Hugg told commissioners: “You have the same lawyer advising you that’s advising the industrial authority that’s advising the county and the county executive. You need independent counsel. Everything is so incestuous.”
Hugg argued that created a fundamental legal problem: “Nobody has their own advocate; nobody can look at this objectively. And there’s a veil of secrecy over this whole process. The public is excluded.”
Atty. John Lushis, who is solicitor to the LCIDA and – like Somach -- a member of the Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus law firm in Allentown, stood to say any attacks on his law firm “are just flat-out wrong.”
Addressing Hugg directly, Lushis said: “Mr. Hugg, you are way off base. You are factually wrong and your attacks on the ethics of our firm are just scurrilous.”
When the hearing began, residents still had to wait more than 40 minutes to speak – after presentations about Hamilton Crossings were made by Harrison, officials from LCIDA and Scott Shearer of Public Financial Management, financial adviser for the TIF.
Harrison stressed the benefits of the project and addressed several misconceptions about it. He also warned it will fail without the TIF.
“We’ve heard we’ll never walk away, even if there’s no TIF, because we’ve got so much invested that we’ll see it through anyway,” said Harrison.
“The truth is we don’t want to walk away. We have invested millions of dollars and five-and-a-half years of our time.”
He said the developers don’t want to disappoint their tenants, stakeholders or residents who have been looking forward to seeing the project come to fruition.
“But it’s really not our choice,” said Harrison. “Without this TIF, without this essential piece of our capital stack, this project will fail for lack of financing.”
Harrison told commissioners “this project needs your help. We respectfully request that it warrants your help. If you are willing to help, the project will provide very substantial and lasting benefits to Lower Macungie Township and its residents.”
Emmaus resident John Donches argued the reputations of the developers are on the line.
Donches said if they don’t go through with the project – “TIF or no TIF” -- their reputations will take a big hit in their efforts to find major retailers to come in on any other projects that they plan.
The 63-acre shopping center site is split by Krocks Road between Hamilton Boulevard and Route 222.
Harrison said the 63 acres generated a total of $57,000 in property tax in 2013.
He said the shopping center will generate more than $1.4 million in new property tax revenue –including $571,540 a year to East Penn School District and $322,000 a year to Lower Macungie.
The developer noted that totals more than $16 million in additional tax revenue to the school district over the 20-year life of the TIF.
Harrison said $63 million in infrastructure improvements are required “to make this site developable” – not including millions more for mine wash remediation.
He said that $63 million includes $11 million for transportation improvements, $4 million for storm water and flood control and $1 million for utility improvements.
He said 63 percent of the transportation improvements, 85 percent of storm water improvements and 20 percent of utility improvements have to be made because of existing conditions “whether Hamilton Crossings comes to fruition or not.”
Harrison said the theoretical maximum the development can get from a TIF is $7 million toward such public infrastructure improvements, $3.6 million less than the cost of addressing existing infrastructure problems.
Beitler gets last word
At the end of the hearing, Beitler said the developers originally required “three for three” – meaning East Penn School District, Lehigh County commissioners and Lower Macungie had to opt into the TIF for it to succeed.
The school district opted in last year, and reaffirmed that position this week, but the county commissioners decided not to participate in the TIF.