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Another Tax Break Request for Mine-Scarred Site Coming Before Luzerne County Council


Hazleton, Luzerne County, PA - For the second time this year, a developer is asking Luzerne County Council to approve a tax break for a Hazleton area project on mine-scarred land.


The latest proposal stands out because it would get rid of a massive, in-your-face culm bank that greets motorists as they cross the county’s southern boundary on Route 309 into Hazle Township.


It also differs from most other requests because the developer —Bluecup Ventures — is seeking a 65% real estate tax reduction on the new construction for 10 years instead of 100%.


County council is set to discuss the request during Tuesday’s virtual work session, which follows a 6 p.m. voting session.


The first break, approved by council in January, was for a $500 million project on a nearby tract along Routes 309 and 924 in part of Hazle Township but mostly within Hazleton. This 400-acre site is badly scarred from past coal mining and two dumps.


Hazleton Creek Commerce Center Holdings LLC plans to build five warehousing and manufacturing structures totaling 5.5 million square feet at this site.


Idle for decades, the swath had been surface and deep mined and will require the company to complete state-mandated environmental reclamation work and capping of old landfills before construction can begin.


New structures will be added to the tax rolls after 10 years. Both this break and the new proposed one are under the blight-reduction Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program, which means taxes must be paid on the land portion throughout the decade.


Latest proposal

Bluecup’s project now before council would invest $120 million over five years to reclaim and prep a 360-acre site on both sides of Route 309 and construct three warehouses totaling a combined 4 million square feet.


The first 907,000-square-foot building in the area of the large culm bank would be finished in the third quarter next year, the company said in its council submission. On the opposite side of the highway, buildings measuring 1 million square feet and 2 million square feet would be completed in 2023 and 2024.


An estimated 7,500 full-time jobs would directly and indirectly be created, its proposal says.


The site is 1.9 miles from I-81 and 11 miles from I-80. Bluecup said large companies are currently collectively searching for 11 million square feet of space for new facilities along the I-78/I-81 corridor, with tax incentives playing a role in their decision.


In its current undeveloped and mine-scarred state, the site is assessed at $840,600, Bluecup said. It estimates the assessment will rise to $197.5 million ($39.5 million land, $158 million buildings) when the project is completed.


With the break, real estate taxes would be fully paid on the land and paid at 35% on the structures, it said.

Taxing bodies stand to gain significant revenue by authorizing the break because total annual real estate tax payments are projected to rise from a current $15,439 to $1.74 million while structure payments are at the reduced 35%, Bluecup said. After the break expires in a decade, total payments are estimated at $3.6 million.


To understand the revenue impact for each taxing body, here are three figures presented by Bluecup — the current tax payment, the estimated payment during the break and the amount to be paid after the break expires:


• County: $5,186/$585,000/$1.2 million

• Township: $630/$71,000/$148,000

• School district: $9,622/$1.1 million/$2.3 million


The Hazleton Area School Board approved the break in January, and Hazle Township officials are scheduled to vote on the matter Monday.


Culm bank

Over a decade ago, a resident who lives near the unsightly culm bank said the mound had been widening at the base over time as rocks tumbled down, making it creep closer to the highway.


Township Supervisor Chairman Jim Montone said Bluecup representatives informed him they examined the bank and found it is collapsing.


“Now it’s becoming a safety issue. One way or another, it will have to come down,” Montone said.


County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo still vividly recalls passing the culm bank when she was five and entering the Hazleton area for the first time because her parents decided to relocate from California.


“I said I wanted to go home,” recalled Crocamo, who is now 57.


Removing the bank and other blackened waste left from past mining will help change the area’s landscape, said Montone. Parts of the land Bluecup wants to develop are contaminated and would require remediation, he said.

The project also would control stormwater runoff and extend a water line to some adjacent residences.


Montone said he wants to learn more about the taxes that will be paid through the project before he votes on Monday night.


“I’d have to look at the numbers, but at this point there seems to be more pros than cons,” Montone said.

With an increase of development at the Humboldt Industrial Park, the township’s tax base is now $1.5 billion, surpassing the $1.4 billion tax base of Wilkes-Barre, the county seat.


A division of Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services also has a large project planned at another site off Route 309, he said.


“So much is coming to Hazle Township in the next decade,” Montone said.

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