Lehigh Valley

Hamilton Crossings TIF not dead yet, Lower Macungie commissioners say

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - Tax increment financing isn't dead yet as a mechanism to help fund the proposed Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center in Lower Macungie Township.

At the start of Thursday night's township meeting, Ron Eichenberg, president of the commissioners, announced a public hearing scheduled for that night to receive public comment on proposed plans "to create the Hamilton Crossings TIF project has been continued" until the Sept. 5 commissioners meeting.

No elaboration on the surprise announcement was offered during the rest of the four-hour-long meeting.

What made it surprising was that for months officials have said the TIF financing plan can not happen unless it is approved by all three local governing bodies.

East Penn School Board approved the Hamilton Crossings TIF by a 6-2 vote on May 13.

But on June 26, Lehigh County commissioners rejected it by a 6-3 vote. That appeared to kill the deal.

The developers repeatedly have said they cannot build the $140-million project -- which would include a Costco, Whole Foods and Target -- without a TIF to help pay for public road, storm water and utility improvements at the 63-acre site.

On June 27, the day after the county commissioners voted, the developers stated on their Hamilton Crossings website: "We suffered a major setback in our efforts to develop Hamilton Crossings with the vote against the TIF by the county commissioners.

"We will regroup and refocus, and try to work to identify a solution so we can move forward with this exciting project."

While Lower Macungie's commissioners support the TIF plan, they never had an opportunity to vote for it. And a vote by the township seemed pointless after the county's rejection.

Adding to the confusion of Eichenberg's announcement was that a Hamilton Crossings TIF hearing was not on Thursday night's meeting agenda.

At the end of Thursday's meeting, Eichenberg explained the developers -- Tim Harrison and Jeremy Fogel – initially were on the agenda for a TIF hearing. He said they asked to be taken off that agenda, but to be put on the agenda of a future meeting.

The developers also may plan to revisit the county commissioners, suggested Lower Macungie commissioner James Lanscek. "They may be looking to do a new deal with the county and they'll come to us last. They have options."

Asked what those options might be, Eichenberg said. "We don't know. No clue." Lanscek and fellow commissioner Ryan Conrad also said they don't know what the developers may be planning.

Conrad noted the developers did say they were going to regroup.
A public hearing on creating a Hamilton Crossings TIF district originally was scheduled for June 20 in Lower Macungie, but had to be postponed until after the county commissioners voted.

County commissioners were briefed about the project on April 24, had a first reading of a proposed TIF ordinance on May 8 and debated the issue but deferred voting on May 22 and again on June 12.

After Lower Macungie's public hearing is held, the township must wait at least three weeks to adopt a resolution or ordinance creating the Hamilton Crossings TIF district.

Hamilton Crossings is planned on both sides of Krocks Road, between Hamilton Boulevard and Route 222 in the township.

The developers initially hoped construction could begin by the end of this summer and that Hamilton Crossings would be completed by the autumn of 2014.

If the county commissioners had opted into the TIF plan, the county and school district would have given up 50 percent of increased property taxes generated by the shopping center for 20 years. Lower Macungie currently does not collect any property taxes.

The shopping center's owners would have paid all of its property taxes, but 50 percent of that tax money would have been transferred to the Lehigh County Industrial Development Authority to pay debt on bonds that are used to finance infrastructure improvements.

Officials at the industrial development authority have said the TIF plan could not be done without the county, because the full financial burden would fall on East Penn School District.

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