Monday, February 03, 2014

St. Hamilton Crossings (Postponed)

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller will hold a public meeting next week to discuss the Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center Project proposed in Lower Macungie Township. The public will have the opportunity to meet the developers,give input and ask questions. The media is also invited to attend.

WHAT:                Presentation and public input pertaining to Hamilton Crossings Retail Center

WHEN:                 6:00 PM, Monday, February 3, 2014

WHERE:               Moyer Hall, Muhlenberg College
                             2400 Chew Street, Allentown, PA

This project has been quite controversial, mostly because it has been proposed as a TIF. This is a special financing tool in which the increase in real estate taxes that would ordinarily arise from building on raw land, is deferred. That increase can be used to fund development over a period of ten 20 years. Hamilton Crossings is a 63-acre former industrial mining site in Lower Macungie. Developers failed to persuade Lehigh County Commissioners to allow them to use half of the increased property taxes to finance the project.

I have serious reservations about this project, even though it is supposed to bring a Costco and jobs.

Instead of making taxpayers take a haircut, why not the property owner who is actually selling the real estate to the Goldenberg Group? That just happens to be the Allentown Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

For starters, they haven't paid a dime in real estate taxes on the property since it was always intended to be used for future storage of Catholic souls. That property was at one time remote, hard to access and even harder to develop. Just perfect for a cemetery. maybe even a homeless shelter or a shelter for the wayward queers that Vic mazziotti and his pastor despise. That all changed with the Route 222 Bypass, aka The Fred Jaindl Memorial Highway.

Of course, one of the major beneficiaries of the highway - it cost over $200 million to build, I believe - was the Jaindl family. Another beneficiary was the Diocese. Now the property is no longer a parking pad for dead Catholics, but a money maker for our Holy Mother Church. When this deal started to tank, the biggest loser - beyond Goldenberg and his partners - was the Diocese.

Enter Tom Muller, good Catholic, member in good standing at St. Thomas More, and probably a frickin Knight of Columbus for all I know. Is he interested in keeping this deal alive because he wants to help the developers or the Diocese?

Has he been threatened with excommunication?

Has Vic Mazziotti discussed this with his Pastor?

Goldenberg should be able to do this deal without TIF help. All of the prospective leases - Costco, Target and Whole Foods - are very bankable. Perhaps the sale price is too high, or the developer wants too much profit. In either case, whether it is the developer or the Church, taxpayers should not have to pay for someone else's greed.

Update: 2/3/14, 12;11 pm: This event has been postponed. It has been rescheduled for the same time and location, but it will be next Monday, February 10.

(This originally was published on 1/29/14, at 12:00 am.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Muller is great a looking like he is doing something without ever doing a thing. he is gifted at bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Its about time that the County takes the decision making away from snow towers. They can't seem to do the right thing anyway. Way to go Tom and County Commissioners. Its about time that the professionals step in to deal with this mall.

Anonymous said...

The last thing Lehigh County needs is another suburban strip shopping center. There are 3-4 existing shopping centers nearby that are struggling to stay viable. Let the developers pay their own way in the affluent suburbs. Let's keep government subsidies in the urban core.

monkey momma said...

It's not the TIF that bugs me about this project. It's the location. What makes anyone think this is a good place to put a retail hub of this caliber?? We'll need a new bypass to bypass all the new traffic on the 222 bypass.

Anonymous said...

Its More not Moore.

Anonymous said...

the original bypass was high speed limited access....then suddenly one day it was 45mph and half a dozen signaled intersections. what was once supposed to alleviate traffic on Hamilton Blvd is now a rolling parking lot at 5PM. Who won and who lost? follow the money

Anonymous said...

As you correctly point out, the Diocese has benefited from a long time tax exemption and has paid and continues to pay a very small amount of real estate taxes on the property in question. So how then can you conclude that the taxpayer's are taking "a haircut" if the project is granted the benefits of the TIF? Without question, even the reduced tax revenue that the project, if built, will pay is going to be a substantially greater amount than what is being paid now; and the TIF is NOT forever, the full tax load kicks in later.

If it is the fact that the TIF bestows those benefits to which you object, then isn't the TIF legislation itself the issue you are concerned with? You perceive a "special interest", to be receiving a benefit to which you object because they are moneyed?

I don't necessarily disagree, BUT I ask, how is the TIF different from almost all of the various PA real estate tax codes that also benefit a whole host of "special interests"?

LERTA, KOZ, NIZ, CRIZ, Act #319, non-profit exemptions, etc. etc?

If you were the developer, wouldn't YOU want your slice of the pie?

If you don't like the TIF or any of the others special interest benefits bestowed by the PA tax code, then the forum is the PA legislature and Harrisburg.

In NOT granting the TIF to this project, the County has merely said, "we don't need any more tax revenue, and we don't need an construction or post-construction employment".

