Planning director testifies

The controversial Section 1311.17 was added when the city’s zoning ordinance was updated in 2010.

City Planning Director Michael Hefele, who also testified Monday, said he was part of an ad hoc zoning task force that drafted the 2010 zoning ordinance. He said the group did not offer exact language, but agreed to the concept of a standard municipal exemption clause.

Hefele said the portion of 1311.17 being challenged was not in the previous version of the zoning ordinance.

Hefele explained there are two tests to the current zoning ordinance’s exemption clause. The first is whether it’s a municipal use on city-owned property, such as the city building a new police station or its parks department adding a new swimming pool or tot lot. He said: “Those activities are clearly exempt under the municipal provision, in my opinion.”

Hefele argued the debated section of 1311.17 only applies to city-owned properties. But he agreed with Savona that the ordinance does not specifically state the mayor and council are limited to giving exemptions only for city-owned properties.

Hefele said City Council must approve the sale of any city property or any lease that goes beyond five years.

Early NIZ plan exemption withdrawn

Savona revealed that one of the zoning exemptions signed by the mayor was for Delta Thermo Energy’s waste-to-energy plant next to the city’s waste water treatment plant at 112 W. Union St.

Testimony revealed the mayor also used his exemption power for 34 properties in the block surrounded by N. 7th, Linden, N. 8th and Hamilton streets—the heart of the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone development, which includes a hockey arena.

That exemption was granted to ACIDA—the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority.

But Nemith testified that original plan was withdrawn, as was the exemption.

Hefele confirmed: “That plan was withdrawn and a revised plan was submitted that was totally compliant with the zoning ordinance.” Nemith said the approved plan includes the hockey arena, hotel, office building and parking deck.