Luzerne County Council fills board seats

Luzerne County Council appointed three newcomers and reappointed attorney Catherine O’Donnell to the Board of Trustees that oversees the Luzerne County Community College.

The new members appointed Tuesday: Megan Kennedy, William Lewis and past county council member Robert Schnee.

Eight citizens had applied for the four vacant seats on the 15-member board.

The seats that expired the end of 2023 had been filled by Joseph Lettiere, James Dennis, Bernard Graham and O’Donnell, and Lettiere was the only member not seeking reappointment, according to the eligibility list. Joseph Cotter and Robert Linskey also completed public interviews to be on the eligibility list for appointment consideration.

Dennis was nominated Tuesday but did not secure majority support through the rounds of council voting. Councilman Harry Haas also attempted to nominate Cotter, Graham and Linskey, but no council colleagues seconded those motions.

In the final confirmation votes, Lewis was the only appointee to receive support from all 11 council members. Haas voted against O’Donnell and Schnee, and both Haas and Council Chairman John Lombardo voted against the appointment of Kennedy.

The following citizens were reappointed to boards: Flood Protection Authority, William Hardwick; Redevelopment Authority, Stephen Phillips; Transportation Authority, Joseph Padavan and John Young; Farmland Preservation Board, Nancy Snee; Zoning Hearing Board, William Harris; Area Agency on Aging Advisory Board, Phyllis Mundy, Henry Pennoni, William Runner and David Yonki; and Mental Health and Developmental Services Advisory Board, Linda Loop.

Council appointed Denise Acosta to the county Housing Authority and Jenny Centrella to the county Board of Tax Assessment Appeals.

Internally, council appointed three council members to serve on boards: Luzerne Conservation District, Gregory S. Wolovich Jr.; Mental Health and Developmental Services Advisory Board, Joanna Bryn Smith; and Greater Hazleton CAN DO Board of Directors, Jimmy Sabatino.


During a subsequent work session, developers of two planned hotel projects in downtown Wilkes-Barre presented requests for county funding — one at the former Hotel Sterling site on the corner of River and Market Streets and the other in the Luzerne Bank building and adjacent former First National Bank building on Public Square.

H&N Investment had requested $3 million toward a $37 million Gateway Hyatt Place Hotel and Conference Center at the former Sterling site, which has been discussed at several council meetings. A decision was deferred until the reorganized council was seated.

Developer representative Stephen Barrouk told council Tuesday H&N is now requesting $5 million in county funding, saying the increased allocation will strengthen the developer’s ability to close the remaining approximately $6 million gap through state funding.

The second request for $2 million is for Bloxton Investment Group’s 105-room “Tribute by Marriott brand” boutique hotel that includes a “high-end bar” and restaurant in the two Public Square properties.

Called “The Hotel on the Square” in the presentation paperwork, the project is estimated at $23.8 million. Specifically, the $2 million in county funds would be used to acquire the former First National Bank structure from the city for $450,000 and restore and renovate that building for dining.

Funding for the hotel project or projects would come from $6 million in community development funds that had been set aside in case the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, follows through with a $6 million penalty threatened a decade ago over a lack of development at the Sterling site.

With interest factored in, the county has $7.1 million in the bank, although it will be $6.675 million when the county executes a council-approved $425,000 loan to West Hazleton to complete a bridge project.

Some have argued the county should keep the $6 million intact unless HUD drops the threatened penalty, but the federal agency has not communicated any willingness to do so to date, officials have said.

Others have said using the set-aside funds on a project at the Sterling site would be the best way to clear up the disagreement with HUD because that project would address HUD’s original complaint that no development has occurred there.

Because the work session was limited to discussion, council would have to vote at a future meeting if a majority wants to proceed with earmarks.

Read more about the hotel presentations in Thursday’s edition.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.


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