Lehigh Valley

LCIDA officially giving up on county TIF support

Lehigh County commissioners voted against Hamilton Crossings project last June

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The authority that developed the controversial tax increment financing plan for the Hamilton Crossings shopping center officially is giving up trying to win the support of Lehigh County commissioners.

Lehigh County Industrial Development Authority "will not make any further presentations to the Lehigh County commissioners regarding the Hamilton Crossings TIF."

Cindy Feinberg, chairwoman of the authority, informed the East Penn School Board and Lower Macungie Township officials of that decision in a letter sent to both governing entities late last week.

Lehigh County commissioners already rejected having the county participate in the TIF plan, in a 6-3 vote taken in June 2013.

Everyone -- including many county commissioners -- assumed that vote killed the project.

Hamilton Crossings' developers had been saying for months that they needed the county, school board and township to participate in the TIF and that they could not do the project without that support.

All that changed on March 12,  when county commissioner Percy Dougherty announced to his colleagues that the developers do not need Lehigh County's participation in their TIF.

That quickly was confirmed by both County Executive Thomas Muller and Atty. John Lushis, LCIDA's solicitor.

The state's TIF law stipulates the Hamilton Crossings TIF does not need the participation of the county, school board and township, they explained. All three governing entitites only  are required to vote on whether or not they wanted to participate.

Muller said he was the one who suggested to LCIDA that the Hamilton Crossings TIF does not require the support of all three taxing bodies, after it became obvious five county commissioners remain opposed to the county's participation in the TIF.

"I'm pleased to see the TIF proceeding despite our inability to secure adequate support from the county's commissioners," said Muller Monday. "And I hope the Lower Macungie commissioners will recognize the broad support Hamilton Crossings has among their citizens."

Muller resides in Lower Macungie and supports the project.

Muller said he challenged the "misconception" after it became clear he would not get five votes to support the TIF from the county commissioners

After he took office in January, Muller hoped he could persuade a majority of county commissioners to change their votes and support the TIF.

Muller gave up on that idea after he organized a public meeting on the shopping center project on Feb. 11 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown and none of the nine county commissioners attended.

East Penn's school board voted 6-2 for the TIF in May 2013.

Three of Lower Macungie's five commissioners already have gone on record supporting the Hamilton Crossings TIF, but those commissioners formally must vote to opt into the plan.

A public hearing on whether the township should participate in the TIF plan is scheduled for May 1.

On June 5, Lower Macungie commissioners will decide if the township will opt into the TIF, which would allow 50 percent of increased tax revenue from the shopping center to be diverted to help pay for public infrastructure improvements for 20 years.

The long-delayed, $140 million project, which will include Costco, Target and Whole Foods stores as its anchors, is planned on 63 acres between Hamilton Boulevard and Route 222 in Lower Macungie.

Two county commissioners, two township commissioners and two members of the school board were on a Hamilton Crossings TIF committee that helped develop the LCIDA's plan.

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