Half Marathon: From the Inside

You couldn't ask for a better day. Crisp temperatures. Light breeze. A sun that steadily grew stronger and warmer. Great running weather.
And run we did. According to a Morning Call account, over 3200 idiots ran through the streets and parks of Allentown in Sunday's St. Luke's Half Marathon. A few ran for the money. A few more ran to set personal records. But most of us ran 13.1 miles for no real reason. Why?  'Cuz we're nuts.

Not completely. The real insaniacs run complete marathons. Then, they keel over and die. Half-marathoners are only partially nuts. One of the runners proved that, spray-painting "half crazy" all over his car.

Before the race, I saw State Rep. Joe Brennan at William Allen High School's gym. His biggest concern was how he was going to be able to smoke. He had cigarettes stashed all over the place, along with little pieces of candy. He was running his first race. A frickin' half marathon.

Half crazy.

Then I bumped into Bethlehem Attorney Joe Yannuzzi, a serious endurance athlete who has climbed the Himalayan Mountains. I once ran a team race with this barrister, in which he managed somehow to get lost. He made fun of my black shoes, which weight in at 2 pounds each.

Half crazy.

The two Joes made their way to the front line while I worked my way to the rear.

Once the race started, I started slow ... and stayed that way. Although I'm something of a loner, I did enjoy eavesdropping to the numerous conversations among runners.

The best one-liner, shouted out about a mile into the race, was "Are we there yet?"

I was shocked at the huge amount of crowd participation. In addition to what had to be hundreds of volunteers along the course, there were just as many spectators, rooting on their favorites. I loved their signs  too.

My favorite? "Don't poop your pants!."

Half crazy.

As mentioned in The Morning Call, two runners were Bethlehem firefighters, dressed in complete firefighting gear, including helmets. They carried an American flag. There was also a woman wearing either a bride's or First Holy Communion veil. Not sure what the Hell was going on there.

Half crazy.

Of all the many nice features in this race, what I enjoyed most were the thirteen very different bands strung out along the course, from rock performers to classical to an actual taiko ensemble calling itself Sanshi 5 (Manhattan Taiko). Their loud Japanese drums could be heard in the first, third and twelfth miles. Very powerful and inspirational.

Japanese bagpipes.

The race ended at Allentown's huge J. Birney Crum stadium. Runners limped their way around the track to finisher's medals, bottles of water, fruit, brownies, some delicious couscous concoction and vegan sausage sandwiches.  Say what you will about Dieruff or Allen, but that majestic stadium has to be the Lehigh Valley's best.

Joe Brennan, who had beaten me pretty soundly, was kind enough to greet me at the finish line. He even put off smoking for a few minutes.

Joe Yannuzzi had taken another wrong turn. He's still running somewhere, but is doing six-minute miles.

It was also nice to see former Allentown City Council member Michael Donovan cross that finish line. At this time last year, Michael was battling cancer. Having overcome that hurdle, 13.1 miles is nothing.

Not so crazy after all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mezzacappa Has a Tough Week

Last week was a tough one for West Easton's Tricia Mezzacappa.

Her bid to become a GOP Convention delegate failed. She finished 13th out of 14 candidates. In West Easton, her home base, she garnered only 9 votes, aside from her own.

Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records also dismissed another two Right-to-Know appeals. In the first matter, she apparently filed a pre-emptive appeal before one of her requests had even been granted or denied. In the second matter, Mezzacappa insisted that the Borough must meet with her in the mornings for some reason, when it's convenient for her. By refusing to make time for her in the morning, West Easton had somehow constructively denied her access to records. But as the OOR observes, a tiny borough has "many other duties and responsibilities that must be fulfilled on a daily basis outside of making its records accessible."

So far, Mezzacappa has filed 18 Right-to-Know Appeals with the Office of Open Records. All but one have been against West Easton. All but one have been dismissed, and that matter is under review in Court.

In addition to these setbacks, the District Attorney refused to approve her request for a private criminal complaint against your truly.   She has repeatedly accused me of stalking, sexual assault, pick kicking, pig poisoning, burglary and numerous and sundry other dastardly deeds. There's no truth to any of this, and I've sued her for her defamation.

How has Mezzacappa responded to these setbacks?

On her blog, she states, "I will run again for West Easton Borough Council, thanks."

Alrighty then.

Will You Ever Hear From Me Again?

Joe Brennan
At the time this post publishes, I'll just be getting underway in the St. Luke's Half-Marathon this weekend. If you don't hear from me by Monday, you'll probably find my body somewhere near the gaping hole in downtown Allentown intended for the hockey arena.

State Rep. Joe Brennan and Bethlehem Township Commissioner Felix Barnard will be running this race, too. They've been part of a group of guys training together on weekends. Joe had no idea that Barnard is a Republican Township Commissioner. Felix had no idea that Joe is a Democratic State Rep.

Running transcends politics.

Felix Barnard
I volunteered to run with them, too, but we were never able to hook up.

Joe told me to meet him at 2 AM one recent weekend for a training run at the corner of 6th and Linden in Allentown.

"Make sure you wear your tights!" he suggested. He said if he was late, I should just wait there.

He never showed, but I did get lots of compliments. I even got to ride in a police car.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Commonwealth Ct: No Daycare Atop Abandoned Upper Saucon Zinc Mine

In the never-ending quest for the Almighty Dollar, Saucon Creek Road, LP wanted to erect a daycare and a bank (these kids must be rich!) right smack dab on top of an abandoned zinc mine.

After three nights of hearings in 2010, Upper Saucon Township's Zoning Hearing Board Board of Supervisors said No. So did Lehigh County Judge J. Brian Johnson.

On Friday, the Commonwealth Court added its voice to the NO chorus.

Weekly Summary: All the NIZ That Fits the News

Excavation at 7th & Hamilton continues
This is a weekly summary of this past week's twists and turns in the fast-moving NIZ story.

Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) is a 130-acre redevelopment area, located both in the downtown and along the riverfront. It's the result of state legislation first adopted in 2009. What makes it attractive to investors is that virtually all state taxes generated zone can be used to fund other improvements. In addition, the earned income taxes of people who work there can be used, regardless where they live.

That's how Allentown plans to fund its much anticipated Phantoms hockey arena. Other improvements, including a luxury hotel and office complexes, have also been planned. Mayor Ed Pawlowski calls it "transformational," but surrounding communities worry that it will draw other Lehigh Valley businesses, sucking the lifeblood from municipal budgets on an uneven playing field in which other developers will be unable to compete.

