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Dear Neighbor,

This is my blog for news and information on my hometown Lower Macungie Township! In January 2014 I was sworn in for a 4 year term as township Commissioner. I am humbled and grateful for the support of Lower Macungie Residents. We prevailed in the 2013 election running a grassroots campaign that focused on quality of life and fiscal sustainability through smart growth. The election was another referendum on the unpopular development decisions and “dumb growth” policies of 2009-2013.

As a lifelong resident of Lower Macungie and a local business owner I am proud to serve as Lower Macungie Township Commissioner. This is my blog. It serves as a record of 2 years of advocating for A Better Way to Grow. Here you can find information on local concerns, letters and op-eds I’ve written outlining my thoughts on various issues that affect our community.

Please browse the site. Use the search bar to find my thoughts on the issues facing Lower Macungie and the surrounding community. I welcome questions and comments always. Dialogue is so important and what I hope to bring to the table as a Commissioner.

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

Featured

Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

(Submitted as LTE to LMT Patch and an abbreviated version to EPP)

Preserving open space with a smart growth plan reduces costs for infrastructure and services, therefore over the long term reducing the need for tax increases. Farmland and open space generate no traffic, create no crime, needs little fire protection and places no new students into our school system.

Continue reading

Farmland preservation through TDR

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a voluntary, incentive based program enabled by the MPC that allows landowners to sell development rights from their land to a developer or other interested party who then can use these rights to increase the density at another more appropriate location.

Lower Mac is working through creation of a TDR program as a mechanism for preservation coupled with smarter growth. In our case we are dealing with one owner of two tracts. This strategy makes sense for number of reasons. First some background. In 2012 a prior board created a new zoning ordinance introducing residential uses into commercial zones. This mixing of uses could be considered smart growth. However, in my opinion the ordinance was weak in that regard. The zoning change also granted additional density for nothing. The decision increased the net density of the township. In contrast, with a TDR like the one proposed today we can accomplish desired mixed use development (of a higher quality) but without increasing the net density of the township and also preserving farmland at the same time.

To put it another way, under a zoning code a community has a net maximum amount of units that can built out. In 2012 the BOC at the time made a decision to increase that number. A poor decision in my opinion.

With the proposed TDR we have on the table today, while there would be increased density at one location as part of the TDR, (a location identified as more appropriate based on comprehensive planning) overall we will decrease the townships net density. In fact, our goal is to reduce significantly the total number of residential units that could otherwise be built over two tracts. Therefore, reducing the net density of the township. We are trying to erase more residential density in one location than we are replacing in another. The balance could be made up with farmland easements or neighborhood commercial uses that do not generate or drive traffic.

Goals are simple: Reduce the overall net density of the township through land preservation. Guide walkable mixed use growth to more appropriate locations closer to existing infrastructure. 

Coverage: Lower Macungie pursues farmland preservation, mixed-use village.

Comparison of local tax rates

What are municipal taxes like in Lower Mac compared to other areas?

With the recently enacted homestead reduction residential properties assessed under 150,000 in Lower Mac have the lowest municipal property tax bills out of all East Penn communities + Upper Mac. Residents with homes assessed at 111,300 or less are the only remaining homeowners in the entire county who have a local property tax bill of ZERO. (about 1000 households)

Across the board, Lower Mac is tied for the 5th lowest municipal millage rate in all of Lehigh County out of 25 municipalities. Lower Mac’s millage is 50% lower than average for all townships.  FYI neighboring Macungie Borough has the lowest municipal taxes out of not just the East Penn Boroughs but all 8 Lehigh County Boroughs.

The chart below shows municipal millage rates and the tax bills in dollars for various assessments in East Penn municipalities:

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To compare what you pay in municipal taxes vs. what you pay in school property taxes see chart below. 

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For a home appraised at around 220,000 your Lower Macungie bill represents about 1% of your total property taxes. (See what that looks like below) With the homestead reduction over the last two years 50% of homeowners got a tax break 2 years in a row. 90% got a tax break in at least 1 of the last 2 years.

