Both construction of the long-debated Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center and a controversial tax increment financing plan –TIF – to help finance the project were approved by Lower Macungie Township commissioners Thursday night.
Final plans for the development unanimously were approved by the five commissioners.
But first came the critical vote to participate in the TIF, which was approved 3-2.
Commissioners Ryan Conrad, Brian Higgins and James Lancsek voted for the TIF.
Commissioners Ron Beitler and Douglas Brown voted against it.
Hamilton Crossings developers have insisted the project would not be built without the township’s participation in the TIF.
Beitler doesn’t believe them.
“Is the project going away if we do not participate in the TIF?” he said. “Absolutely not.”
But Higgins had a different opinion: “People have said that this project will happen no matter what. It’s a given. It’s a definite done deal. There is no guarantee that’s the truth.”
Said Conrad: “We risk the chance of losing this project.”
After the vote, the developers said construction of the shopping center could begin before the end of this year and it will be completed by the summer of 2016.
The $139-million Hamilton Crossings will include a Costco, Target and Whole Foods as its anchor stores. It will be built on 63 acres along Krocks Road between Hamilton Boulevard and Route 222 in the township.
Conrad, who is president of the five commissioners, said the community has been yearning for “these types of outlets.”
“We are extremely pleased with the progress made with the Hamilton Crossings project as a result of tonight's actions by the board of commissioners,” said Hamilton Crossings developer Jeremy Fogel after the votes.
He added that the project has benefited from a great amount of public debate.
More than 100 people attended the township meeting.
Hamilton Crossings’ developers were among them, but they did not address the commissioners.
Lehigh County Executive Thomas Muller, who lives in Lower Macungie and supports the TIF, also was in the audience but also did not speak.
The votes to approve the TIF came after a dozen residents spoke for and against the project and/or the TIF.
But the only opinions that really mattered Thursday were those of the five commissioners.
Most had not publicly expressed their opinions about the Hamilton Crossings TIF for many months, so no one was certain how some were going to vote.Last year, Lower
Macungie’s participation in the TIF seemed a sure thing, when all five commissioners went on the record supporting it. But two of those five were voted out of office in November.
In June 2013, those five commissioners unanimously voted to send a letter to the Lehigh County commissioners, encouraging them to approve the Hamilton Crossings TIF.
Brown, Conrad and Lancsek were among the five who signed that letter.
On June 26, 2013, the county commissioners decided not to participate in the TIF by a vote of 6-3.
Among those speaking in support of the TIF Thursday night were former township commissioner Ron Eichenberg, who also signed that letter, and former township solicitor Blake Marles.