Here's a quick summary of what has happened in the past week:

Monday, April 23:  Just one business day after developer Abe Atiyeh filed a constitutional challenge to the NIZ, he is hit with a $150 million counterclaim. The colorful businessman is accused of conspiring "with others yet unknown" to interfere with is projects. Atiyeh accuses Pawlowski of using intimidation tactics, both to chill his constitutional rights and scare off other developers and municipalities.

Whitehall Township and Whitehall-Coplay School District vote to join the NIZ challenge, undeterred by Pawlowski's litigation. "The only difference between the NIZ and Jesse James is that Jesse James used a gun and wore a mask," states the President of Whitehall Commissioners, Linda Snyder.

Allentown rejects an offer to settle parallel litigation filed by a growing number of municipalities, spearheaded by Hanover and Bethlehem Townships. Their proposal was to allow Allentown to keep all EIT, but reduce the size of the NIZ to the downtown area around the proposed arena.

Tuesday, April 24:  Word leaks that the Governor's office is concerned that the NIZ might be unconstitutional special legislation because it could only ever apply to Allentown. It's nearly identical to similar legislation vetoed by Governor Corbett in July.

Palmer Township becomes the 12th governing body to join the NIZ challenge. With Hanover and Bethlehem Townships acting as the spearhead, other participants include Bushkill, Lower Nazareth, Lower Saucon, Lehigh, Palmer, South Whitehall, Whitehall Townships, Hellertown and Stockertown Boroughs and Whitehall-Coplay School District.

Hanover Township meets in executive session with NIZ Attorney Jerome Frank, to review a new settlement offer. Hanover officials leave the closed door meeting without taking official action or discussing the new proposal.

Wednesday, April 25:  Concerned that State Senator Pat Browne "may attempt an 'end-run' in the NIZ litigation by seeking to amend Act 50," Tax Collection Committee officials in both counties begin a lobbying effort with state representatives. The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors begins to monitor the situation from Harrisburg.

Bethlehem Township Commissioners convene in executive session to discuss the latest NIZ offer, but leave without taking official action or making any announcement.

In a meeting attended by 200 people, hosted by Congregations United for Neighborhood Action, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski stated the arena is located downtown because that's where it will have the greatest economic impact. "I wanted to stick it somewhere where people would benefit from the positive impact this development will have."

Thursday, April 26: Over thirty local developers meet at Hanover Township's Best Western to discuss the potential adverse impacts of a NIZ on their own business operations. Those in attendance include Arcadia developer Richard Thulin, The Frederick Group's Don Frederick, Roma Corporate Center's Tom Roma, Martin Tower developer Lou Ronca, PennCap Propertes' Lisa Pektor and NIZ litigant Abe Atiyeh.

State Senator Bob Mensch and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan also attend this meeting. Mensch is sympathetic to developer concerns about the uneven playing field created by subsidized rents within the NIZ. Callahan wants Allentown to succeed, but not at Bethlehem's expense.

NIZ developer J.B. Reilly denies poaching local businesses for the NIZ although all tenants recruited so far have come from the Lehigh Valley. Reilly admits he conducted no research on the local market for office space.

Developers are concerned about the size of the NIZ, especially along the riverfront, but J.B Reilly states only 26 acres are developable at that location. 

An attorney is retained to research the formation of a corporate shell to insulate developers from any countersuits filed by Pawlowski in the event they decide to seek judicial relief.

Later that evening, Salisbury Township Commissioners vote unanimously against joining the NIZ litigation.

Friday, April 27: Concerned about "various inaccuracies that have been leaked and reported in the news media," Pawlowski releases Allentown's latest settlement offer. In addition to allowing municipalities to keep their current EIT, he proposes a "development fund" for municipalities. This would be financed by an annual assessment of NIZ developers, based on occupied office space. There is no offer to reduce the size of the 130-acre NIZ, or to return future EIT to municipalities.

This week, the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority will meet on May 3, 5 p.m. at the Allentown School District Administration Building. This is the entity that will float and oversee the revenue bonds, estimated at $220 million, to finance the arena project. The litigation filed by Townships and Atiyeh has made that unlikely.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No White Smoke in NIZ Conclave

Although the College of Lehigh Valley Developers conducted a NIZ conclave yesterday for more than six hours, but there was no plume of white smoke following their meeting at the Best Western off Route 512. Nobody's quite ready to say "Habemus NIZ!" At least not yet.

Although Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski had wanted to come, he was a no show. But NIZ developer J.B. Reilly gave a 90-minute presentation, insisting he had no intention of poaching other Lehigh Valley businesses for the subsidized rent within the NIZ. even though the only businesses inside the zone come from other LV areas.

Here's a rundown on what happened.

1) A Philadelphia lawyer has been hired, and has been tasked with researching the formation of a corporation for the developers. That way, if developers decide to sue, they can hide behind the corporate veil and avoid personal liability from any Pawlowski countersuits.

2) J.B. Reilly concedes he did no research on the market for office space.

3) In addition to claiming that most of tenants will not be from outside the Lehigh valley, Reilly pointed out that the Lehigh Valley Health Network will be bringing new, not existing jobs, when it moves into a wellness center at the arena.

4) Reilly argued that office tenants are using the NIZ to negotiate better deals but denies poaching. He did acknowledge recruiting an accounting firm from The Frederick Group, but justified that because the firm does his own accounting

5) Reilly insists he has to put up 25% of the equity for each project in which he is involved, and must personally guarantee repayment of the bonds.

6) Only 26 acres of the Riverfront portion of the NIZ can be developed, amounting to about 800,000 sq ft

7) State Senator Bob Mensch attended the meeting, and was sympathetic to developers. He indicated he is not particularly fond of the NIZ, but does not want to see an open it in downtown Allentown.He indicated that he has lots of questions for State Senator Pat Browne, and this matter is on the Governor's radar.

8) Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan indicated his first obligation is to Bethlehem, and spoke out forcefully against the "unfair competition" created by the NIZ.

9) Participants discussed using "alternate financing' to raise funds for NIZ projects.

10) Developers will likely decide on a course of action within the next tn days to two weeks, but have no intention of telegraphing their next move. Rejecting my papal analogy, one of them claimed it's more like the Second Coming.

"The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."

I see.

Well played, Mayans.

Is NIZ Law Unconstitutional?

According to The Morning Call, a Duquesne law professor believes the NIZ law might be unconstitutional. The 2009 law establishing the NIZ, defines "City" as any "city of the third class with, on the effective date of this section, a population of at least 106,000 and not more than 107,000, based on the 2000 Federal decennial census."

