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The 'best property in Carbon County'? Developer George Petrole has grand visions for former NJZ West Plant site in Palmerton

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS  George Petrole, chief operating officer, Northface Development, LLC, Lehighton, discusses his plans for the former New Jersey Zinc Co. West Plant Site at 1120 Mauch Chunk Road, Palmerton.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS George Petrole, chief operating officer, Northface Development, LLC, Lehighton, discusses his plans for the former New Jersey Zinc Co. West Plant Site at 1120 Mauch Chunk Road, Palmerton.
Published March 13. 2010 09:00AM

In its heyday, zinc-smelting was one of the dominant industrial cogs in the country.

That was the case in Palmerton, where, in the late 19th century, the former New Jersey Zinc Co. consolidated regional operations.

Several decades removed from its zenith, a Carbon County businessman wants to recreate the storyline of the former zinc hot spot.

George Petrole, chief operating officer for Northface Development, LLC, Lehighton, presented a power point presentation for Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce members earlier this week.

Petrole plans to develop the former Palmerton West Plant site at 1120 Mauch Chunk Road into a 100-acre-plus sustainable high tech office park that could create thousands of jobs.

"This is the beginning of a very long journey," Petrole said. "This could be the best property in Carbon County."

Petrole said there are 24 large buildings in various stages of decay that should be demolished by May. All the materials on the site will be recycled, he said.

"We really want to develop this into a commercial site," Petrole said. "I believe this can be a 24-lot business park."

Petrole said his plan will only serve to enhance the site.

"I think it is the right time, the right piece of property," he said. "I believe this will be a great thing for the community."

As of this coming week, Petrole said he hopes to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that will allow for the capping process to begin.

"We hope to have 19-acres on the east side of the property known as the refuse bank, capped and seeded by spring 2011, he said. "We're capping it because it's disturbed by heavy metals."

Petrole said he has grand visions for the site.

"We're not satisfied with just another business park," he said. "We want to re-create the storyline of the New Jersey Zinc Company."

Petrole said engineering and survey work has been completed for a new rail site, and added he hopes to begin the process this summer, contingent on approval from Norfolk Southern, the main rail line.

"By next year, we want to submit our engineering for utility corridors," he said. "It's a comprehensive plan for a state-of-the-art business park."

Petrole said they need to receive their Act 2 clearance, and said the site should be totally developable within the next three to six years.

"We're looking for an anchor business," he said. "Or to break it up into individual parcels or to develop our own shell buildings on the site."

Petrole said its his company's "intention to create as many local jobs as possible."

Peter Kern, Chamber president, asked Petrole what the primary travel access would be.

"Mauch Chunk Road, initially," Petrole said. "Eventually, we will look at engineering for our access."

Petrole said there is over 120 acres, along with another four acres by the railroad, and another four acres at the parking lot parcel.

Chamber member Peter Turko Sr., asked Petrole what kind of industry he had planned for the site.

Petrole said he envisioned high tech facilities, administrative or medical research buildings.

Kern then asked what type of environmental control would be in place.

Petrol said both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency would be there to oversee the work.

Don Schaefer of Palmerton asked Petrole whether any thought had been given to traffic.

"I wanted to know if you were planning to replace Hazard Road," Schaefer asked. "It's not equipped to handle heavy trucks."

Ralph Cortazzo of Palmerton said he was concerned that Hazard Road won't be able to handle an average of 50 trucks per day.

Jake Arner of Lehighton suggested to Petrole that the company look out for the community.

"This is a great project for the community; it's going to make money," Arner said. "I would ask you to reinvest in the community about half of what you make."

Kern said he's optimistic the project will be a success.

"As people see progress, it's going to be more encouraged," Kern said. "It will attract (what) you're looking for."

Petrole said he was grateful to the Borough of Palmerton for its cooperation on the project.

"What we're seeking to do is change the tax abatement paradigm to one of sustainable energy efficiency as the main attraction of this business park," he said. "We'd like to thank the community of Palmerton for their support."

Petrole initially presented his plan to the Palmerton Area School Board in December, which unanimously agreed to adopt a resolution compromising certain real estate taxes for buildings and parcels of real property, formerly part of the Palmerton Zinc Company Holdings.

The property has been in abandonment since Aug. 19, 2002, when the seller filed a Voluntary Petition for Relief under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, Petrole said.

Petrole previously said the company anticipates the site will accommodate up to 27 separate building lots containing office and technology space of about 235,000 square feet, warehouse space of 213,000 square feet, and paved parking areas totaling 1,745,000 square feet.

Once completed, the park will have sealed more than 2,548,000 square feet of land with building footprint, parking and lineal roadway, Petrole said. Of that, slightly more than 53 percent of the site will be permanently capped by impermeable improvements.

Also as part of the acquisition, a 3-acre parcel of the site may eventually be dedicated to the borough for use of a new fire station, said Petrole, who added it's the "intent of Northface Development and Palmerton Borough to enter into an agreement to redefine and relocate certain Rights of Way and utility routes serving industrial and potable water clients remaining on the site as well as the dedication of a 3-plus-acre parcel of the site for use as a new fire station for the Borough of Palmerton."

Petrole said the company's redevelopment efforts "are expected to bring thousands of jobs to the area, create an ongoing increased tax base for the authorities involved, and our plan intends to use as much of the 120-plus-acres as is possible for development."

Petrole said the company has completed a Phase I investigation through the Environ Corporation and completed the 'all appropriate inquires' as required by CERCLA for the property.

Copies of the sketch plans are available upon request, he said.

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