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Lehigh Valley

Lower Macungie takes another big step to help Hamilton Crossings

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - Lower Macungie Township commissioners continue to pave the way for the development of the Hamilton Crossings shopping center, despite a late June vote by Lehigh County commissioners that seemed to kill the project.

On Thursday night, the township commissioners voted 4-0 to apply for a $2.75 million state grant on behalf of the project's developers, now identified both as Hamilton Crossings LP and TGG Hamilton Investor, Inc.

The grant is being sought to pay for environmental remediation of mine wash on the 63-acre site, which is along both sides of Krocks Road between Route 222 and Hamilton Boulevard in the township.

The developers estimate 50,000 dump truck loads of mine wash have to be dug up, dried and stabilized by being blended with limestone and soil cement. Even after that mix is put back into the ground and compacted, buildings will not be erected on it.

Mine wash is a non-toxic waste material left behind when iron ore was mined from pits on the site in the late 19th Century. Hundreds of thousands of tons of mine wash, which has the consistency of toothpaste or pancake batter, were dumped into mining pits after iron ore was removed. The developers say in places the mine wash extends as deep as 26 feet beneath the surface of the property.

The resolution passed Thursday notes the township supports the Hamilton Crossings project because it will "benefit the community."

The developers will pay a $27,500 service fee to the township when they have received all the state grant money, according to a "cooperation agreement" between the township and TGG that also was approved by the commissioners.

The state money the township will seek for the developers is called a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program --RACP -- grant.

"The township is really just a conduit for this money," said Lower Macungie Solicitor Richard Somach. "All we do is pass the money from the state to them, if their project goes forward."

"If Hamilton Crossings is not approved, the money stays with the state," said Ron Eichenberg, president of the township commissioners. "If it is approved, the money is able to be forthcoming in good speed for Hamilton Crossings to move forward."

What Eichenberg did not say is who might approve the project and when.

A representative of the developers was at the township meeting but did not address the commissioners.
Township officials maintain they do not know the developers' intentions. They say one possibility is the developers soon will make a second attempt to convince a majority of Lehigh County commissioners to support a revised tax increment financing (TIF) plan.

Another possibility is that the developers may scale back on the quality or scope of the project to lower the $140 million cost, while retaining the anchor stores. Hamilton Crossings was proposed as an upscale project similar to the Promenade shopping center in Upper Saucon Township. Its anchor stores would be Costco, Whole Foods and Target.

"It's never over till it's over," said Somach. "But we don' t know for sure that anything's happening."

Eichenberg said Lower Macungie "is proceeding to facilitate matters in preparation of the potential positive movement regarding tax increment financing for Hamilton Crossings."

A tax increment financing plan is what the county commissioners rejected by a 6-3 vote in June. The developers repeatedly said they could not build the shopping center without a TIF to help pay for public infrastructure improvements to roads, storm sewers and electrical service.

Money the developers would get via a TIF plan would not have been used for mine wash remediation.

That TIF plan needed the support of the county, township and East Penn School District to succeed. East Penn School Board voted 6-2 for the TIF in May.

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 real estate taxes, so it would give up no revenue by participating in a TIF.

Earlier this month, Eichenberg and Commissioner Jim Lancsek raised the possibility that East Penn School District might help Hamilton Crossings with a TIF, without any support from the county.

Somach said the township faces a deadline to apply for the RACP grant, so it is moving forward even though the future of the shopping center remains uncertain.

He also indicated the township was preparing to apply for the state grant before the county commissioners voted against the TIF plan.

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