That could only be Allentown and is considered "special legislation."

Governor Corbett has recently vetoed similarly worded legislation. He nixed a legislative moratorium on countywide reassessments limited to counties of the fourth class, with a population between 185,000 and 210,000 as of the 2010 United States Census.

This could only be Washington County.

Below is the Attorney General's official opinion, which should definitely apply to the NIZ legislation.

Pawlowski's Latest Offer to Settle NIZ Dispute

(Updated 10:25 AM, to point out that the settlement offer is not as clear as I thought it was.)

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, upset at the disinformation he claims is being reported in the press, has taken it upon himself to communicate his latest offer to settle the NIZ dispute. Yesterday, he shot an email with his latest proposal to all tax collection committee officials in both counties.

First, the City is now willing to return all EIT to municipalities, even future EIT. EIT to municipalities. (It is now unclear to me, based on reader comments, whether this does include future EIT, as I thought in my first read. If it does not include future EIT, this is obviously a lousy deal).

Second, to sweeten the pot, a "development fund:" will be established for surrounding municipalities, funded by NIZ developers with an annual $1 per sq ft of office space occupied payment. This development will not include the arena block.

The Morning Call reports it has obtained a copy of Pawlowski's proposal.

So have I.

I've posted it below.

Now you have it, too.

April 26, 2012
TO:                     TCC MEMBERS
FROM:               MAYOR ED PAWLOWSKI
You no doubt have read or viewed various news accounts of the City of Allentown’s proposal to settle the lawsuit filed by Hanover and Bethlehem townships and subsequently joined by other municipalities relative to the arena project and the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ).
I am concerned about various inaccuracies that have been leaked and reported in the news media.  Accordingly, I have attached a copy of the proposal for your consideration. 
I also understand your concerns regarding your current Earned Income Tax (EIT) and let me be clear; this proposal ensures that current EIT monies within the NIZ are not in jeopardy.  This proposal is applicable to all taxing bodies in Lehigh and Northampton counties, regardless of whether or not they have joined a lawsuit.
Please feel free to share this with the elected officials in your respective governmental bodies. 

Description: Description: ALLENTOWN_LOGO_4COLOR-EMAIL
Ed Pawlowski
Mayor
435 Hamilton Street
Allentown, PA 18101
Phone: 610-437-7546
Fax: 610-437-8730



Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority Revenue Sharing Proposal

ln an effort to provide local taxing bodies with their current Earned Income Tax (EIT) receipts from the Neighborhood improvement Zone (NIZ) area, the City of Allentown will develop a Baseline Payment fund to provide for the timely disbursement of current EIT back to Lehigh and Northampton County taxing bodies. The fund will be structured as follows:

Baseline Payment Fund:
º A baseline payment will be calculated on the EIT generated within the NIZ for the first quarter of 2012, and then annualize for the year 2012 (the “Baselìne"). Berkheimer will establish the 2012 Baseline by mid-June, 2012.

º Commencing approximately the later of the issuance of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA) financing of bonds or October 2012, ANIZDA will pay to the local taxing bodies their prorata contributed share of the Baseline with the first payment being the equivalent of prior withheld quarterly payments in 2012, and then quarterly thereafter, pay the prorata of the Baseline for the life ofthe Bonds for the Arena Block Development.

º The initial source of revenue to support payment by ANIZDA of the Baseline for 2012 and 2013 will be borrowed money against non NIZ revenue. Future sources will be non NIZ and surplus revenue.
In addition to the Baseline Payment Fund, and to provide a vehicle for local taxing bodies to share in future NIZ development opportunities, ANIZDA will create a Development Fund which will be administered in the following manner:

Development Fund:
º ANIZDA will create a fund for distribution to local taxing bodies from new office development within the NIZ but outside of the Arena Block by charging a fee to Developers of commercial office projects utilizing NIZ financing proceeds.

º Each office development will pay an annual fee upon occupancy of $1.00 per rentable square foot occupied.

º Annually, by June 30th, from the fund, ANIZDA will distribute the receipts to the local taxing bodies located in Lehigh and Northampton County based on the percentage of EIT collected from residents within the local taxing body working in the NIZ for the prior year as calculated by Berkheimer.
Conditions:

To participate and receive Baseline Payments and Development Fund distributions, the local taxing body must accept, approve and enter into the settlement agreement with ANIZDA.

All pending lawsuits by taxing bodies must be withdrawn by all litigants who are a party hereto.

The local taxing body shall also assign to ANIZDA its right to receive disbursement of surplus up to the amounts advanced to it by the ANIZDA payments made under this agreement so as to avoid double payment to the local taxing body.

ln the event any local taxing body sues to challenge the validity of the NIZ Act, the settlement agreement shall terminate immediately for all taxing bodies.

Bond counsel, the PA Dept. of Revenue and the ANIZDA Board must all approve the settlement agreement.

Zoners Refuse To Budge on Parking Requirements For Ex-Cons

In a rare split decision at their April 26 meeting, Bethlehem zoners refused to budge on a request for a variance from parking requirements for a halfway house proposed at 639 Broadway.

Yasin Kacak, a Chaplain at a state correctional facility, asked zoners he'd like them to wave 4 off-street parking spots required for his facility, which would house up to four recently released criminals for up to six months. Kacak noted these would be nonviolent offenders who would have no car, and offered to agree to that as a condition of the variance.

But numerous neighbors raised parking concerns. Ann Kehoe, who with her husband Gerry operate a nearby bar, noted that visitors would be coming in cars, making it difficult for her customers to find parking spaces.

"You're a non-profit. I'm a profit. We need parking," she said. "Everybody in our neighborhood seems to have ten cars," she joked.

Alaska Street resident Edward Holmes shared Kehoe's parking concern. "Parking is a huge issue," he stated. "I should be able to park on my own block."

Residents were also concerned about the proximity of recently released criminals. "We have so many children," said Pawnee Street's Neil Davis. "How do we know what kind of prisoner is going to be moving in there."

Zoning Solicitor stopped Davis from challenging the use, noting that a boarding house for ex-prisoners is expressly authorized at that location.

Kacak told zoners that there would be a 10 PM curfew for visitors, which seemed to mollify Pawneee Street's Dave Delp. "I really don't see a problem," he concluded.

But three zoners did. Gus Loupos, Bill Fitzpatrick and Michael Santanasto refused to grant a parking variance. Linda Shay Gardner and James Schantz dissented.

