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|
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|
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|
"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".