The board of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission voted 24-7 against the proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center project in Lower Macungie Township.
Thursday night’s vote by LVPC is expected to carry great weight with Lehigh County commissioners.
On May 22, those commissioners delayed a critical vote on approving a tax increment financing plan for Hamilton Crossings until they learn the planning commission’s position on the project.
If the county commissioners vote against the TIF plan, it will kill the $140-million project.
“Without the TIF, there is no project,” Hamilton Crossings developer Tim Harrison told LVPC before Thursday’s vote. “Without the county, there is no TIF.”
The LVPC board voted to support the written position of its staff, which states LVPC has “strong reservations and objections” to Hamilton Crossings.
That five-page letter declares that the project, and the use of TIF funding for the project, are inconsistent with the Lehigh Valley’s comprehensive plan.
“If the county commissioners think you don’t like this or that it’s inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, I’m finished,” said Harrison. “My project’s gone. I can’t do this.”
Harrison said LVPC’s recommendations on such a project typically would just go to Lower Macungie -- and the township would agree or disagree with them. But in this case, the county commissioners also want to know LVPC’s position.
Harrison told the LVPC board: “You hold in your hands the viability of a project I’ve been working on for four-and-half years and I can’t tell you how many millions of dollars…”
East Penn School Board already has approved the TIF plan for Hamilton Crossings. But Lehigh County commissioners also must agree to the plan, which involves giving up 50 percent of increased real estate taxes generated by the project for 20 years, to help pay for road, storm water and utility improvements.
LVPC’s position is that “developers, not the public, should pay for the improvements attributable to their development.”
LVPC explains the developers are seeking TIF financing from the county, township and school district to pay for all improvements planned on Krocks Road, which would become the entranceway to the shopping center. And that they are requesting $6.4 million in state transportation funding to pay for all improvements on Route 222 and Hamilton Boulevard.
Even with the proposed improvements, LVPC officials maintain Hamilton Crossings will only make traffic problems worse on Route 222, rather than resolving problems on that road.
Hamilton Crossings would have 590,000 square feet of retail space and 2,500 parking spaces, “which makes it a very large retail center,” said David Berryman, LVPC’s chief planner.
“The scale of the project has impacts and consequences, not only to the traffic and to the roads, but for the residents,” said Berryman. “This project provides a detrimental impact to the neighborhoods that surround it. Residences are right up against the shopping center.”
Berryman said more than 25 variances were granted for the project by Lower Macungie, including some involving side yard setbacks and other buffers. He said there will be “light spillage” on residential properties and 12-foot-high sound walls standing less than five feet from some property lines.
No prediction from county commissioner
Harrison unsuccessfully suggested that he might stand a better chance of getting TIF approval from the county commissioners if LVPC would take no position on the TIF aspect of his project.
Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the county commissioners who also serves on LVPC’s board, said the commissioners have been waiting to hear LVPC’s position and will give it serious consideration before they vote on June 12.
She declined to predict if commissioners will vote against the project, saying that’s still two weeks away.
“There has been a lot of discussion among the board of commissioners and there definitely are differing opinions on the board,” said Scheller. “The information put out tonight from all the parties will be disseminated to all the board members as quickly as possible, so people can come to their conclusions for June 12.”
Scheller abstained from voting on Hamilton Crossings at Thursday night’s meeting.