Nine Year Old Fails to Sway Bethlehem's ZHB

First Baseman Eric Frey
It's hard to say no to a nine year old, but Bethlehem zoners did that at their April 26 hearing. They gave Joseph D'Ambrosio the green light for a rental unit on a side yard at the end of nine row homes at 215 E 5th Street. In doing so, they had to ignore the plea of a nine year old first baseman who came right from his game, cleats and all, to argue against the variances

D'Amrosio's architect, John Lee, called the large grassy area at the end of these row homes "worthless." His attorney, Jeremy Clark, added it was "unusable and uneconomic". But Sarah Taylor called it "the only grass left in South Bethlehem," and expressed concern about adding traffic to an "already crowded area."

Concerns about noise from raucous Lehigh students were also raised.

That's where nine year-old Eric Frey got involved. "It makes me sick," he told zoners. Noisy Lehigh students wake him in the middle of the night . Eric also mentioned finding a vodka bottle in the bushes.

He denied drinking from it.

D'Ambrosio assured zoners that he runs a "tight ship." He agreed that some Lehigh students do cause problems, but "I don't tolerate that." He also offered to take Frey and his mom on a tour.

Michael Santanasto was the sole zoner to vote against adding a row home.

A Great (and Free) College Education!

From Congressman Dent:  – U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (PA) will host U.S. Service Academy Information Day April 28 at Parkland High School. The event is open to all school students, but is geared toward high school juniors interested in learning more about attending a U.S. Service Academy.  The program will include an explanation of the nomination and admission process, as well as an open session for students to speak directly with representatives from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Merchant Marines. 
  
WHO:            U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15)
                        U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (PA)
                        Representatives from the U.S. Service Academies:
·         U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)
·         U.S. Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT)
·         U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY)
·         U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)
·         U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)
WHAT:            U.S. Service Academy Information Day
WHERE:          Parkland High School
2700 North Cedar Crest Boulevard
Allentown, PA
WHEN:            Saturday, April 28, 2012
                        10:00 AM
NOTES:           Event flyer available here.

Zoners Share Broad Street With Bicycling Advocate

CAT member Barrett Ladd
Bethlehem zoners voted unanimously, at their April 25 hearing, to allow the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) to open a satellite office at 1935 W Broad Street for the City's West side. This decision followed nearly two hours of neighbor complaints that it would make it more difficult for them to find a place to park. Ironically, CAT is an educational charity that actually encourages car-free activities, from walking to biking to using mass transit.

Barrett Ladd, a member of CAT and the building's owner since 2003, told zoners that the building has always housed a business. Recently, it was the home of Jackie's Ceramics. But she has since retired. Converting it into a residence would be too costly, Ladd explained, so he'd like to lease it to CAT as an office, for light bicycle maintenance as well as some small classes on bicycle repair and safety.

Steve Schmitt, CAT's director, testified that a West end location would be a convenience to people in that area, who might have trouble making it to his main facility. He described it as a "support facility" for people who bicycle. He explained that, in addition to learning how to fix a flat, CAT staffers would help members find appropriate routes to use a bicycle as a mode of transportation.

He explained membership costs $75, but there is a "barter" program in which someone could join after performing a community service like picking up garbage in the neighborhood.

Ladd was represented by Center Street Attorney Sarah Andrew, who argued that the building's use for light bicycle repairs would be "no more intensive" than its use as a ceramic shop.

But six neighbors disagreed.

"Where are we supposed to park?" asked Debbie Peipher. "We are taxpaying citizens!"

Ben Bartolett, who referred to himself as a "blockheaded Dutchman," warned, "Kids are going to stand there and smoke and cause trouble."

Schmitt and Ladd both tried to allay these concerns, noting that most people visiting the facility will be on bicycles, not driving cars. Attorney Andrew, for that reason, described CAT as an "ideal tenant." "Even its solvents are soy-based," she added.

Peipher and Rosanne Minarovic, another neighbor, described some of the businesses that have operated at the location. In addition to the ceramic shop, there has been a lunch counter, shoe repair shop, hair salon and even a motorcycle repair business.

They added there might have been one or two shootings during its motorcycle era.

After this testimony, zoners bought Attorney Andrew's argument that a bicycle repair shop using soy-based solvents is probably a little less intrusive.
Ladd and Director Steve Schmitt promote car-free lifestyle.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

WFMZ: Latest NIZ Settlment Offer

According to WFMZ-TV69's John Craven, Allentown had made another concession in its attempt to negotiate a municipal lawsuit challenging its controversial NIZ.

Hanover and Bethlehem Townships have previously rejected a proposal under which Allentown offered to return the EIT of current township residents currently working inside the NIZ. But it would still keep the taxes for future workers lured there as a result of poaching that NIZ developer J.B. Reilly denies.

Allentown has apparently caved on the future EIT, although it still wants some of it.

Of course, this proposal does nothing to prevent the poaching that NIZ developer Reilly denies.

The only businesses inside the NIZ have been drawn from other areas of the Lehigh Valley, including Allentown itself.

When The Hockey Arena Gets Old

Sitting atop a massive heap of rubble in downtown Allentown, King Edwin wants construction on the NIZ arena to begin NOW! Full speed ahead. Drop those pesky challenges. Who cares about the Constitutution anyway?

OK, so what happens ten or twenty years from now, when the Phantoms decide to move somewhere else? What happens to the arena?

This is a question municipal officials are asking about once heralded Astrodome, which is now falling apart. It's a question that should be asked before any sports venue, with the possible exception of a baseball stadium, is built.

According to Governing, they become white elephants, a drain n the local economy. Here are a few examples.
Houston's Astrodome once housed the Oilers National Football League team and the Astros Major League Baseball team. Today, the Astrodome doesn't have an occupancy permit and has been condemned by the city's fire marshall.

The Citrus Bowl in Orlando underwent a $10 million renovation in 2010, and eventually, another $165 million will be put into the city-owned stadium primarily known for hosting three college football games each year.

In 2010, officials in Lee County, Fla, voted to fund a new, $81 million spring training home for the Red Sox, even though the existing stadium, City of Palms Park, isn't even 20 years old. Local leaders don't know what to do with it, but they're considering turning it into a venue for swimming contests.

San Antonio's $186 million Alamodome opened in 1993 in a failed attempt at landing an NFL franchise. For years, its only regularly-scheduled, large-scale event was a college football bowl game. This year, it got new life, serving as home of University of Texas-San Antonio's new football team.

Demolition of the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit didn't begin until 2008 -- eight years after the baseball team moved to a new ballpark -- once it became clear that redevelopment wasn't going to happen.

