Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pawlowski Really is a King

For years, I've mocked Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski as King Edwin I. The joke's on me. I learned last night that he really is a King, at least when it comes to zoning. That's thanks to a special provision slipped into Allentown's zoning ordinance in 2010, giving him or City Council the authority to suspend the ordinance, not just for property that the City owns, but also for third parties who have a lease or other contract with the City.

Here's the Superpower provision in question: "1311.17 EXEMPTION FOR MUNICIPAL USES. This Ordinance shall not apply to any lot, existing or proposed building, use thereof, of any expansion thereof, owned, used or to be used by the City of Allentown or for a use authorized by the Mayor or City Council by virtue of a lease or other contract."

Now let me be clear that many municipalities exempt themselves from zoning ordinances, and that makes sense. Police stations or sub-stations, parking garages, water and sewer facilities should be placed where they can do the most good, regardless of the niceties of a zoning ordinance.

Dan McCarthy, ZHB Chair
But no Lehigh Valley municipality outside of Allentown gives the Mayor or City Council unfettered discretion to exempt some third party who has a contract or lease with the City from a zoning ordinance.

King Edwin may have already waved his wand to exempt some property owners right around Allentown's hockey arena. That's unclear. But he has definitely exempted Doylestown-based Clinton Street Media, whose players are Larry Romanowski and Nick Pullen. They started out with cellular towers and have kicked it up a notch.

They plan digital billboards on as many as 21-22 city-owned properties. Never mind that Allentown's zoning ordinance would prohibit them in all but one location.

Allentown gets between 20-25% of the revenue, and calls it a "public-private partnership." That's a term most often used when local government bestows special favors on one developer at the expense of the rest of us.

Ass't City Solicitor Fran Fruwirth
Nobody's had standing to object to this exemption provision until now. Abe Atiyeh, who owns his own billboard company and a gazillion properties in Allentown, believes he can establish he is an aggrieved party. Obviously, he's a competitor, and you might say he's just throwing in a monkey wrench to grease his own pocket. That may be true, but his action just might prevent some Allentown bedroom from being lit up at night like a Christmas tree. Digitalized billboards in residential neighborhoods are not cool. That's why we have zoning ordinance in the first place.

Last night's hearing was conducted before ZHB members Micahel J. Engle, Dan McCarthy and Juan Camacho. Scott Unger recused himself. Camacho, one of the King's men, has already made it clear that he's ready to reject the challenge. He interrogated Atiyeh engineer David Harte on standing, and actually tried to suggest that the exemption doesn't matter because a property owner can always seek a use variance.

Atiyeh engineer Dave Harte
Yeah, right. Atiyeh himself can testify to what success he's had with those in Bethlehem. His engineer, Dave Harte, told Atiyeh Attorney Mike Savona that the cost of a use variance hearing is between $10,000-$20,000, with no guarantee of success.

"We would need a use variance for the largest number of these locations," said Harte of the 21-22 locations for which King Edwin is waving his magic wand.

Another Atiyeh witness, Attorney Mickey Thompson, is both his in-house counsel as well as the COO of the 50 or so companies operated by Atiyeh. Thompson is also Solicitor to Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board and knows a bit about zoning.

He called the exemption a "get out of jail free" card for special developers who are on King Edwin's good side. Speaking of the blindfold on Lady Justice, Thompson said, "That blindfold's been ripped off and the City is picking winners and losers."

Kinda' like it does with the NIZ.

Thompson called the exemption provision "purely illegal and outside the MPC (Municipal Planning Code)."

Over Atiyeh's objection, Clinton Street was allowed to intervene.

Attorney Francis X. Crowley, tried to show during his cross-examination of Harte and Thompson that the exemption provision in Allentown's zoning ordinance, adopted prior to this deal, was something anyone could use. But Harte and Thompson both answered that the terms of the Request for Proposals (RFP) required them to follow the zoning ordinance.

Testimony will continue in this matter on August 19. At that time, Planning Director Mike Heffley will be asked to explain just how that exemption provision made it into the final draft of Allentown's zoning ordinance. King Edwin will be asked how many times he's already waved his magic wand.

Assistant City Solicitor Frances Fruwirth will present witnesses to establish conclusively that this is one of those "public-private partnerships."

I'd stipulate to that.

Updated 9:30 AM: Blogger Michael Molovinsky tells the tale of an electronic billboard that King Edwin short-circuited because it ran ads for one of his political foes, Lou Hershman. Wrong kind of "public private partnership".

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Edgar,

Ist it still beating you down about Gregory/Mezzacappa?

Did you find out what happenned yet?

Did Stoffa provide you with those recorded conversation yet?

You have to keep digging Edgar.

Its really FRUSTRATING not knowing.

Anonymous said...

Nobody cares

Anonymous said...

yawn....

you have to bring back gregory/mezz.

must admit, you hate blog just makes full rounds over and over and over.

It goes from Niz to King Edwin, to Barron, to Mc Clure, to SPG, to Mezz, and then starts all over again.

It seems like you suffer from some type of spastic manic/depressive/compulsive obsessive thing with the same cast, different hate.

Edgar, I really prefer when you post things that were received under fraudulent and illegal ways.

That way you can continue to wear your hoover hat, so everyone knows not to mess with you.

Anonymous said...

Gregory will own Bernie blog in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Not sleeping well, Tricia? Guess you're still unemployed and can stay up all night. Ever thought about applying for mental disability? Just a thought you might consider before I leave for work, as some of us are employable and have a job.

Anonymous said...

The King's first billboard along
I/78 near the Home Depot can be seen five miles away. Imagine the intensity of these digital signs.
Wonder what will happen to neighborhoods forced to install these billboards.

Anonymous said...

can't be the kings first billboard, if they're still tied up by Abe

Anonymous said...

Anyone who isn't a complete doormat is long gone from city hall.Conversely all those who populate the building, its boards and commissions understand what is expected and are there to comply.
That is just how it is.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Anyone who isn't a complete doormat is long gone from city hall.Conversely all those who populate the building, its boards and commissions understand what is expected and are there to comply.
That is just how it is.

Scott Armstrong

7:36 AM

Why don't employees even give their first name when answering city hall phones! How rude. Try asking for it. Ha.

Anonymous said...

Classic "Chicago Style" politics. If Pawlwoski was half African-American he could be Obamas brother! What a playbook, re-write the rules to decide the winners and losers by maximizing your ability to reward campaign doners, all in the name of "moving forward" and "good government". Then you front selected City Council seats to the dumbed down voters and stack all the boards and commissions with cronies and rubber stampers. Just wait untill this guy gets to the Governers Mansion!

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's all a rising tide, at least for him and some others.

Anonymous said...

Now that he's a bona fide king, he can get a day in his honor and a key to the city from Sal Panto in Easton.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Little did Sal know that he did not have to go to Africa to find a King.

Anonymous said...

If Obama had a city, it would Detroit. If he had a smaller city it would be Allentown.

Anonymous said...

This is not surprising for anyone who has ever appeared before Allentown's ZHB. The City regularly attempts to influence the ZHB by exparte memorandum, for which the applicant must object, despite it having been read by the panel long before the hearing. There is a prohibition in the MPC, but the applicant would be forced to recuse the panel. McCarthy as head of the panel has never attempted to end the practice. I think that reflects badly on the panel and Allentown. I'm not much for limiting instructions on a panel appointed by the municipality, which means in my view, the hearings may never be fair. This is just a codification of that practice so to speak. Nlv