Planned LVPC relocation called 'easiest decision in history of decisions'
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong, who also is a Lehigh Valley Planning Commission member, describes his decision to make a motion to approve the commission's move to new offices as "the easiest decision in the history of decisions."
Planning Commission Board Chairman Steven Glickman calls the decision financially sound.
- Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure and members of the county council explored pulling the county from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
- The discussion was prompted by the commission's planned move to a new headquarters in City Center Allentown, which raises costs for the county
- Lehigh Valley Executive and commission member Phil Armstrong called the move the "easiest decision in the history of decisions"
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure strenuously opposes the move, and on Thursday told his county council he's considering having his county walk away.
Such is the controversy surrounding the planning commission’s vote Thursday to relocate its headquarters from office space near Lehigh Valley International Airport to a new building along the Lehigh Riverfront in Allentown, five miles away.
Proponents say the move is cost-effective, noting the current office needs $2 million in renovations. Kevin Lott, a planning commissioner from Northampton County, disputed that claim.
Defending the proposed move
Armstrong on Friday defended the commission's vote to relocate. He cited months of problems at the current location, including brown water, sparks coming out of electrical fixtures and heating and air conditioning problems.
"We had a contractor give us a rough estimate on repairs," Armstrong said. "And I can tell you, the prices of construction costs are not going down. I have to go with the report that said it looks like it would be about $2 million."
Armstrong said deciding to remain at the current headquarters would only increase costs to the commission.
"We'd have to move out of our office, rent another office, wait until the repairs are made, and then move back in," he said. "With all that expense, five months down the road we'd be out of our capital reserve.
"But if we move to the other location, five years down the road we'll realize $5 million in savings."
Real estate agent Cindy Feinberg was hired by the planning commission to find new headquarters locations.
Feinberg, a former Lehigh County director of community and economic development, reported to the commission the City Center site location would be ideal.
"She gave us 14 different locations to choose from, and found a spot that met all of their needs in Northampton County," Armstrong said.
"The new spot has multimodal transportation [which includes walking, biking, transit, rail, cars, and trucks]. It provides a greenway. It's the perfect spot.
"It's everything the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission stands for. It's going to take us six months to get ready to move.
"And the vote wasn't close; it was, like, 10 to 5. Even a person from Northampton County voted yes."
Decision-based on analysis
In a news release, Glickman noted the lease on the current headquarters was a major factor in the decision to relocate.
"We based our decision on an analysis of 16 Lehigh Valley sites,” Glickman said. “The primary criteria were that the new site be the most cost-effective, be within five miles of dead center of the Lehigh Valley, and be consistent with the policies of FutureLV: The Regional Plan.”
FutureLV is a blueprint designed to guide the region to 2045 and beyond.
McClure has taken issue with the new building’s higher rent, which will increase the shared expenses of both counties to an additional $120,000 more per year.
McClure said this week he doesn’t yet endorse Northampton County breaking off from the planning commission. But he has formed a committee to explore creating a new Northampton County Development Committee.
He said the county plans to cut funding for the planning commission for 2024.
McClure added the move will make it more challenging to find county residents willing to serve on the commission, as meetings will be farther away.
“We intend to execute the decision of the executive committee, but there’s a lot more work ahead before any move is final."Steven Glickman, board chairman, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
Glickman noted the decision to relocate was a well-researched endeavor.
“We intend to execute the decision of the executive committee, but there’s a lot more work ahead before any move is final,” he said.
Lott argued the renovations to the current headquarters that proponents say will total $2 million are unnecessary.
“That building was remodeled less than 10 years ago,” Lott said Thursday at a county council meeting. “I remember when it happened. I don’t know how you’d spend that kind of money remodeling again.”
Staff writer Ryan Gaylor contributed to this report.