Bethlehem Press

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Council approves first reading of LERTA expansion plan

Friday, April 7, 2017 by MICHELLE MEEH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

City council members approved the first reading of an ordinance to expand the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) zone, allowing property owners to invest in their properties and phase in real estate taxes on building improvements and new construction over a decade.

During a hearing before the regular council meeting on April 4, Allyson Lysaght, city housing and development planner, said the LERTA is just one tool the city can use to provide incentive for landlords to improve properties. Other ways the city seeks to spark improvement include a housing rehabilitation project, exterior building improvement project, a de-conversion project which helps turn rental units back into owner-occupied housing, and funding for façade improvements.

The increased LERTA district will help to “give these neighborhoods the attention and investment they probably have not seen before,” Council President J. William Reynolds said. “It’s one tool in a much larger effort.”

The expansion will help to “deal with properties that are a burden to the city,” resident Edwin Rodriguez said.

When improvements are made to residences in the LERTA zone, 10 percent of the eligible assessment would be exempted for the first year after a home improvement becomes assessable through the 10th year in which the improvement becomes assessable.

Currently the LERTA zone encompasses an area between Broad and Laurel streets, as far west as Mauch Chunk Road and as far east as Maple Street.

The expansion will add the area from east of Main Street and north of Broad Street, encouraging the conversion of rental homes to owner-occupied ones.

Moravian College President Bryon Grigsby had previously requested that the LERTA expansion be expanded to include areas west of Main Street near the main campus. Grigsby said Moravian is “fully supportive” of the expansion and would help promote revitalization of the area in any way it can.

The LERTA is “part of a larger vision and strategic plan of what these neighborhoods can be,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of potential here.”

Council member Shawn Martel said the expansion was “a doubling down on the original plan” and has the same merits as the original zone.

A similar zone on the Southside is expiring in 2017 and may possibly be renewed.

Council will vote on the LERTA expansion on second reading at the April 18 meeting. The Bethlehem Area School District will also discuss the expansion. The LERTA expansion will also go to the Northampton County Economic Development Committee and the Northampton County Council for review.

In other business, council also approved an ordinance regarding bamboo, which calls for installing barriers to prevent bamboo from expanding into areas where it threatens infrastructure or invades neighboring yards. The vote was 5-2, with council members Adam Waldron and Olga Negron against. The measure will be up for a final vote at the April 18 meeting.