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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Lawyer Asks State to Crush CRIZ

Bethlehem's decision to rezone the 52-acre Martin Tower development has already resulted in a land use appeal. Distinguished land use and zoning attorney Marc Kaplin, who maintains a practice in Blue Bell, filed it on behalf of Hotel Bethlehem, Donegal Square, the Taylor Family Gas Station and residents Rocco and Electra D'Amato, Steven and Barbara Diamond, Clint and Sonia Walker, Deni Thurman-Eyer and Robert Romeril. But that's not all. Last week, he sent a letter to state officials, asking that the CRIZ designation for Martin Tower be withdrawn  because the City, in effect, pulled a bait and switch. It told state officials that the tower was the cornerstone of its attempt to make adapative re-use of steel buildings. But once it received the designation, it adoopted an ordinance authorizing the developer to demolish it.

Developer Lew Ronca has 52 CRIZ acres, with nothing left over to help the Boyd Theater, downtown development and even the new FED EX Ground facility.

Kaplan's letter, which is addressed to Governor Tom Wolf and other, is below.

In 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded a CRIZ designation to the City of Bethlehem under the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone Act (“Act”).  The CRIZ designation allows specific properties within the City of Bethlehem (“CRIZ Properties”) to be redeveloped using state income and sales tax to fund the cost of development.  The cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s CRIZ designation for the CRIZ Properties was the preservation and adaptive re-use of the historic Martin Tower building on the 52 acre Martin Tower property.

On December 15, 2015, Bethlehem City Council adopted Bill No. 38-2015 as an Ordinance amending the Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance (“Zoning Amendment”).  The Zoning Amendment now allows for the demolition of the historic Martin Tower building. It also dramatically increased from 50,000 square feet to 380,000 square feet the amount of new retail/restaurant/entertainment square footage permitted on the property.  The Zoning Amendment effectively allows for the creation of a new destination retail “downtown” area on the outskirts of the City of Bethlehem which will detrimentally impact the continued revitalization of the existing historic Downtown area of Bethlehem (“Downtown”).

I represent some of the merchants and residents within the existing Downtown who have worked steadfastly over the past 16 years to restore and revitalize the existing Downtown.   If the Martin Towner property is permitted to be turned into a new “downtown” using taxpayer dollars, the merchants in the existing Downtown will not be able to effectively compete for retail and office tenants, and customers will be drawn out of the existing Downtown to the new “downtown”, which will lead to the blight of the existing Downtown area.  All of the significant past efforts to revitalize the existing Downtown will be for naught. 

My clients object to the use of their taxpayer dollars to subsidize the redevelopment of the Martin Tower property in a manner that does not comply with the original intent of the Commonwealth’s CRIZ award to the City of Bethlehem, nor the Act and guidelines promulgated thereunder.  The development of the Martin Tower property in the manner permitted by the new Zoning Amendment violates the CRIZ award made by the Commonwealth.  The City of Bethlehem was awarded the CRIZ based on an application (“CRIZ Application”) submitted by the Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority (“Authority”).  The CRIZ Application was based on eleven (11) specifically identified projects, including the Martin Tower property redevelopment being the feature property with the largest acreage in the Bethlehem proposal.  With regard to the Martin Tower property, the CRIZ Application represented that:

•           The vacant 52-acre Martin Tower campus sits as a landmark and gateway to historic Bethlehem.  The owner/developer intends to redevelop the 21-story tower as a mixed-use facility and develop the surrounding acreage with office, retail, commercial and residential uses resulting in one of the Lehigh Valley region’s premier commercial and residential destinations.  Martin Tower is another example of Bethlehem’s efforts to create its future from the vestiges of Bethlehem Steel’s past.

•           Located in close proximity to the region’s main transportation artery, Route 22, this project is ideally situated and will be readily marketable for the intended uses.  Representing a $175 million investment in the City, Martin Tower will provide an excellent opportunity to promote a live-work environment.  This “smart growth” approach to redevelopment is a cornerstone of Bethlehem’s CRIZ Plan and one that has helped the City earn the reputation as a community that executes on opportunities and generates positive results for itself and the region.