I think it's akin to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

As for the location--the proposed site is already appropriately zoned by the community and the infrastructure in place. If not here, where? Two cornfields to the left?

As for traffic---traffic is always getting worse. It's a given. Get over it. The project has/must clear the traffic engineering studies and hurdles.

As to the jealous competitors--that's like the pot calling the kettle black. They have and/or would take advantage of the TIF too.

As for the folks that think we don't need another shopping center It's a free market, go shop elsewhere then and let the market decide. But much like the Walmart naysayer's once its built, I can almost guarantee that MOST of the objectors will be pushing their carts down the aisle.

As for the implications that Mr. Muller's religion plays a role in his decision to bring folks together to "rethink" the County's position---that shouldn't be dignified with a reply---and this anonymous commenter isn't Catholic!

Anonymous said...

This project is a tire fire with no hydrants nearby.

The biggest problem is that Lower Macungie got cozy with developers who don't have cash. Harrison grossly overpaid for the property, was rescued by Goldenberg, but even they don't have enough cash/leverage to make this work.

This project has been on the real estate radar for years, proposed way back when mall retail was a viable project. Not so much anymore.

Beitler from Lower Macungie can ramble on and on about smart growth and sidewalks, well I'll give him some advice- Malls aren't smart growth. They are relics. All you're doing is creating your own expensive Phillipsburg Mall.

You have small time developers with big dreams with prospective tenants who are nervous.

I don't think they have a prayer of getting the TIF out of the County. The TIF is based on improvements the state hates. If Penndot makes them do anything more than what they have proposed, taxpayer involvement goes up.

If I were Lower Macungie, I'd kick these developers to the curb and get some real developers and a real project that works there. Enough with the amateur hour already.

Anonymous said...

If TIF is granted on the County level it needs to be tied to assurances the money will be used to remove signals and build highway interchanges at Krocks & Bypass.

Then the UMT and LMT planning Commissions, Penndot and LVPC need to work together to require interchanges at Millcreek and Bypass where Liberty is building two more giant distribution warehouses on Air Products property.

Right now is the time to talk about the bypass with these two traffic generating mega projects on the table at two of the most problematic intersections which never should have had signals in the first place.

Ron Beitler said...

Here is a collection of information about this project and issues surrounding it.

Specifically, here are thoughts on TIF.

And lastly, I agree with @9:59 and @6:49

Ron Beitler said...

Also at one point, Percy Dougherty made the argument that the TIF committee meetings (a requirement of the TIF law) should have been public.

The argument was sensitive financial information would be discussed. The counter argument was, well if your seeking public tax abatement then your sensitive public information becomes the public's business.

Here is a meeting of the LVEDC where the topic was discussed.

Eventually, the compromise reached was that the meetings would be closed but a summary of the minutes would be distributed to taxing bodies with redactions of sensitive financial information.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the bank wants to dump this deal. Too much invested already via the diocese end. The KoC is the church's unofficial bankers here in the USA, headquarters in New Haven Conn, cross pollinated with Carl Anderson, Grand Knight, on the board of directors of the Vatican Bank. Follow the money. Follow the fees. Amen$

Anonymous said...

Hey anonymous 6:49:
The boulevard concept for the Trexlertown Bypass was developed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stage of the overall project to address traffic congestion, accident reduction, pedestrian safety, community access, business access and land use planning of Lower and Upper Macungie townships. The EIS evaluated numerous alternatives and concepts and took into account the input of the local communities and businesses.

And the entire alignment of the Bypass is considered limited access b/c there is no additional access on the mainline except at the intersections and interchanges.

The at-grade intersections for the Bypass provide valuable local access to local businesses and residents. Design criteria for high speed highways would have prevented construction of interchanges as close together as the at-grade intersections that exist. Without those access points, the road would not provide much relief to congestion on Hamilton Boulevard and other area roadways.

Lastly, the elected officials at the time in both municipalilties wanted the at-grade intersections.

Anonymous said...

@6:49 - Yes, Politicians and moreso Wealthy landowners did influence and circumvent good planning.

Hindsite? They were wrong. Totally and completely wrong.

We NEED grade separated interchanges. Part of the reason the geometry is so messed up which creates dangerous signalized intersections at the Millcreek/bypass intersection is the road WAS designed (from a land acquisition standpoint) to be grade separated. THEN politicians and landowners got involved. . where what we needed was planners.

Now we have two side by side STROADS.

A stroad is neither a street (meant to capture value think Main St.) or a road (meant to move cars quickly from point A to B. A STROAD is a failure because it tries to accomplish both. It's the futon of road design. They are always costly, almost always fail and enter into a vicious and expensive cycle of constant improvement.