In a controversial move, the state-appointed emergency manager of Pontiac, Mich. sold the 80,000-seat Silverdome, once home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions, for just $583,000 in 2009. He said the facility “had been sapping the lifeblood of the city for many years."

Homestead, Fla. built a spring training stadium for the Cleveland Indians, but a hurricane damaged it in 1992 before the first game. It was quickly rebuilt, but by then the team had a new home. After languishing for years, the stadium may have new life, after a sports media company agreed to spend $1.7 million on renovations.

Professional football left RFK Stadium after the 1996 season, and baseball left after 2007. Today, the stadium's main draw is the D.C. United soccer team -- and they're angling for a new facility.

Lehigh Valley Academy to Build Gym, Auditorium

There are no more than 25 students to a class. They must wear uniforms. Their school day is one hour longer, and school year is ten days longer, than most other schools. There are no athletic facilities on site, and students who want to play sports will have to do that in their own school district. Foreign language instruction starts in kindergarten.

This is Lehigh Valley Academy, a K-12 Charter school located at five buildings along Valley Center Parkway in Hanover Township. When it first started in 2002, there were just 185 students. Student census now is 970, and there are actually several hundred students on a waiting list, according to Director of Operations Holly Parkinson.

Th e school charges no tuition.

At an April 24 meeting of Hanover Township's Board of Supervisors, Manager Jay Finnigan announced that enrollment is expected to be over 2,000 within the next five years, making the charter school larger than some area school districts.

On May 22, Lehigh Valley Academy will ask the Board to approve plans for a gymnasium and auditorium, Finnigan reported.

Habemus NIZ!

Like the College of Cardinals, the Lehigh Valley's top developers will conclave today at Best Western, located off Route 512, to address the adverse ramifications of Allentown's recently created Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). The meeting, scheduled to start at 2 PM, will continue until they figure it out.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who has already sued developer Abe Atiyeh and has threatened the rest of them, will be allowed to make a brief presentation. NIZ developer J.B. Reilly will insist he's not poaching Lehigh Valley businesses, even though the only businesses he has recruited for his NIZ have all been local.

After they're finished, they will be asked to leave. Like the Swiss Guard, Township Supervisors will then lock the College of Developers into a room, where they will pray for an answer.

If you see yellow smoke curling from Best Western on your way home tonight, it's bad news. But if white smoke shoots to the heavens, it can only mean one thing.

Habemus NIZ!

Townships are concerned about an EIT tax grab, but they and real estate mavens are even more worried that subsidized office rents within the NIZ will allow J.B. Reilly to poach their tenants. If that happens, their real estate values will decline, reducing the tax base.

Habemus Tax Hike!.

Donning their red robes, developers like Don Frederick, Michael Roma, Abe Atiyeh, the Chrins, the Benners, the Pektors and the Zawarskis will all be there.They now know that the Governor's office has conceded the legislation is unconstitutional. They now know that Senator at Browne is trying to fix it.

They are in a much stronger position than they were two weeks ago, when they first met.

Sara Hailstone, who attempted to crash the last conclave, has already been spotted checking into Best Western for the night.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Judge Zito Affirms Bethlehem ZHB in Elias Market Appeal

Surprised By the Election Results?

I am. Tim Holden is a ten-term incumbent whose moderate views on most issues parallel the thinking of most LV residents. Jackson Eaton, with his blueblood name, had the backing of all the establishment Democrats. But both of them went down.

You could say this is a swing to the left, but I think something else is going on. If you listen to them, both Rick Daugherty and Matt Cartwright are true believers. Although I find myself more in agreement with Holden, I really admired the passion and fire in Cartwright, and even gave him my vote.

He earned it. He answered every email. I did not have to beg him for news releases.

Rick is quieter than Matt Cartwright, but cut from the same cloth. Five minutes with him, and you'll realize tha he's an idealist, too.

In other races, things pretty much went as suspected. I was surprised at Simmons' strong showing. Justin got more votes then Karen Beyer, his predecessor, in any of her uncontested primaries. Kevin Deely received about 25% less votes then other Democrats in his district.

What's your take?

A Few Questions For King Edwin

He night sue me for $150 million, but I still have a few questions for King Edwin. He does not respond to my emails, but reads this blog.

Dear King,

You are furiously trying to make a "deal" with the plaintiff townships on the EIT.

According to WFMZ, you want to float the bonds for the Arena on May 1.

Yet, according to published reports, your tax collectors won't have a report ready on the actual EIT figures until sometime in June.

Questions:

How can you expect the townships to make a "deal" without knowing the actual figures?; and,

How can your underwriter float the bonds without knowing the actual figures?

Oh, by the way, the construction contract (to Butz) for the Arena is now a reported $174 million, and you want to float bonds in excess of $200 million. Why are these figures suddenly much higher than reported just a few weeks ago?

Finally, why do you have such accurate figures on costs, but such inaccurate figures on revenues?

Your loyal subject,

Bernie

Will Senator Pat Browne Revise NIZ Law?

The Governor's office has agreed that the statutory framework creating Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) is, indeed, unconstitutional. It is special legislation designed to benefit Allentown, and only Allentown.

The 2009 law establishing the NIZ, defines "City" as any "city of the third class with, on the effective date of this section, a population of at least 106,000 and not more than 107,000, based on the 2000 Federal decennial census."

That could only be Allentown.

As one of my readers pointed out yesterday, Governor Corbett has recently vetoed similarly worded legislation. He nixed a legislative moratorium on countywide reassessments limited to counties of the fourth class, with a population between 185,000 and 210,000 as of the 2010 United States Census.

This could only be Washington County.

In both cases, it is unconstitutional special legislation.

Senator Pat Browne, who previously had been telling everyone that the NIZ law would pass constitutional scrutiny, is now scurrying to make changes to a law he previously said could not be changed.

He might expand the definition of the NIZ so that it includes a few other cities. While he's at it, he might remove the controversial EIT tax grab.

But Senator Browne is no longer trusted by municipal tax officials.

Betty Parrish, Upper Nazareth's Earned Income Tax Officer, fired off an email to fellow tax collectors in Northampton County's Tax Collection Committee yesterday: "I have been told that Sen Brown [sic] may attempt an 'end-run' in the NIZ litigation by seeking to amend Act 50 so that the unconstitutional aspect of the law is removed. I suggest you alert our State Reps to this possibility and see if they can assist in thwarting this effort."

Although I'm reluctant to characterize Senator Browne's action as an "end run," it's clear that an expanded definition or even a surrender on the EIT will still leave surrounding municipalities with the poaching problem.