In Lower Mac we are continuing to fulfill our goal of 1st class services, facilities, parks, amenities and a very aggressive farmland and open space preservation program while keeping municipal taxes very low. Our low millage rate is unparalleled for a township our size with the amount of services and facilities we provide and public works we maintain.

 

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Lower Mac taxes visually. The green slice (if you can find it) is your Lower Mac tax bill. Yellow is Lehigh County. Red is school district.

Approaching 10 year anniversary of 1st class township

Last week we celebrated Arbor day with the planting of a tree at a high visibility location on the municipal campus. In addition to the Arbor day tree we also planted a very nice Tri-Color Beech that was generously donated by Citizens for Change. Recently the group made the decision to disband after having been dormant for several years.

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Citizens for Change (CFC) is best known for a successful campaign to change the classification and operation of the twp. from 2nd class to the more appropriate 1st class designation. The right move for a very large and (still) rapidly growing suburban community. With ten years hindsight it’s even more clear. I was honored to help commemorate the group who spearheaded this effort.

CFC began the effort in 2007 with the daunting task of gathering the required number of signatures (10% of registered voters) to place the question on the ballot. They had to do this since Supervisors at the time were resistant to a change. After having succeeded with the petition they then went on to launch a successful campaign resulting in 61% (4,487) voting in favor of conversion in the November 6, 2007 election. A huge victory. This was the first conversion in 40 years in Pennsylvania.

The biggest difference with first class designation is the introduction of more checks and balances on township finances. Structurally, the biggest problem with the second class arrangement is that supervisors also can work as township employees. The 2nd class form of government was designed for relatively small and often rural townships with minimal resources. The lack of oversight, checks and balances and inherent conflicts of interest almost certainly played a role in the embezzlements that took place between 1999 and 2006. A supervisor who was also employed by the township was charged but passed away before prosecution. The time was right for the residents to hit the “reset button”.

In contrast larger, first-class townships elect five commissioners for four-year terms, and they are prohibited from taking paid employee positions. 4 year terms as opposed to 6 increases accountability to residents. In the 1st class arrangement Commissioners develop policies, set direction and conduct oversight while a professional staff undertakes the day-to-day operations under the direction of our township manager.

This was a big step forward. A clean sweep after a major scandal. Next year, an appropriate commemorative plaque will be placed in the future at the tree location to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the township’s conversion to first class and CFC’s role. This was an important moment in township history. Even though CFC is now disbanding they played a big role in creating the culture of resident oversight that exists today.

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Following in the footsteps of Lower Mac, last year Pocono Township made the conversion to 1st class.

Delegate letter in support of Gov. Kasich

Efforts to persuade delegates should be done in public and consist of information. Nothing else. Arguments made should also be made to the general public. To that end, here is a letter I sent to uncommitted delegate candidates in the 15th.

I believe a strong case can be made for my candidate based on #factsnotattacks. Once you get past rhetoric, negativity, pavlovian talking points and sloganizing of primary season and begin to dig down, one Republican candidate stands out leaps and bounds as the adult in the room. That’s Gov. Kasich.

I’ll also say I appreciate delegate candidates like Robert Smith and Dean Browning who maintain open dialogue on social media. I’ve seen a number of candidates go the extra mile across the state. Much appreciated. Also thanks to fellow Kasich supporter Melissa Anderson for working together with me on this letter. Responses to this letter influence who I support tomorrow. Being a part of a democracy means doing homework. This was my homework.

______________________________________________________

April 24, 2016

(Delegate candidate):

Congratulations on your selection to appear on the 2016 Republican Primary Ballot for the 15th Congressional District.  As a registered Republican voter in this district, I write to inquire about your candidate affiliation for the 2016 Republican Convention. 

Who do you intend to support on the first ballot of the Convention? As a voter I am okay with a pledge to support whoever wins the district during the first round of voting. After that however, I am also ok with delegates voting their conscience. 

My question is this: If you can not vote for that candidate, if that candidate becomes invalid or unrealistic in subsequent rounds of voting – who then would be your second and third choices?

