On Monday, Allentown entrepreneur and real estate developer Nat Hyman filed a lawsuit to prevent Pennsylvania from demolishing the buildings on the Allentown State Hospital campus. Filed in Commonwealth Court by Attorney Suzanne Ilene Schiller of the Bala Cynwyd law firm of MANKO, GOLD, KATCHER and FOX, LLP, the litigation is an attempt to halt the latest folly coming from a cabal of state and local officials who seem to be more interested in enriching a Doylestown tax deadbeat than in doing what is in the best interests of the community.
As we all know, state officials who know better than the rest of us decided some years ago to close down the state hospitals. Residents there would do better in community mental health programs, they said..You've seen the results Some severely mentally ill people are on the streets, including me. Instead of being treated in a hospital, they've been flooding our jails, too. In Northampton County, 72% of the jail population is mentally ill. Twenty-three percent suffer from serious mental illness, with acute symptoms.
In the meantime, Allentown State Hosptal's 200-acre campus sat dormant while state officials considered how they could top the initial blunder of closing it down. They came up with a scheme so monumentally stupid that you have to wonder whose pocket is getting greased.
Get this. Our leaders in Harrisburg plan to spend $15 million to tear down the buildings so it can be sold to a wheeler-dealer from Doylestown named David Ali. It gets better. In addition to being someone who has no clue about the Lehigh Valley, Ali is a tax deadbeat who has racked up eight judgments in Bucks County, including tax liens to the state and IRS. It gets even better. The state is giving him three years to arrange financing.
Why such a sweetheart deal?
Two words. Jenn Mann. The former state lawmaker turned lobbyist is running interference for Ali. She has current state lawmakers Mike Schlossberg and Pat Browne waving the pompoms. She has quietly been pushing officials at Allentown School district to buy some of the land from Ali for an unneeded school. She is also pushing to give Ali a tax break, not that he pays them.
Of course, this is corruption. It's a little more smooth than what we saw with disgraced Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, but it is still corruption. In fact, it's worse. For all his flaws, Fed Ed at least thought he was doing what was in the best interests of Allentown. No one can say that about this scheme.
Nat Hyman, who is local and has no tax liens, was also interested in buying the property. He sought no tax breaks, either. He wants to preserve the buildings. Officialdom ignored him. So Hyman did the only thing he could do - sue.
According to the suit, Allentown State Hospital is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Places. As a result, a state law called The History Code required a consultation with the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, which is a part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. In fact, the History Code actually requires the state to consider alternatives to demolition of historic structures. It also mandates the General Services Department to “[i]nstitute procedures and policies to assure that [its] plans, programs, codes, regulations and activities contribute to the preservation and enhancement of all historic resources in this Commonwealth.”
The state has no procedures or policies. It ignored its own laws.
The State Historic Preservation Office did visit the site, and concluded
Per the appraiser’s evaluation, many of the buildings due toIt added that “[t]he demolition of the hospital complex will adversely affect the property as it will no longer be able to convey its historic and architectural significance.”
their overall condition and general maintenance that they
have received, are in average condition, and may be viable
for rehabilitation and reuse. Even those buildings that had
not been included in the overall usable square footage may
have potential rehabilitation potential. A practical plan for
redevelopment of the campus should balance historic
preservation and economic development.
In addition to ignoring The History Code, the suit alleges that the state has even failed to follow the law authorizing this conveyance. In December 2017, the state legislature blessed a conveyance to Ali's company, TCA properties. It specifically authorized a conveyance that included the buildings and structures on the campus.No law authorized any demolition.
Hyman seeks an injunction that will halt demolition and preserve the status quo.
Allentown State Hospital, which opened in 1912, was designed to be in a block plan with several buildings connected by corridors and originally included administration buildings, patient ward buildings, a dining room and auditorium, two chapels, a dietary kitchen, a boiler and an electric plant. It includes historically and architecturally significant building details, such as marble floors and columns, stained glass, stately wood trim and wood doors, and a spiral staircase with brass railing and marble steps.It was closed in 2010.
Most recently, it was the location of a movie.