Another link in the progress of the Packerton Business Park clicked into place Thursday when Carbon County commissioners agreed to sign a letter of intent to purchase for $9,100 a parcel of land to provide access to the planned industrial area.
The 0.515 acre parcel is along Route 209 near the Packerton Dip. The letter of intent is between the county and the property owner, Kovatch Properties LLP, and gives an 18-month period for the county to buy the land for its fair market value.
All three commissioners agreed to sign the letter of intent.
The property is one of two the county needed to acquire to provide safe access to the Packerton Yards. The other, near Packerton Dam Road, belongs to Joseph and Sheri Marks.
The county also needs a Highway Occupancy Permit, issued by the state Department of Transportation.
The proposed 59-acre industrial park lies in Lehighton Borough and Mahoning Township, whose supervisors have denied the county's proposed land development plans. Supervisors also want the county to build a sidewalk along Route 209, and build a turn lane. Another sticking point is that supervisors want the county to acquire the two parcels of land to provide access before they grant approval.
The county appealed the supervisors' decision to Carbon County Court; a hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 18.
Time is of the essence: The county stands to lose the $3 million in grants it has obtained specifically for the Packerton Business Park project if it continues to be delayed.
After Thursday's regular public commissioners' meeting, Gerhard spoke to reporters on the matter.
He said he wants to sell the land.
"We can't sell the Packerton yards without a land development plan. We'll get our Highway Occupancy Permit, and then I'll recommend that we sell. Get it back on the tax rolls, and let the private sector come in and create jobs. The county doesn't create jobs the private sector does," he said.
"I believe that at the time when the county commissioners purchased it, they thought it was a good investment. And it turned out, it wasn't. Right now, we're playing with the Packerton Yards for the eighth year," Gerhard said.
"There is no one, in their right mind, that would come in and buy the Packerton Yards the way it is now. You can use the existing access road to get in, but you cannot develop it with that road. We have a visibility problem you need 500 feet of visibility on each side. The (Packerton Dam) Road that is there now doesn't comply with that," he said.
"Every dime that it costs us for the solicitor and engineering fees ... it's on the county's dime. We tried. We sell it and walk away," he said.
"We have had people interested before. If they are still interested, they'll come forward. But why buy if you can't get to it," said Commissioners' Chairman Wayne Nothstein.
Selling the park has always been the whole idea, said minority Commissioner William O'Gurek, who was chairman of the board of commissioners when the project began.
"Selling Packerton Yards is not exactly a novel idea, unless you take into consideration that was exactly the plan of Commissioner (Charles) Getz and myself when we purchased the land for the county in 2005," he said early Friday.
"I think it's ironic, and worth mentioning, that commissioners Nothstein and Gerhard, when they campaigned last year, criticized this plan. In fact, in flyers mailed throughout the county, they claimed I was responsible for wasting $5 million on the project. Then when they took office, they pursued exactly the same plan that Commissioner Getz and I did, and I'm glad they did," O'Gurek said.
"Because the truth is the Packerton project is only possible with the help of loans for things like infrastructure improvements and access to the property. For nine years, the goal of Commissioner Getz and myself has always been to make that property ready to sell to business to bring jobs here. Even though the new majority commissioners criticized us for the project, I'm sure Commissioner Getz is just as pleased as I am that the project we started is continuing," he said.