How would you rank Gov. Kasich, Donald Trump and Sen. Cruz? Are there any of the three you would not vote for. Who is your personal preference?

I support Gov. John Kasich to be our nominee for 2016 and have included some material for you to review.  I support Gov. Kasich because:

  • Gov. Kasich has the experience to lead America and govern as President on Day 1
    • Served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, including 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee and as House Budget Chairman
    • Elected twice as the Governor of Ohio
    • Served 4 years in the Ohio with a 60%+ approval rating.
  • He has a successful track record solving the issues confronting Americans today
    • Balanced Federal Budget
    • Cut taxes by $5,000,000,000 in Ohio
    • Eliminated $8,000,000,000 budget shortfall and created $2,000,000,000 surplus in Ohio
    • Created over 400,000 jobs in Ohio
    • Spearheaded a program in OH giving small business owners a 75% reduction in earned income taxes. This deduction is the centerpiece of a major tax reform package initiated by Ohio Governor John Kasich. *As a small business owner myself this is a very important measurable result to see. 
    • Supports and protects those most vulnerable in society including the unborn, the mentally ill, and addicted
    • Committed to ensuring our children grow up in an environment of optimism and opportunity
  • He can win in a general election against Sen. Clinton.  He can deliver a Republican win in Ohio.
    • Won Ohio Primary.  Reelected as governor there in 2014 winning 86/88 voting districts.
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There are many false rumors, outright lies and misconceptions circulated by others regarding John Kasich. I would like to correct those:

“Gov. Kasich accepted money from George Soros.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich has never accepted money from George Soros.
This outright lie which has been spread by competing campaigns has been debunked and disproven over many outlets time and time again.

“Gov. Kasich supports Obamacare/ACA.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich does not support Obamacare/ACAHe opposes it.  In fact, he sued the federal government to block it, rejected a state exchange, rejected a federal takeover of Ohio’s insurance regulations, and rejected a federal takeover of Ohio’s Medicaid eligibility process.  He only accepted certain federal funds under Obamacare to ensure coverage for 600,000 Ohio residents under the program.  That decision was a financial one to save Ohio money by ensuring that those uninsured could received the health and medical care they need.

“Gov. Kasich supports Common Core.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich supports returning federal education programs to the statesHe also supports vouchers and charter schools.  At his core and most relevant to the common core issue, Gov. Kasich is a staunch supporter of the 10th amendment. In fact at the core of his entire platform is returning power to the states. “If I were president, I’d take 104 federal programs, bundle them into four buckets, and send them back to the states, because fixing schools rests at the state and the local level, and particularly at the school board

“Gov. Kasich caused the 2008 financial crash as an employee of Lehman Bros.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich did not work on Wall Street.  He was an employee in a two person Lehman satellite office in Ohio, and he credits this experience with helping him to understand business and how it operates:  “I learned how entrepreneurs worked; I learned how boards of directors think.”

“Gov. Kasich won’t appoint conservative judges.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich is the only candidate with experience appointing conservative judges.  As a governor, he has extensive experience with judicial appointments at all levels of the judiciary in Ohio, including appointing Judith French to the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2012.  His judicial appointment philosophy is reflected in his appointment of now Justice Judith L. French, who stated that the Ohio Supreme Court is the “backstop” to enacted Republican policies and emphasized the importance of Republican conservative appointees.

   

“Gov. Kasich isn’t really a conservative.”  FALSE.

Gov. Kasich, unlike other candidates, is a lifelong Republican and has a proven track record of implementing conservative ideals successfully.  He cut taxes, increased jobs through the free market, cut bureaucratic red tape, balanced the federal budget, brought jobs back from overseas, returned educational control to the state and local levels and enabled parent choice with vouchers and charter schools, respects the sanctity of life, supports our veterans, and protects the Second Amendment. Gov. Kasich has been endorsed by the NRA with an “A” rating.