The CRIZ Application also represented that the intended uses of the Martin Tower property complied with current zoning and already had a Master Plan approved.  The Master Plan approval referred to was a Master Plan approved by Bethlehem City Council in 2007 which proposed the preservation of the Martin Tower building and retrofitting it with 266 condominium units, the construction of only 13,000 square feet of “neighborhood retail” shopping space south of Martin Tower, and the construction of 552 townhouses on vacant parking lots and otherwise unused land east of Martin Tower and west of Burnside Plantation.  As represented in the CRIZ Application, the development on the Martin Tower property would have brought many new residents to the downtown area and added to the retail and restaurant revival in the existing Downtown area.  A copy of the 2007 approved Master Plan for the Martin Tower building was attached to the CRIZ Application.

Development of the Martin Tower property with 380,000 square feet of new retail/restaurant/entertainment square footage instead of the primarily residential development represented in the CRIZ Application, represents a dramatic change to permit a “destination retail center” and constitutes a “bait and switch” which violates the basis of the CRIZ award, and also violates the purposes of the CRIZ Act and the guidelines promulgated thereunder.  The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Governor’s Office of Budget are tasked with administration of the CRIZ Program and have issued guidelines to administer the CRIZ Program (“CRIZ Guidelines”).  As stated in the CRIZ Guidelines, one of the primary purposes of the Act is “to provide opportunity to spur new growth in cities that have struggled to attract development, helping to revive downtowns and create jobs for the residents in the regions.”  Rather than help to revive the existing Downtown area within Bethlehem, the Zoning Amendment will decimate the existing Downtown and diminish the property values and quality of life of the residents and businesses in the Downtown area.

Section IV of the CRIZ Guidelines specifically states that:

E.  If the zone plan is amended or modified in a significant manner after the zone is approved and during the term of the zone, the contracting authority must inform DCED, the Office of the Budget and the Revenue Department in writing with a detailed explanation of the amendment or modification.  DCED, the Office of the Budget and the Revenue Department may ask for additional information.

Therefore, since the Zoning Amendment adopted by the City of Bethlehem now allows for the demolition of the Martin Tower building and significantly alters the development permitted on the Martin Tower Property as represented in the CRIZ Application, the City and/or the Authority is required to notify DCED, the Office of the Budget and the Revenue Department in writing of the amendment of its CRIZ plan and to obtain new CRIZ approval for such significant changes.

Since the development of the Martin Tower property in accordance with the City of Bethlehem’s new Zoning Amendment is not in accordance with the CRIZ Guidelines or the CRIZ Application, my clients respectfully request that the CRIZ award for the Martin Tower 52 acre parcel be revoked at this time and that the City of Bethlehem be permitted to designate other properties for CRIZ redevelopment that will not undercut its core Downtown revitalization and existing businesses.  Please acknowledge receipt of this correspondence and advise action to be taken in light of this new information provided herein.  

Very truly yours,

Marc B. Kaplin

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Let's see if the state has the stones to do anything about it, or they make believe they never saw this screed.

Anonymous said...

Brown has Donaher and Donchez has Karner. They both have problems wit their DCED's. Donchez must be going crazy after the beating he is taking with his DCED. He never expected this. Too bad he had to fulfill this favor.

The entire Martin Tower scandal will get worse before it gets better. Add this to horrible snow removal job in Bethlehem and Bobby D, is not looking very good.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

The government needs to learn that its role is to create the free market conditions for all to prosper, not to interfere on the behalf of a few at the expense of the many. This appears to be another boondoggle at the citizens expense. Obviously the state has too much money to throw around, we need to cut all taxes and put all governments on a survival diet, obviously they have excess revenue lying around. Let the real entrepreneurs take the risks and reap the rewards of real business and investment.

Anonymous said...

The circus has come to town and has set up camp on the second floor of 10 E. Church St. This so called administration and the inbred council are nothing but one continuous laugh track. Unfortunately the joke is on the citizens of what used to be the jewel of the valley.

Can Bethlehem survive 2 more years of mr committee and the bear foot contessa? How are those 2 tax increase and the additional fees working out for you? Are you better off than you were two years ago?