Hanover Township Meets Behind Closed Doors With Allentown Attorney

Solicitor Jim Broughal
At the end of last night's meeting, Hanover Township's Board of Supervisors went behind closed doors for the second time since April 13 to discuss "litigation matters." This time, they were joined by Jerome Frank, an attorney who represents Allentown  Commercial and Industrial Development Authority (ACIDA).

Obviously, Supervisors met with Frank to discuss a possible settlement to their constitutional challenge to the statutory framework creating Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ). Hanover and Bethlehem Townships have told Commonwealth Court that it is unconstitutional "special" legislation that could only ever apply to Allentown.

Why do Supervisors care? Because in the NIZ, the EIT of Township residents can be used by the developer to fund his construction projects instead of going into a Township's general fund.

Allentown has offered to allow affected municipalities, which do include other cities, to keep the existing EIT of their residents working inside the NIZ. But it wants to keep the EIT of residents who are lured there by the subsidized rents offered by J.B. Reilly and other NIZ developers.

Rejecting this offer, Allentown's neighbors have proposed that the Queen City keep the EIT, but in a much smaller NIZ than the current 130 acres. Townships and office building developers both believe they can absorb the loss of EIT from downtown development, near a proposed hockey arena. But they worry about the development being considered along the riverfront, and its impact on their bottom line.

Allentown has rejected this counter-offer, but was reportedly ready to unveil Plan C during last night's executive session. It will be presented to Bethlehem Township Commissioners in another executive session today.

What is it?  

Hanover's sealed up tighter than a drum. I tried leaving a few bugs in the room. But Township Manager Jay Finnigan brought in the dogs, and they ate my listening devices.  

In contrast to the Townships, Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski will probably hold a news conference to reveal his latest offer and threaten lawsuits if they don't play ball.

One thing is very clear. Townships, and not Pawlowski, are in the driver's seat. If he wants to float bonds, he better be ready to mollify both Townships and developers like Abe Atiyeh.

You don't achieve that by suing them for $150 million.

Palmer Township Votes To Join NIZ Litigation

Although I was in Hanover Township, I've received word that Palmer Township Supervisors have voted to join the NIZ legal challenge, Palmer is the third governing body this week to question Allentown's EIT tax grab. According to an Express Times report, the vote was unanimous

There are now a dozen governing bodies involved, in one way way or another, in a constitutional attack aimed at Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone. With Hanover and Bethlehem Townships acting as the spearhead, other participants include Bushkill, Lower Nazareth, Lower Saucon, Lehigh, Palmer, South Whitehall, Whitehall Townships, Hellertown and Stockertown Boroughs and Whitehall-Coplay School District.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Does The Morning Call Care About the First Amendment?

Regular readers of this blog know that I make creative use of pictures. It's completely unfair, but it's what I do.

Today's Morning Call account of the lawsuit against Atiyeh includes the picture you see on the left. It's obviously intended to portray the developer as an idiot.

Unlike me, I thought newspapers were supposed to be fair and unbiased and all that crap.

If the paper's purpose is to make Atiyeh look like a fool , the online comments accompanying the story indicate that the Allentown paper has failed. An Express Times poll (admittedly unscientific) indicates that 56% of its readers side with Atiyeh.

I would think a newspaper would be a little more concerned about a public official using strong arm tactics against an individual who is merely exercising his First Amendment rights.

After all, those rights include Freedom of the Press.

Updated Noon: Instead of being concerned about little things like government officials stepping all over citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights, Morning Call columnist Bill White has just published a blog asking for suggestions about how to kick Atiyeh around.

Gee, I remember when newspapers actually cared about the First Amendment.

Pawlowski Fails to Scare Off Whitehall

Whitehall-Coplay School Distrct and  Whitehall Township have decided to join the NIZ challenge, according to The Morning Call. It was sad to read that Mayor Ed Hozza tried to scare Commissioners off with the SLAPP suit filed earlier that day by Pawlowski. Of course, Hozza would like Pawlowski's support when he rnds for County Exec, so I guess that justifies an unconstitutional NIZ and civil rights violation.

But Whitehall Comm'rs, who unlike Hozza are not running for anything, were undaunted. I loved President Linda Snyder's remarks.

"Whitehall comes first. That's why I'm here. I'm not here for anybody else. ... The only difference between the NIZ and Jesse James is that Jesse James used a gun and wore a mask."

Tom Corbett, NIZ Deus Ex Machina?

Like a Deus Ex Machina, has Governor Tom Corbett stepped into the NIZ dispute? That's what I've been told by at least five different sources on Monday, none of whom is willing to go on record ... yet. Let me tell the story anyway. That's what we bottom-feeding bloggers do.

Behind the scenes, the action is fast and furious in legal challenges to Allentown's 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), filed by multiple municipalities and developer Abe Atiyeh. Allentown plans to divert Earned Income Taxes from nonresidents who work inside the NIZ, located in the downtown and along the Lehigh River. Instead of passing this local tax revenue back to surrounding municipalities where these nonresidents live, the money will help pay for a hockey arena, hotel, cigar bar, "wellness " center, offices and other improvements to be made over the next thirty years. Developers like Atiyeh are upset that NIZ developer J.B. Reilly is luring other LV businesses into the subsidized rents within the NIZ, which will depress their own property values and reduce the tax base.

The Offers and Counter-Offers

So far, eight local governments have agreed to support a legal challenge being spearheaded by Hanover and Bethlehem Townships. Tonight, Palmer Township might join the party. Developer Abe Atiyeh's lawsuit mirrors the municipal challenge, which attacks the constitutionality of the NIZ statute as special legislation that could only ever apply to Allentown.

Allentown has offered to settle the challenge by allowing affected townships to keep the EIT from current residents who work within the NIZ. But the Queen City would keep the EIT for any employees lured there by J.B. Reilly. For the next thirty years.

Thanks, but no thanks, say townships. They have responded with a counter-proposal. Keep the EIT, they say, but restrict the NIZ to the downtown area.

No dice, says Allentown, which wants that riverfront.

Pawlowski wants Callahan to Suffer For No Vote

In an effort to put the pressure on the Townships, Pawlowski had numerous state legislators like Lisa Boscola call Township officials. He also had the bright idea of getting the LVEDC to support his proposal last week. But in a meeting marred by numerous absences, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan refused to give King Edwin a carte blanche.

The Allentown Mayor went apoplectic.

King Edwin has reportedly decided to pay Callahan back by offering Easton Mayor Sal Panto a boatload of money to run for Northampton County Exec. You see, in addition being King, Palwowski is also a Kingmaker, at least in his own eyes.

