Archives for August 15, 2012

Time for Joe Brennan to Resign

Frank Warner:

State Rep. Joseph Brennan choked and punched his wife on the porch of their Fountain Hill home Wednesday afternoon and then drove away drunk, police said […]

On Wednesday, borough police went to Brennan’s home at 1201 Delaware Ave. at 3:48 p.m. on a report of a man hitting a woman. When they arrived, Brennan’s wife, Norma Jane, had visible injuries to her left hand, knuckles, both feet and her left knee, according to the police arrest affidavit.

She told police that her husband grabbed her by the neck, choked her with both hands, slapped and punched her in the face and wrestled her to the floor of their front porch, the affidavit says.

Fund Bethlehem’s Hoover-Mason Trestle Park with Value Capture

Turning the Hoover-Mason Trestle into an elevated park on the Bethlehem Steel site sounds like a much better idea to me than building a parking garage. I got to explore the Trestle a few times sneaking into the blast furnace area as a young scamp, and can attest that the view is seriously epic. If done well, this would be a real regional attraction.

John Callahan compares the idea to the High Line:

The sites are currently connected through East First Street, but officials said they believe the restored trestle would add another destination itself because of the great views it provides of the blast furnaces, the Steel site and the city. Callahan likened it The High Line, a linear park in New York City created from a former rail line […]

Callahan said he believes the trestle’s restoration could be key to stimulating more development on the site, particularly the large No. 2 Machine Shop, near which the trestle runs. Sands owns the machine shop as well as the trestle and has been especially pushing the trestle’s restoration, officials said.

Bethlehem Steel used the trestle to carry ore cars from the ore yard — now the site of the casino — to the blast furnaces.

ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks said the SteelStacks campus gets some walking traffic from Sands, which he thinks would increase with the trestle’s restoration. He pointed out how the trestle could be much more than an elevated sidewalk, and with signs, used to tell the story of the Steel site.

I think Callahan’s comments here offer a good illustration of why value capture would be a better way to finance this project than Tax Increment Financing.

Callahan says the project could stimulate development, and I agree, but it’s important to understand why this would happen.

The reason the High Line park succeeded in spurring development is that it increased nearby land values. And the reason it increased land values is that the park is really nice, and people want to be near it.

More people started wanting to live near the High Line, work near it, and go shopping or eat and drink stuff before and after they went to visit it. The supply of land is fixed – you can’t make more land near the High Line – but the number of people wanting to use the land grew, so the price of the land got bid up.

This is the same story of what would happen if Bethlehem turned the Hoover-Mason Trestle into a nice park. The land next to the park on the Steel site would increase in value. This would create a profit-making opportunity for people who own land abutting the Trestle to charge people to use the now-more-valuable land for commercial or residential purposes.

Under the value capture (land tax) approach, Bethlehem would tax the publicly-created windfall in land value on private land next to the Trestle and use it to pay for the park improvements.

This would have two main benefits. First, by taxing the land instead of the building improvements to the No. 2 Machine Shop and other new buildings, Bethlehem would be offering a tax abatement on property improvements that would encourage new building. There’d be no tax on the property investment, only the speculative value of the land. It’s a Tax on waiting to build, rather than a tax on building. The effect would be even stronger if the BASD followed suit.

Second, this would encourage denser, more compact development on the Steel land next to the Trestle, some of which is now being wasted on surface parking lots. Not sure if these lots are government-owned, but if they are, it would be important to sell them off ahead of the value capture implementation.

Looking at a big parking lot from the Trestle would make for a crappy view, and it would be a total waste if the land value windfall from the park just accrued to a government-owned free parking lot.

It’s not like you could use that increase in value to reduce taxes or something, since a free surface lot is a non-performing use and is not producing any revenue.

And also the park is just going to be way better if it’s flanked by interesting buildings rather than empty space, and having a greater density of stuff to look at while walking the Trestle will also serve to encourage more walking between Sands and the Artsquest side of the Steel site.

(Thanks: Lynn Olanoff)

Barron: Sue MERS

It’s a great idea. I wrote about this last year in light of Montgomery County’s suit.

Sierra Club Opposes Allentown Water and Sewer Privatization

Via Michael Molovinsky:

 The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club urges the City of Allentown to not rush to privatize its municipal drinking water and sanitary sewer system. The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club has several hundred members residing in the city, with 1,400 members living in the Lehigh Valley. The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental organization, with almost one million members, 24,000 of whom live in Pennsylvania.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is proposing leasing Allentown’s municipal water and sewer system to a another, possibly commercial, entity for 50 years, in exchange for millions of dollars that could help shore up the city’s teetering employee pension fund. This seems at first blush like a lifeline to a city struggling financially but in actuality may be a recipe for disaster.
Not only are water rates to residents projected to double under any leasing scheme but privatization would put Allentown’s jewel of a park system – much of it along the Little Lehigh Creek, the city’s prime drinking water source – under the control of a private entity that could exploit that watershed without concern for environmental damage that could result. Opportunities to market Allentown’s plentiful water to others would pass away from the city to an entity not controlled by Allentown’s citizens. In what condition would the system and its watershed be returned to the city after 50 years of private exploitation?
The national Sierra Club recommends any municipal water system privatization follow five necessary steps before adoption:
            — full public disclosure of all the details of the lease before approval
            — evidence that privatization would not cost more than continued municipal control
            — guaranteed continued and effective oversight by the municipality
            — sufficient time for a vigorous public debate before privatization
            — a public vote by the citizens on whether to undertake privatization.
The current proposal to privatize Allentown’s water and sewer system includes none of these safeguards. Until this proposal follows these essential steps, Allentown should not blindly jump to hand off its water and sewer system to another entity.