Friday, October 07, 2011

Angle, Chrin Swing $2 Million Deal for Farmland Preservation

The best person to send in against a bastard is always another bastard. That's what Northampton County Council decided to do two weeks ago when they went into executive session. They unanimously agreed to send their own bastard, the Northampton County bulldog, to go up against another miserable bastard, landfill magnate Charles Chrin.

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.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Warehousing, empty office buildings with an occasional Doctor's office, Wawa, and apartment buildings will be the predominant land use in this area. A primary example is the 248/33 interchange. That is what this new interchange and surrounding area will look like. Not sure playing with a TIF is worth this type of growth.

Anonymous said...

"During the 20 years of the bond, the township, county and school district would continue collecting all the property taxes. But most of the post-development tax gains would pay off the bond.

Under the proposed Route 33 interchange TIF, 100 percent of the post-development taxes would go toward the bond for the first five years and then it would switch to 80 percent in the remaining 15 years."

As the bond is floated and payments are due, what happens if the Chrin land lays dormant or the development of that land is not enough to realize tax gains to pay the bond? Who then pays the difference? The taxpayers of the County? The TIF seems to work when there are prospective owners of the land with locked in development plans. The taxes can be calculated and compared to the bond payments. Then and only then can this be assured a winner. The tragedy will be when the bond payments come due and no development has ocurred and the land was taxed at "vacant" rate. Someone in the local and county government should be sure that deals are inked with the land and development before the taxpayers are put on the hook.

Jon Geeting said...

Excellent points from the first two commenters. Bernie you forgot to mention the ponies that Ron Angle secured for every Palmer and Tatamy resident.

You really need to apologize to everyone you've ever called a cheerleader. I've never seen anybody else jump on a developer or politician's dick with this much gusto for a dumber project.

AMOrlando said...

Hey Jon, aren't you supposed to be over at that Wall Street rally right now? Better get going before they miss you.

Anonymous said...

1. There already is a giant EMPTY industrial park at Rt 33 and 22 next to the Hecktown Rd 33 interchange. It has existed and has been empty for EIGHT years. We really need another one, huh? I'm sure it will fill up quickly.

2. The McMansions you grouse about causing a "burden both on school districts and the municipality" also bring in thousands upon thousands per parcel to these very same entities. Quite the burden having a tax base with money funding your school district.

3. Using taxpayer money to buy empty farmland is a ludicrous concept. There is more than enough in Central PA. Move there.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely not against real estate development and job creation, but its a real travesty that we are financing a multimillionaire to develop Greenfield property. Why not instead of allowing Chrin to donate $2 million to preserve future farmland that we require Chrin to provide $2 million to develop a Bownfield property that will otherwise remain vacant.

What are the odds that the new overpass will only be able to accommodate two lanes of traffic on Route 33? In 10 years when 33 is overflowing with traffic our wonderful leaders will tell us that we need to replace all the overpasses and bridges with new ones able to handle three lanes of traffic and the Tiff will be meaningless.

Anonymous said...

"It could have been gone for houses, which puts kids to schools and runs school taxes up,"

Not sure it could have been houses. All of the residential developers you name are still sitting on plenty of undeveloped lots for which their are no takers.

Schools and municipalities take on added burden for services because their elected and appointed leadership are visionless, incompetent or, more likely too cozy with the developers, and do not require the developers to pony up for the cost of the impact.

Ron is right, it is Chrin's land. The guy should do whatever he wants with it. But, too often, we get the prediction of great things to come, give away the store, and they never materialize. The tune changes to "We could never have foreseen such unprecendented yada, yada, yada.

So, Chrin should do whatever he wants with it, without any special treatment or support from the public.

-Clem

Bernie O'Hare said...

"You really need to apologize to everyone you've ever called a cheerleader. I've never seen anybody else jump on a developer or politician's dick with this much gusto for a dumber project."

Geeting, Amazing that someone who holds himself out as such an expert on economics would resort to thre use of vulgarities to a person who disagrees with him.

There have been numerous public meetings at which you could have pointed out that everyone is wrong, but you must have been stck in the Big Apple.

My default position would have been AGAINST this TIF, and even now, i am not crazy about it. But I was persuaded by Alicia Karner's excellent presentation and Dave Colver.

Here's why this TIF is a good idea:

1) 3500 jobs. This is according to a study financed by the person taking the risk of failure, not some goofy link to some vague, nonspecific study promoting inner city development.

2) personal knowledge that some business will definitely move into the site.

3) spin off jobs in the area surrounding the site.

4) tough zoning control from Palmer To, which has pledged "no big boxes. Not gonna' happen."

5) tax relief to Easton schools, Palmer Tp and Northampton County, brought about by development and expansion of tax base.

6) no contribution of any public money for this project, not even the interchange.

7) no risk by any public entity. All risk will be assumed by Chrin. If he wins, we win because we get more tax revenue down the road. If he fails, we get what we've been getting all along.

and

8) preservation of 650 acrs of farmland.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As the bond is floated and payments are due, what happens if the Chrin land lays dormant or the development of that land is not enough to realize tax gains to pay the bond? Who then pays the difference? The taxpayers of the County? "

No, As has been explained before, Chrin and bondholders will assume ALL the risk. That's why they'll likely be getting 7%. But if this fails, it's their loss. No public entity assumes any risk.

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:55,

1) I am unaware of an empty industrial park at Hecktown Road. What is there are auto dealers.

2) No, those McMansions end up being a drain on schools on the municipalities. They are a net negative. Sorry.

3) No taxpayer money is being used to buy empty farmland. The farmland being bought will not be empty, but active farmland, and it will be bought to help the farmers stay there.

Anonymous said...

What a sham. If this were Reibman, Callahan or Pawlowski you would be screaming bloody murder.

Instead, since it was an Angle/Stoffa production you praise this corporate welfare.

You are worse than a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

Ron Angle the crook guarding the gate, Doesn't Ron have one of the biggest private farms in Bangor?
Oh, that's just for him

Bernie O'Hare said...

What on earth does Angle's ownership of a farm have to do with being crooked? You really are looney.

Anonymous said...

1) I am unaware of an empty industrial park at Hecktown Road. What is there are auto dealers.

Well, now you are aware. Let's finance some MORE completely vacant industrial parks!

http://www.rb-assoc.com/hecktown.php

Anonymous said...

What on earth does Angle's ownership of a farm have to do with being crooked? You really are looney.

It's only inevitable that someone buy his farmland with taxpayer money.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Well, now you are aware. Let's finance some MORE completely vacant industrial parks!"

I am aware of that. Did not think of it as an industrial park because it is mostly developed with auto dealers. I think there might be one vacant lot but will check today.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It's only inevitable that someone buy his farmland with taxpayer money"

Let the grown ups talk here. Go make your accusations of corruption somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Do you not see the ENORMOUS empty plots of land in the aerial photo?