Panto's campaign confirms that they've heard that story, too, but have yet to be approached by Pawlowski. "We will take money for the right reason," a highly placed campaign aide tells me "This is not one of them."

Tom Corbett, Deus Ex Machina?

Tonight, Allentown will make a new proposal to Hanover Supervisors in executive session. This proposal will be repeated to Bethlehem Township Commissioners on Wednesday.

Whatever it is, it might be academic. The battle could be over.

You see, Governor Tom Corbett went ballistic himself when he learned about the NIZ legislation, which was first adopted in 2009. His office has contacted attorneys to inform them that, in his view, the NIZ statute as drafted in unconstitutional and needs to be re-written.

Do Townships have an obligation to make concessions on a NIZ that the Governor himself considers unconstitutional?

Pawlowski Files a SLAPP Suit

But what does the Governor know? Allentown Mayor Ed Pawkowski on Monday filed an obvious SLAPP suit against developer Abe Atiyeh, demanding $150 million for interfering with his grand plans. In the Allentown Mayor's world, a private citizen apparently has no right to petition his government for the redress of grievances, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. There is no right to challenge the constitutionality of a statute, either. Rex non potest peccare. The King can do no wrong.

The obvious purpose of Pawlowski's suit is to chill public participation in, and open debate on, the NIZ. To make sure everyone gets the point, Pawlowski accuses Atiyeh of a conspiracy "with others as yet unknown," i.e. the other municipalities and other developers.

This tactic works well with his rubber stamps on Allentown City Council, but it's pretty stupid outside the limits of the City Without Limits. And given the Governor's recent pronouncement, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Abe now has reason to file another suit, this time for attempting to interfere with his constitutional rights.

The Cupboard is Bare

In the meantime, the City is fast running out of money. It has borrowed $55 million, but has entered into contracts for $250 million. It has ordered all the structural steel needed for its new arena, but can't pay for it.

All Pawlowski has to show right now is a big fat hole in the ground, where once upon a time, there were thriving businesses.

At the rate things are going, the Phantoms might be just that in Allentown. Specters. In fact, one unconfirmed rumor out there is that Brooks Brothers is now eyeing up South Bethlehem again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kansas City's Hockey Arena Experience

Last week, I told you that California's Stockton is now nearly $1 billion in debt as a result of a failed hockey arena that was going to revitalize the downtown and solve a crime problem. This morning, I told you that Reading's Sovereign Center is operating at a $700,000 loss. Now the WSJ reports that Kansas City, which built a $850 million entertainment district including yet another hockey arena to revive its downtown, generates less than one-third of the revenue needed to pay the bonds. City officials, of course, still consider it a smashing success.

Transformation? More likely, a bond rating downgrade.

NIZ on Palmer Township Agenda Tomorrow Night

Allentown's EIT tax grab is on the agenda tomorrow night in Palmer Township. It's increasingly beginning to look as though the NIZ is in trouble.

Reading's Hockey Arena to Report $700k Loss

Nearly a year ago, The Morning Call warned that Reading's Sovereign Center - a combined hockey arena and event center - was by no means a smashing success. Now, from The Reading Eagle, we know that their Sovereign Center to show an operating loss of $700,000 this year.

The Suburb v. City Myth

NIZ proponents, from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, to LV Partnership puppet Alan Jennings, have been perpetuating the myth that suburbs somehow owe Allentown a NIZ. Never mind that Bethlehem, one of the adversely affected communities, is sitting on a 1600-acre brownfield, the largest in the country. Never mind that it is trying to develop the vacant Martin Tower, which just happens to be the largest building in the Lehigh Valley. Never mind all the old boroughs, from Nazareth to Coplay, who will be helping pay to convert J.B. Reilly from millionaire to billionaire.

But what about those fancy suburbs? Do their residents have an obligation to prop up Allentown?

South Whitehall Township Manager Jon Hammer last week labelled the entire city v. suburb argument nonsense. He's right.

Let's look at subsidies, shall we?

How about Coca Cola Park? Locating the federal court house in downtown Allentown? Locating the lion's share of Lehigh County offices in Allentown? Establishing KOZs and KIZs in urban locations like Allentown? Underwriting mass transit like LANTA which primarily serves urban areas like Allentown?

How about direct subsidy programs like Section 8 housing vouchers, SNAP, CHPs, Medicaid, school lunch programs, subsidized senior housing? Federal and state aid to education? Federal aid to first responders?

If you do an honest - not ideologically and politically driven - assessment, you will discover that Allentown would be in far worse shape were it not for the financial support it receives from those who live outside the "City Without Limits."

This discussion is not about whether an economically stronger Allentown is better for the region. Practically everyone agrees that a stronger Allentown benefits the entire Valley. The discussion is about the most effective ways to make that happen. It should not be a "them v. us" issue.


Lehigh Valley "Hypocrisy" Network & The NIZ

NIZ developer J.B. resigned ,as Chair of the Lehigh Valley Health Network, on January 4 to avoid a possible "conflict of interest" just in case "any health organization" got involved with the Arena project or his office development near the Arena. Interestingly enough - what a surprise - LHVN announced their Sports Medicine and Wellness Center on March 19, just 75 days after Reilly's "ethical" departure from the Board. In addition, and perhaps I missed it, did ACIDA solicit proposals from other developers for the publicly funded site for the new office building that will house LVHN? Did they speak to other healthcare entities like Sacred Heart Hospital or St. Luke's Hospital? We know the answer to those questions. Ethics? Situational at best and missing, as in devoid of, at worst.

Lehigh Valley Health Network "rails" against smoking as unhealthy and deadly as part of their anti-smoking efforts with "Smoke-Free Lehigh Valley." But it winks at funding a "Sports Medicine and Wellness Center" with tobacco taxes diverted from Childrens' Health Programs. By including a Cigar Bar, the landlord will assure a steady stream of customers to to LVHN's major enterprise, its Illness Center.

Hey, there's money to be made in cancer.

Of course, this is just more hypocrisy. How can you build a Health and Wellness Center with money generated by the very evils that you purport to attack?

Capozzolo Says No to NIZ

Former Bangor Mayor and NorCo Council member Joe Capozzolo is seeking the Democratic nomination to State House District 137. The incumbent there is Joe Emrick.

This hodgepodge district includes the Slate Belt, but also extends all the way to Palmer Township. It even includes Nazareth, where I live. Capozzolo has answered my NIZ questions.

1) Do you support the NIZ? - No, although I do support revitilization of our downtowns, Allentown or Bangor.