Great job by the PD on the recent shootings.

Anonymous said...

Bernie
This situation is a good example of local government for high school students if their teachers enlighten them to what's going on in Bethlehem. What if these families had no money? Would Attorney Kaplan have handled this case on merit? Doubtful. He runs a business. So is it that once again money speaks? Will look forward to your writing on this saga as you bring not only an excellent "voice" to your topics but you were an attorney and you still have that keen legal mind to share your knowledge of such situations with us. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem may have been Christmas City. Now deceptive downtown.

Anonymous said...

More like a tragic soap opera. Hopefully some of these concerned citizens filing this suit will also run for council and even mayor. Donchez has insured that he will be a one term mayor and Reynolds can't justify his flip flops and donations anymore.

Anonymous said...

Reynolds does his constituents a considerable service by revealing his true nature.
Good to know.

Anonymous said...

So it is OK to give a state incentive to FedEx to draw them away from Lehigh County? Btw, isnt there $10M in rcap sitting there for Beth Steel site?

Anonymous said...

The taxpaying residents of Bethlehem need a Public Defender, to defend themselves against the City. Not everyone has the financial resources to counter the criminal activity of the Bethlehem Administration, and the pay-off ridden, Karner led, DCED. What ever happened to that rumor that a past codes enforcement officer was taking a $1000 payoff for advanced notice of every property that was slated to be on the blighted property list? Said developer having moved out of state. Whatever happened to that rumor? Where is the FBI when you need them?

Anonymous said...

8:52,

215-418-4000

Anonymous said...

Something stinks in bedlum and it's just not those bare feet.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Willie is a Dickie.
Well, better we should realize that now rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Willie has been Peter Principaled.

Anonymous said...

There was a challenge a few months ago of a State Redevelopment program grant in Lower Merion. The challenge was that the project being currently proposed for funding was very different from the project that was originally approved for the grant. The Commonwealth Court refused to overturn the grant. This new challenge is different, but similar in some ways.

Anonymous said...

8:52,
Got canned. No charges. (long time friend of BD) Don't you just love transparency in an administration.

Anonymous said...

I hope old Beal Fowler is getting his money's worth. Word on the street is he is funding the lawsuit and paying for Kaplin. Think his wife's money would have been better spent making campaign donations to candidates to challenge Donchez. Kaplin does not seem to be worth the money. A frivolous lawsuit challenging procedure, and a letter than will fall on deaf ears? That is the best they got. If they want to change the City, they need to get their people elected. That will never happen though, since their people are not likeable and most of the downtown residents and merchants who are challenging this are not native Bethlehem-ites. You have to be a Liberty HS and/or Moravian grad to hold office here.

Anonymous said...

Willie has been a wanker on this vital issue.

Anonymous said...

God bless Dr. Fowler.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Governor of Bethlehem will visit the Valley to give Bethlehem another Grant.

Anonymous said...

Could the reason be that Karner sits at her desk with her bare feet on the desk to help her count with her fingers and toes the money she may be receiving from a property owner that she is trying to help make sure the building CRIZ "FALLS" his way. Donchez must get rid of her for him to get back some trust of the people if he wants to see a second term. I think it may be too late but he has to start somewhere.

Anonymous said...

it's too late for booby d. He has proven that he can not lead or even make a decision. We can only hope the damage by the incompetent puppets isn't too severe. The allenswamp/Lehigh FBI claw is coming east.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

I happen to like Alicia. I happen to like the Mayor, too. But I have allowed all kinds of anonymous personal attacks at them bc they are public officials. The one thing I will not permit is misogyny from some anonymous coward. If you think you help downtown merchants with that kind of hate, think again.

Anonymous said...

I believe I speak for many many people when I say it's not just the downtown merchants who are concerned about this travesty.
The future of Bethlehem for 100 years is at stake here.

Anonymous said...

Remember what boneheaded urban renewal did to Easton. The stakes are no less high at the moment in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

Let's hire more people who are not residence of the city and only spend our tax money any way they want, we are a well that doesn't go dry.

Anonymous said...

5:35,

LOL

Jim Petro said...

"adoopted" ?