Millcreek and bypass is dangerous. Look at accident numbers. It's terrible intersection. So now we're planning on throwing more money into some spaghetti solution of more signals and jughandles. This is a bandaid.

No to a cycle of endless bandaids. Only the eventual and inevitable solution.

The Bypass needs to function as a Road. Move non-local traffic from A to B quickly and efficiently able to handle volume.

Hamilton Boulevard needs to be allowed to function as a street. A value capture mechanism. A complete street. A place where business can flourish.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, previous response was to @10:52

Bernie O'Hare said...

"ts More not Moore."


Bernie O'Hare said...

"If you were the developer, wouldn't YOU want your slice of the pie?"

Government does not exist to make pie for developers.

"If you don't like the TIF or any of the others special interest benefits bestowed by the PA tax code, then the forum is the PA legislature and Harrisburg."

How stupid do you think we are? The legislature specifically lets this up to the three taxing boies at which a proposed TIF is located. So the forum is the township, the school board and the county. You are completely wrong.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As for the implications that Mr. Muller's religion plays a role in his decision to bring folks together to "rethink" the County's position---that shouldn't be dignified with a reply---and this anonymous commenter isn't Catholic!"

And apparently a nonCatholic wit noi sense of humor. I like Tom and appreciate the idea of this forum. But if the developer has Costco and Target, you don't need a TIF. Either Holy Mother Chruch is asking for too much money, or the developer is trying to maximize his profit.

Hey, I'm willing to change my mind if I see good reasons for this tax break. I supported the Chrin TIF, but am generally opposed to a TIF, especially in the 'burbs.

Ron Beitler said...

Bernie is correct IMO. The TIF legislation is actually an exercise in bottom up gov't. The state creates the mechanism through law but allows the taxing bodies to dictate where and how it's applied. TIF law is good law. Put the tools in the hands of local officials and let them apply it.

The local bodies who are given this responsibility need to apply the tool with a set of criteria. I definitely have a set of criteria I subscribe to and that is the "but for" argument.

There is only so much political capital for TIF's. Only so many times you can dip to the well. So we need to be careful how we use it. TIF should be reserved for places where economic development and job creation is lethargic "but for" the use of a TIF.

Clearly, in Lower Macungie our economic development engine is humming. On the very same corridor we have a medical center and 2 office buildings being built or near the end of the development process. We have a new Weis going in on Rt. 100. We have Smooth on moving into Daytimers. We have millions of square ft of warehousing coming. I could keep going....

How can we possibly justify a TIF in Lower Mac if you apply the "but for" criteria?

Bernie O'Hare said...

" Harrison grossly overpaid for the property, was rescued by Goldenberg, but even they don't have enough cash/leverage to make this work."

So now the local taxing bodies are a homeless shelter for the rich,

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ron Beitler's Blog is a treasure trove of information on this topic. Though I linked to you, Ron, I should have pointed that out in my entry here.

Anonymous said...

LMT has recieved in-kind benefits equavalent to $4M each year in the form of taxpayer provided police protection. It is time for LMT to pay for this protection. Responding to LMT calls keeps our state police off the highways.

If the TIF is approved, the $5M RCAP should be provided to another municiplaity.

Ron Walters said...

I.M.O. giving away school tax money goes against reform to lower these taxes.

Anonymous said...

TIF can work wonders but only if the development is fully funded. The developer needs more investors and it is apparent that developer needs more to make this a town center. Until another investor is found, I say bag it. LMT is getting little in return

Anonymous said...

If you want to understand why the bypass has signals, a 45 mph speed limit and was built as a "boulevard" as opposed to ramps and 55+ look no further then one familiar name.

All you have to do is understand how one outcome made adjacent lands more valuable for a certain influential Turkey Farmer.

Someday, somehow we will have to fix this mistake and it will cost us.

Anonymous said...

In a world where lawyers regularly sue the Church for this and that and the other thing, it's in the Church's best interests to operate within legal boundaries when managing finances. Never fear, Bernie. Your ambulance-chasing compadres are likely preparing today's rash of slip-and-fall suits against churches and all others who aren't blow-drying their sidewalks. Don't hate the playa. Hate the game avaricious lawyers make us all play. Best to have a few shekels saved to pay the legal industry - which bills 10% of our GDP every single year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with the topic under consideration.

Anonymous said...

I hope the government doesn't start subsidizing suburban sprawl shopping centers in the suburbs. Imagine all the other shopping centers who paid their own way and will now have to compete with this one. This is a bad idea. Lets keep development subsidies in the urban areas where they are really needed.

Anonymous said...

What adds injury to insult with this fiasco is that the developers in addition to any TIF are getting millions of dollars from the state and the township. The township is waiving something close to 3 million dollars in traffic fees. Poof, gone.

When you ask anybody at the township about that point they all clam up and start looking at each other.

