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Northface gets support for access

Palmerton is sending a letter supporting Northface Development’s request to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to move its point of access.

Borough council on Thursday said it would support Northface moving its point of access from Route 248 into the Northface Development 600 feet to the east. The current proposed access point is to the western end of the property, closer to Bowmanstown.

Northface would like to see that point, yet to be permitted, moved closer to Palmerton.

Council said it would like to see that point of access with a traffic signal, so that if and when the property is developed, all traffic into and out of the development could come in and out of that access along 248.

Council President Terry Costenbader said two entrances are possible: Delaware Avenue and 248.

“That could be an issue that’s going to be a nightmare,” Costenbader said. “But, it’s going to be PennDOT’s nightmare.”

The access on the 248 off-ramp heading toward town would require trucks to make a left turn to get into Northface. Borough Manager Donna McGarry said the borough is concerned about the traffic backing up while trucks are waiting to turn.

Councilman Kris Hoffner said he doesn’t understand PennDOT’s opposition to putting a light on 248.

Without a light, or an intersection, the access would allow trucks coming west to turn into Northface, but trucks leaving would have to continue to Bowmanstown. Traffic coming east would also need a place to turn into Northface.

Councilman Michael Ballard said he feels for the residents who have had to deal with all the truck traffic.

“I’m still worried about the traffic on Mauch Chunk (Road),” Ballard said. “All those people, they put up with enough.”

Councilman Andrew Hollywood added, “I don’t feel like offering (Northface) one speck of help.”

Hoffner noted there’s a lot of studies that have to be done by PennDOT before permits are issued for construction of the entrances.

Councilwoman Holly Hausman Sell said the primary reason council is supporting the request is for “getting truck traffic out of our community.”

LERTA discussion

Also on Thursday, council discussed a request by Northface to support a temporary tax abatement program to help persuade businesses to come to the area.

The discussion about the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program related to Northface’s request for LERTA tax consideration for four warehouses being proposed on their property.

Northface is requesting is that the buildings be billed for a period of 10 years, at a percentage of their actual tax, so that if the building was assessed and had a tax of $2,000, they requested to pay zero the first year, 10% of the tax the second year ($200), 20% of the tax the third year ($400) and so on for 10 years. In the 11th year, they would pay the full $2,000 tax.

Hoffner said he believes a 10-year LERTA is too long and that five years would be much better. He noted the Carbon County Commissioners are thinking about a five-year program as well.

“They’re really supportive that we’ve been dealing with this for 10 years; it’s in our backyard,” he said. “I’m disappointed the original plans didn’t come through.”

Hoffner also has concerns about truck traffic.

Hausman Sell agreed that 10 years is a long time.

“I’d be more comfortable with five years,” she said. “I’m very disappointed as well; warehouses are not going to bring in as many people as office buildings.”

Hausman Sell then asked whether it would be maintained, adding that she doesn’t want an eyesore there blowing dust all over.

Council said they would consider the LERTA assistance be given for five years.

However, McGarry noted the percentages wouldn’t be finalized until council actually approves an ordinance after a public hearing.

George Petrole, chief operation office for Northface Development in Palmerton, site of the former New Jersey Zinc West Plant, said the company’s plan is to build roughly four 500,000-square-foot warehouses, one each year starting in 2022, on the property located just off Route 248.

Before construction, however, he said it would enter into lease-to-own agreements with the companies that would occupy the warehouses.

But in order to offer more inviting lease deals, Petrole tendered the LERTA program.

Under the program, the borough, along with the school district and Carbon County, would excuse a percentage of the additional tax revenue the buildings would bring in for the first 10 years.

In the first year of each building being constructed and occupied, 100 percent of the additional tax revenue would be excused, followed by 90 percent in the second year in and so on until after 10 years, the full additional tax amount, estimated by Petrole to be $466,583 for the district, would be collected.

Petrole presented the same idea to Palmerton Area School District’s board of directors last month.

Board President Kathy Fallow said she would like to see Petrole build good faith with the borough before the process moves forward.

Should the process move forward, each taxing body would need to adopt separate resolutions and a public hearing would follow.

A LERTA for the warehouses wouldn’t be the first time the district has worked with Northface.

When the company took over the property, Petrole said, the district allowed a forgiveness of back taxes on the buildings, which were then going to be destroyed.

Zoning review

In a related matter, council authorized the borough manager, planning and zoning officials to work with the solicitor and engineer to review the borough’s zoning ordinances.

The borough wants to have guidelines in place to protect the health and welfare of residents if warehouses would be constructed.

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