Friday, October 07, 2011
Angle, Chrin Swing $2 Million Deal for Farmland Preservation
Palmer Township has already voted unanimously to support a TIF for a Route 33 Interchange that Chrin wants to build next to tiny Tatamy. On Easton's school board, there was only one dissenting vote. But a TIF, which allows a developer to use the increase in real estate taxes to fund more infrastructure, also requires the County's assent.
That seems likely. The vote is scheduled for two weeks from tonight. It's hard to argue against the 3,500 jobs predicted in a study performed by the Dietrick group. Some will try, but they simply don't know what they're talking about. In addition to the study, I've talked to several people in economic development who tell me that several major businesses will definitely move in once the interchange is complete.
The downside is that, in the wink of an eye, 689 acres of pristine farmland will vanish.
All this land, and much more, was once owned by Howard Seiple, certainly the wealthiest man in Northampton County. Despite his money, he was always most at home in his dungarees, sitting atop a tractor. When he passed away, about half of Seiple's vast land holdings in four different municipalities went to the Pektors, Selvaggios and Toll Brothers of this world. They erected McMansion after McMansion, which imposes a burden both on school districts and the municipality.
No homes have been built on Chrin's 689 acres. Much of the land is still being farmed. If Charlie has a weakness, it is for farms. Bigshots like Lou Pektor liked to prance around in black silk shirts and go to WaWa in his helicopter. But people who know Chrin tell me his idea of a good time is to hop onto a souped-up tractor to plant or harvest a crop.
Like Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first Mayor, Chrin is a farmer at heart..
Developing that land with an industrial park is a Godsend to the local economy. In addition to the jobs created there and the spin-off jobs in the surrounding area, the higher tax base will ease the tax burden on schools and municipalities. Best of all, a TIF creates no risk to the municipalities involved. If the business project fails, Chrin will be on the hook, along with the businesses in the park.
Still, it is 689 acres of pristine farmland. We spend money to preserve farms, and then gobble greenfields if we think we can make a buck.
Today, Ron Angle and Executive John Stoffa sat down with Chrin. He may have Palmer Township and the school board, but he does not have Northampton County. Not yet.
What could Chrin do to make this pill easier to swallow?
Angle and Stoffa wrangled a deal that never crossed the minds of elected officials in Palmer Township or the school board. Chrin has agreed in principle to set aside 1.5 per cent of the gross sales price of each lot as sold, and create a $2 million fund for farmland preservation in Northampton County. This is still subject to final written approval.
According to Stoffa, that money will be enough to preserve most of the farmland lost. "Chrin Company's contribution of $2 million, if forwarded to the Commonwealth and reimbursed as we have in the past, would end up giving us $3.2 million. $3.2 million at present day prices would enable us the preserve 650 acres of farmland. The TIF is approximately 690 acres, which in essence leaves a 40-acre loss."
Angle joked that he and Stoffa played bad cop and good cop. Council member Mike Dowd respoded, "I know Charlie Chrin well enough to say he's probably not intimidated by a bad cop or a good cop, but this is a good deal." Council member Bar Thierry thanked Angle for his work, too.
But Angle credited Chrin. "He didn't need to do this. This is over and above anything he needed to do. This isn't a requirement, ... but one of my concerns was 400 acres of farmland [Angle believes only 400 acres is quality farmland] that now will be gone. But it would have been gone either way. It could have been gone for houses, which puts kids to schools and runs school taxes up, or we put in an industrial park, which brings in jobs and adds to the tax base. It's his land."
While Angle was making an announcement that will save farmland and help taxpayers, Tom Dietrich was busily scribbling a note to Ann McHale.
I'll tell you about that in the post below.