HAZLETON, PA Tuesday, 19 December 2006
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City planners postpone dredge decision until January Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
Amphitheater? What amphitheater?
Despite the widespread publicity attached to the outdoor arena proposed by Mayor Lou Barletta, and his pronouncement that it’s the most important development project in city history, the Hazleton Redevelopment Authority argued to the Planning Commission that it had no definite plans for the abandoned mine lands into which river dredge will be deposited.
HRA argued the point during a hearing that was the result of a remand order from Luzerne County Common Pleas Judge Hugh Mundy.
The commission took no action Monday night, deferring it until its first meeting of 2007, scheduled for Jan. 22. Its solicitor, Jim Ferry, will compile a list of additional information the commission will request from HRA before deciding whether to reiterate its approval or vacate it.
The progression of events that led to Monday night’s hearing is complicated. During 2005, the Planning Commission approved a request for a subdivision from Sullivan Trail involving land connected to the land river dredge will be used to reclaim. The majority of the land involved was to be transferred to HRA and be subsequently leased to Hazleton Creek Partners for the dredge project. An amphitheater is slated to built on the land when it is reclaimed.
However, Edrich Reality, which owns land that borders the dredge land, appealed the subdivision approval to Mundy. After hearing the case, he sent it back to the Planning Commission for examination of its initial approval. However, he did not toss out the initial application – the reconsideration was to be based on information included in it.
In the meantime, Pagnotti Enterprises, which had owned the majority of the land involved in the reclamation project, bought Sullivan Trail. It asked the court to allow HRA to represent it at the hearing by proxy and Mundy agreed.
HRA Solicitor David Glassberg and Chairman Bob Dougherty argued its case. They said they believed they complied with both the city and the state planning code during the original hearing. They added small triangles of land created by the subdivision would not be sold individually, and would only be sold if HRA decided to sell the entire parcel.
“We believe we’ve addressed all of Judge Mundy’s concerns,” Glassberg told Planning Chairman John Lenchak. “But if there is anything else you believe we didn’t cover, we’d be happy to address it.”
Lenchak read off a checklist of things required under the city planning code, adding that he thought everything on it had been addressed. He threw it open to the board for questions, but no member had any.
But Edrich’s Attorney Anthony Lucadamo said he had a few questions. He then picked apart the list, noting several problems as he saw them – including those he called significant, such as whether a grading plan needed to be filed, and minor things, such as a required address being absent from the blueprints.
Among the issues Lucadamo raised was that the river dredge would change the topography of the land, noting the city planning code required a grading plan be filed if there was a change in the pitch of slopes exceeding 10 degrees. He said the plans showed no slopes, making it impossible to determine whether a grading plan was needed. But noting the publicity the amphitheater project has received, he said there was little doubt slopes would change by at least 10 degrees, as the land is slated to leveled for construction of the amphitheater.
Glassberg countered that whether slopes will be leveled hasn’t been decided, adding, “You can’t request us to submit something we didn’t propose to do at this time.” But Lucadamo noted plans for dredge importation required the construction of a pugmill (in which material will be mixed) and several structures related to rail transportation. He said they, too, required permits.
Glassberg argued that none of that was related to the subdivision, adding that was the only thing for which the request had been filed. But Lucadamo also raised the presence of “watercourses,” as he called them, and whether or not Dougherty had a conflict of interest, as he is also the city’s engineer, as well as HRA’s chairman. Planning Solicitor Jim Ferry said there was no conflict, adding that acting in an engineer’s capacity for the city’s boards and commissions was part of his job as city engineer.
“It has not been determined what will be done there yet,” Glassberg said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it; if land development approval is needed for anything we propose, we’ll come back.”
“So, all that coverage about the amphitheater – the paper got it wrong?” Lucadamo asked.
But Glassberg reiterated that the only thing the PC was to decide on was a subdivision, not a land use or land development plan.
After several more minutes of points and counterpoints between the two attorneys – during which Lucadamo asked the commission to defer any action until an appeal to the project was heard in April – Ferry said he would compile a list of information the commission would require from HRA to make a final decision, adding that there appeared to be slight deficiencies in four areas. He said he expected to mail that list to Glassberg within the next few days.
The commission then voted unanimously to continue the hearing until next month.
Lenchak opened the floor to public comment. About half the 20 people in the audience –unusually large for a Planning Commission meeting – had something to say. Grace Cuozzo said the commission should consider the sloping issue, adding that Buttonwood Street, near Church and Laurel, has had flooding problems recently adding, runoff from the project might add to them.
Bill Lockwood – former city council president and current president of Save Us From Future Environmental Risks (SUFFER) – pointed to the blueprints where two creeks exist. Carole Martienssen said much work was already going on at the site, including leveling and grading of old silt banks.
The most animated speaker was Ann Marie Shelby, of Hazle Village, a former member of the Hazle Township Planning Commission. She handed Lenchak a copy of the lease between HRA, HCP and Pagnotti, saying the commission had been “misled.”
“Here is the agreement,” Shelby said. “They know exactly what they’re doing there.”
Tom Yurick of West Hazleton echoed Shelby’s comments.
In fact, HRA is a party to the lease involving the proposal, along with HCP and Pagnotti. Under the terms in the lease agreed to in December 2005, HCP paid $200,000 as a rental payment up front. HRA used that money to execute its purchase agreement with Pagnotti, owner of the land at the time.
HCP was also to pay the city 50 cents per cubic yard of dredge, which will be channeled into a fund to cover the cost of the amphitheater (called the Amphitheater Contingency Fund in the agreement).
Plus, HCP will put another 25 cents per cubic yard into a fund to assist development citywide (called the Economic Development Fund Fee in the agreement).
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