2) Are you willing to repeal the Allentown tax grab under which the EIT of surrounding municipalities can be used to finance a hockey arena, and other improvements over a 30-year period? - Yes, but I need more information on the entire project.

3) Are you willing to impose a restriction that would prevent the poaching of other LV businesses within a 25-mile radius of the NIZ? - I don't think that is doable. I would need more info.

4) Are you willing to insist on a requirement that all new businesses moving into the NIZ agree to pay a living wage to its workforce? - "living wage" is a relative term. All wage laws should be followed.

Final thoughts: I think the whole project started off on the wrong foot. It seems the plan was hidden from the public. Sneaking anything into a budget bill is wrong, but happens often. I also don't like how an entire city block was taken from its owners and demolished.

When I get Joe Emrick's reply, I'll post it. NIZ Developer J.B. Reilly contributed $1,000 to Joe Emrick last year. Whether that has continued this year is unclear because Emrick's finance report are still unavailable online. Since state tax dollars and local EIT are financing the NIZ, I think we are entitled to some answers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

NIZ News Last Week

This is the first in a series of articles that will keep you informed of the fast-moving NIZ story. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski calls it transformational for his financially struggling  City. But surrounding communities worry their own tax bases will suffer. And commercial developers question how they can compete against subsidized office rents being offered by NIZ developer J.B. Reilly.

What's the NIZ? Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) is a 130-acre parcel, located both in the downtown and along the riverfront. It's the result of state legislation first adopted in 2009. Virtually all state taxes generated by businesses in that zone can be used to fund other improvements. In addition, the earned income taxes of people who work there can be used, regardless where they live.

That's how Allentown plans to fund its much anticipated Phantoms hockey arena. Other improvements, including a luxury hotel and office complexes, have also been planned.

Here's a quick summary of what has happened in the last week alone:

Monday, April 16:  Bethlehem Township Commissioners, who with Hanover Township Supervisors are spearheading a legal challenge to the NIZ, meet behind closed doors to discuss a settlement offered by Mayor Pawlowski. In a bad sign for Allentown, no official action is taken.

Tuesday, April 17: A group of business leaders calling itself the Lehigh Valley Partnership decides, in a private meeting, to endorse the NIZ.

Wednesday, April 18 :  The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), in an early morning meeting of its Executive Committee, votes 14-2 to support the NIZ in a meeting marked more by who was missing than by who was there. Northampton and Lehigh County Executives John Stoffa and Don Cunningham were absent. One of the two NO votes is cast by Richard Thulin, who is scheduled to chair
LVEDC next year. The other No vote comes from Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan.

In an afternoon meeting of the Northampton County Council finance committee, Council Prez John Cusick blasts the NIZ. "How does somebody who wants to develop office space in Northampton County compete with subsidized space in the City of Allentown?" he asks.

In the evening, South Whitehall Township becomes the first Lehigh County municipality to challenge the NIZ, joining seven Northampton County local governments. "Please do not view this action as a declaration of war against the City, or a proliferation of this City versus Suburb nonsense," remarks Township Manager Jon Hammer.

Thursday, April 19: Northampton County Council member Barb Thierry announces she is preparing a resolution to join other local governments in a legal challenge to the NIZ and calling on state legislators to repeal the controversial tax grab of EIT. Thierry will also call for legislative changes to prevent developers from poaching local businesses for Allentown.

Friday, April 20: Word leaks that NIZ developer J.B. Reilly is attempting to lure Bethlehem-based Cigars International to Allentown's NIZ. Calls to Cigar International are not returned.

Abe Atiyeh becomes the first local developer to file a legal challenge the NIZ, with a lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court.

This week, Hanover Township Supervisors will discuss Allentown's offers. If they settle, Allentown will still have to deal with Atiyeh. Other developers may join that lawsuit. Pawlowski may regret calling that litigation "baseless" and "ridiculous" when he learns that it will prevent him from selling bonds.

CUNA, a day late and a dollar short, will wring its hands as always, and be politely ignored.

Erie County Exec: Nursing Homes Albatross Around Taxpayer Necks

Erie County is hoping to save money by consolidating its nursing homes, but has just learned it will have to pay $400,000 for a sprinkler system upgrade at a facility it will soon close. Federal mandate.

Sounding eerily similar to former County Council member Ron Angle, Erie County Exec called these county-owned nursing homes "a real albatross around the taxpayers' necks."

Teachers' Union: “So What?” to 85% Increase In ASD Spending

From Allentown School District Director Scott Armstrong: "The true nature and agenda of the ASD teachers’ union leadership was on display at the April 19th ASD finance meeting when Frank Nickischer of the teacher’s union responded with a 'so what?' to my expressed concern that spending in the district had increased by 85% in the past decade. The comment was part of an ongoing dialogue over a cost saving plan that would facilitate increased time for math studies by combining social studies and language arts. In an ideal world there would be unlimited funds to do it all. Unfortunately that is not the world we live in and those charged with the task of governing cannot make responsible decisions based on desire but must work within the confines of what is fiscally responsible. Clearly the teachers' union doesn’t get it and one can draw the logical conclusion that they expect the taxpayers to pony up endlessly to pay for their failing field of dreams which is in short modern public education.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Robert Lasso: Fallen, But Not Forgotten

DA John Morganelli with Pat Tallarico, Lasso's mother-in-law
August 11, 2011. Freemansburg police officer Robert Lasso was shot and killed in the line of duty. He left a widow and two young children. They will never know their father.

Today, Bethlehem police hosted a 5k in Lasso's honor. Over three hundred runners - many of them from the law enforcement community -participated. Some brought their dogs, or pushed babies in strollers.

One bottom-feeding blogger ran, too.

Having years of experience running from cops, I expected to win. But my grandson's dog, Suki, kept slowing me down.

The little mutt couldn't keep up.

On top of that, two NorCo deputies had keeled over in the final mile. So I had to sling them over my shoulders and finish the race with them and the dog.

When I crossed the line, DA John Morganelli was standing there, grinning. He had beaten me by two minutes. So had Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan.

But Hizzoner's pretty daughter beat us all.

The overall race winner, I believe, was Freemansburg Mayor Gerald Yob. He ran in his suit.

The big hit at this race?

The mounted police, of course. Pharo was eating up all the attention from kids and moms.

The Two Mayors:
John Callahan and winner Gerald Yob! He didn't even break a sweat!
Pharo Loves All the Attention!
Hey! What About Me?
I ran the frickin' race, while fleabag Pharo took it EZ.