Blog Archives

Meet NIZ’s stepbrother, CRIZ

You would be hard pressed to find a Lehigh Valley resident who wasn’t familiar with the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) in Allentown that has attracted hordes of new businesses, including a hockey arena that will house the minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. But there may be a new ‘IZ coming to town.

Community Revitalization and Improvement Zones are now a new Pennsylvania incentive plan to provide a boost in the redevelopment of the state’s smaller cities, but there are only a few that are eligible. CRIZs are only available to third-class cities with populations of 30,000 or greater, and no more than two are awarded the designation in each fiscal year. These guidelines leave only 8 eligible cities: Erie, Reading, Lancaster, Bethlehem, Altoona, Wilkes-Barre, Chester and York. Unfortunately, our friends over in Easton fall just short of the population requirement.

A CRIZ can cover up to 130 acres of land, and isn’t quite as attractive as NIZ, but still provides business incentives. The NIZ allows companies to redirect all taxes earned in the zone to go to financing it, while CRIZ only redirects taxes in this way after a certain threshold amount. Private investment must also equal 20 percent of the tax redirection funds, or one private dollar for every public five.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development will determine which cities will receive CRIZ designation based on applications with a specific economic development plan for the acreage within the city. Bethlehem is eligible for such a district and will definitely apply for the designation, with several project options. One of the most popular choices since talk of the CRIZ emerged is Martin Tower, the high rise building in West Bethlehem that has been vacant for six years but the south side of Bethlehem could also provide project options in its abandoned or underutilized structures.

We wish Bethlehem luck in their application for a CRIZ! Remember in our last post we promised a workshop in The Lehigh Valley Summit for Smart Growth focused on Act 111 and Act 47? We will also be hosting a workshop during the conference that looks at the NIZ and what it’s done for Allentown with a panel of developers and city panels. Again, stay tuned for details on how you can register for the smart growth conference!

Strongtowns.org Message Coming to the Lehigh Valley

Guest blogger, Ron Beitler, from Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie, will blog today and tomorrow about the Strong Towns presentation being held tonight in Easton at Lafayette College and tomorrow at Lower Macungie Township Offices.  To view location details, visit http://www.strongtowns.org/pennsylvania-tour/.  This is his report:

On January 9th, Charles Marohn will bring the Strongtowns.org ‘curbside chat‘ message to the Lehigh Valley. The chat is a presentation, followed by a community-specific discussion, about the financial health of our places.

The Strongtowns message is important because it transcends politics. Personally I get nervous when folks assume one particular party has ‘ownership’ over the smart growth issue. At it’s core smart growth is a fiscally conservative philosophy. Some such as Kaid Benfield have went so far as to call the Strong Towns message a conservatives manifesto against sprawl.

While many associate “sprawling growth patterns as rooted in their effect on the landscape, the environment, and severely compromised populations left behind,(All very important messages!) Marohn is all about the money.  As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Marohns book) makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags.” – Benfield NRDC Switchboard

The chat addresses the following fundamental issues:

  • Why are our ‘places’ short on resources despite decades of robust growth? What went wrong?
  • Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain basic infrastructure?
  • What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?

The answer according to Marohn is in the way we’ve developed and the financial productivity of our places. The Strong Towns message takes the traditional smart growth narrative and looks at it from a fiscal sustainability standpoint. Marohn explains a growth Ponzi scheme in the following way:

Swapping long-term obligations for near-term cash works for a while, but as with any Ponzi scheme, it ultimately collapses under its own weight. We have grown in a pattern that is inefficient, making poor use of our resources and investments.

Friends LMT‘, an East Penn smart growth advocacy group brought Marohn to the area a few months ago via webcast. I found the presentation eye-opening. I will definitely be attending the Lower Macungie Township visit to see Chuck in person. The message is relevant to a place like Lower Macungie that may be falling into the trappings of hyper growth for two decades and only now beginning to feel the effects of the second life cycle of developments.

What: Chuck Marohn Curbside Chat 

Where: Lower Macungie Municipal Building

When: January 9th 8-9:30am

Free & Open to the public

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West Ward Meeting on Master Plan

Photo courtesy of S. Feller

Easton’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership is planning a meeting to discuss the master plan for the neighborhood and city residents are encouraged to attend. The Express Times reports:

It’s the longest block in the city and includes 57 properties, 113 apartments and about 215 residents served by six bus routes. It serves as the transition between Downtown and the West Ward.And city officials say the 600 block of Northampton Street is also one of the most challenging in Easton.

“This block for a very long time has seen change, transition, disinvestment,” said planning and codes Director Becky Bradley.

Neighbors and residents are encouraged to participate in shaping the plan. Though many city officials have been going door to door with surveys, there are many voices who have not been heard yet. Attend the meeting to discuss the proposed master plan for the 600 block of Northampton St — this Wednesday, November 17, 6pm at the Salvation Army, 1110 Northampton St. You may also fill out a survey on the plan online; visit the Easton planning website.

Second Meeting for Proposed Easton Garage/Bus Depot

Given the passionate responses brought on by the last meeting notice, I wanted to make sure that our readers were aware of the next public meeting for the proposed parking garage and bus depot in Easton on South Third Street.

In case you need a low-down on the purpose of the meeting, here is the following excerpt from the Express Times:

Easton is partnering with the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority to build a two- or three-story parking deck atop a local and regional bus terminal. LANTA will bring Federal Transit Administration grants to the project, triggering an environmental review. LANTA Executive Director Armand Greco said the hearing is designed to gather input and identify possible environmental issues. A final environmental assessment should be available in April ahead of another public meeting in May, he said.

The details for the meeting are as follows:

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Location: 5th floor of Easton City Hall (City Council Chambers), 1 South Third St.

LANTA meeting on Easton Intermodal Transit Center Project

The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) will hold a public meeting on Thursday, February 18 from 6 – 8 p.m. at Easton City Hall, to discuss the proposed project for the Easton Intermodal Transit Center. The construction will include the Center, a parking garage, and a commercial building at 123 and 181 South Third St. in Easton.

LANTA strongly urges community members to come out and voice their thoughts on the project. Early comments, made during the planning and design phase, will help ensure that the Transit Center will be built with the community in mind. For more information on this project and meeting, contact Armand Greco, Executive Director of LANTA, at 610 -435-4052 or agreco@lantabus.com.

When: February 18, 2010 from 6-8 p.m.

Where: Easton City Hall, City Council Chambers – 5th Fl, 1 So. Third St., Easton.

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