That's something you miss in your post Bernie. The millions of other dollars in public cash these guys are getting.

The only logical reason Muller is risking embarrassment is that the developers kicked some money in for his campaign. Or the unions, thinking they will get some construction jobs. Why else would a mall of all things be that important to an executive in office for 15 minutes?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's missing bc I knew nothing about it until you pointed it out. You sound believable, but if you have any links to reports about this public money, please provide them. Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Stop corporate welfare handouts. Enough is enough

Anonymous said...

Two public sources for that info

It's something called a TIF Plan Narrative

It lists a one million dollar grant, a $250,000 grant, a 2.5 million dollar grant, and 6.3 million dollars from PennDOT.

In the LCIDA minutes from March, the township manager says they are waiving 2.8 million dollars and contributing $250,000 to the mall. If you watch the Lehigh County meetings from last year Mazziotti and Schware calculate the Township is forgiving closer to over four million in fees.

You read that stuff and you find out that the money isn't being used for the alleged mine wash at all. Its completely bogus. It's going to pay for the traffic and stormwater issues that they are causing and their utility work.

The free money flows when you want it to.

This is from a township that gave everybody $60 off their $400 towing bill and felt like they were doing everybody a huge benevolent favor. What a pile.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are correct. A friend saw what you wrote and emailed me with some information, but you beat me in getting it out there. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lehigh County for taking control over this project. Lower Macungie does not have the proper people in place to even begin to understand this project. This is a good show of regionalism.

Ron Beitler said...

@ anon 1:37 the government has been subsidizing sprawl since the 50's.

But the answer is not to further subsidize cities.

The answer is to LEVEL the playing field. Reduce ALL subsidies and let the market do it's thing.

Local gov't's will then only pay for what they can afford to MAINTAIN. Subsidies give the illusion of wealth. We have to make developers pay their own way.

Ron Beitler said...

Anon 4:50 - "What adds injury to insult with this fiasco is that the developers in addition to any TIF are getting millions of dollars from the state and the township. The township is waiving something close to 3 million dollars in traffic fees. Poof, gone.

When you ask anybody at the township about that point they all clam up and start looking at each other." - anon 4:50

You are correct. But the impact fees have NOT been waived yet. And I know exactly what you are referring to. I've seen the past president of the board (Ron Eichenberg) asked about the impact fees and he acted like it was a done deal. Seemed confused about them.

It isn't a done deal.

Anonymous said...


I don't see how it's not a done deal.

The Township including you is in the tank for this developer and this project. And let's be honest the developer can't afford to pay the impact fees.

If you consider the PennDOT grant goes to cover the bypass and Hamilton Boulevard, over four million dollars of the TIF money goes to improve one township road. A very small township road at that.

The township not only is giving up millions in impact fees but contributing $250K of township taxpayer money and helping gets millions more in grants and pushing all the negative impacts on to everybody else- the traffic to state roads and any crime issues to state police for these developers. Are you kidding me? This is a great project?

Bernie O'Hare said...

If Ron Beitler were "in the tank" for this developer, he would be pushing for a TIF, but has pretty much been opposed from the onset. When you make accusations of this kind to someone who has the courtesy to identify himself, you really should identify yourself.

People are such cowards.

Anonymous said...

With the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of square feet of vacant commercial real estate in the Lehigh Valley, why do developers need to go after unimproved land? Reuse the existing vacant properties that already have infrastructure(like municipal water and sewer) in place.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you obviously didn't read today's exciting Morning Call article.

He's in. He just cares about what it looks like. As long as it looks pretty, he's good to go.

Case could be made that TIFs for developers are neither conservative nor smart growthy so one might be naturally curious why he's supporting it but that's for another day.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What I obviously read or didn't read is irrelevant. So is Beitler's support. What disturbs me is your basic lack of courtesy. If you want to accuse someone of being "in the tank" with a developer, you need to identify yourself. I am really getting tired of seeing people abuse the privilege of anonymity.

Ron Beitler said...

@ Anonymous 10:48AM

There are two issues here. 1. The TIF financing. Been very clear on that for about a year now.

Second is the land development issue. Right now, TIF is out of our hands. We'll vote on it IF and when it comes back from East Penn and Lehigh County with support.

So the issue on the table and the questions from Pat Lester were about Land Development. That was the question I answered. You can't stop a land development simply because you don't like it. You evaluate within the parameters of a zoning ordinance. BUT this case is unique since granting intensity was with the understand (and requirements) of quality. That is the issue we can and are raising right now.

It's my opinion this project is coming TIF or no TIF. There are 3 Commissioners on the current LMT board who voted for this thing in the form of a resolution encouraging the County to pass it. (Lancsek, Brown, Conrad).

My position on TIF financing is very clear. But that issue is in the County Commissioners hands for now. I'm can only deal with the issues on LMT's plate right now.