I look forward to learning more about your positions on the candidates for presidential nominee.  For ease of reply, please feel free to email me with your response.  Please also feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more about why I support Gov. Kasich.  Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,
Ron W. Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd.
Macungie, PA 18062
ronbeitler@gmail.com
(610) 762 2684

SOURCES:

1 See http://www.politifact.com/ohio/statements/2016/apr/04/trusted-leadership-pac/no-george-soros-not-bankrolling-john-kasichs-campa/

2 See https://www.johnkasich.com/healthcare/ (“Obamacare is the Wrong Diagnosis and Must Be Repealed and Replaced” (emphasis in original)).

3 See https://www.johnkasich.com/education/ (“Education is Local; No Federal Learning Standards” (emphasis in original)). 

4 See http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-07-22/john-kasich-says-his-time-at-lehman-brothers-helped-him-understand-how-business-works

5 See http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/10/27/justice-french-defends-comments.html

BOC Agenda Preview 4/7

HERE IS A LINK TO THE AGENDA WITH DETAIL
FYI: All township BOC meetings are available on video online the next day at www.lowermac.com
You can also always watch them live on Channel 66 on RCN cable.

There will be an executive session prior to the mtg tonight to talk about litigation and real estate. I will provide an update on the real estate issue after tonight’s meeting. As much information as I can give I want to do so.

Announcements & Presentations:
The developers of Hamilton Crossings will be present tonight to provide an update on the major development project.

Last year I voted against the corporate welfare public funding of the project, but generally supported the land development. Although, I believe we could have required more stringent design guidelines. The TIF funding passed despite my objections 3-2. Even without the TIF developers rec’d 10 million dollars in state grants. Only $6.6 million of the total capital cost of $139 million is the subject of the TIF debate. About 5% of the total. This project would almost certainly still have proceeded without the township giveaway.

We will also get an update from the library board. This is regularly scheduled.

COMMUNICATION:
We have a letter from Upper Milford Twp. inviting us to a joint meeting of the UM supervisors and open space committee. Both as a Twp. Commissioner and a member of the Lehigh County Farmland Preservation board, I plan on attending this and thank UM for the invitation. The preservation of open space is a regional concern.

We have two letters from residents urging us to continue to preserve and protect open space. Although multiple elections have given us clear mandates and direction it’s nice to hear we are on the right track.

We have a letter from resident and chair of the walkways subcommittee to recall a number of walkway deferrals in multiple locations throughout the township. What this means is that either during a land development, or a subdivision a requirement to complete a sidewalk was deferred. This is not a waiver. A deferral means the twp. can call in the waiver at an appropriate time. It’s an obligation that could have been required immediately but was postponed by the township. Mr. Palmquist believes that time is now. I tend to agree. This will be an interesting conversation. Our policy is to no longer give deferrals in most cases.

We have a letter from a developer of a proposed shopping center on the Eastern Industries site. This would be the 3rd major shopping center of the past few years. The center can be built by right but has some serious access constraints. The developer is requesting the township endorse an application to study the problem with PennDot. At yesterdays Planning and Zoning Committee I expressed a number of concerns.

We have recommendations to appoint 3 residents to various boards and commissions. I want to thank these 3 volunteers. Interested in serving? Fill out the volunteer application form!

Engineering
We are continuing to restrict dangerous truck turning movements on Schoeneck, Quarry and Creamery.
Unfortunately, the process takes a frustratingly long time because we have to work through PennDOT. Tonight we will advertise Rt. 100 and Schoeneck restrictions. I continue to be disappointed by how this is taking.

Rt. 100 corridor study. See my thoughts here. This is a warning not a roadmap.

Authorization to draft and advertise official map. This was a goal of mine. We are one step closer. More information here.

Award of proposal for Act. 209 study. This is the process to update the townships traffic impact fee plan. I’m going to try to write a post about this in the coming days.

 

 

Stop crowing about warehouse projects

Read today another real estate group and other economic development professionals crowing about another warehouse project along I78. They talk glowingly about the “hundreds of jobs” the project is forecasted to bring. (these forecasts usually end up being low, do not break down full time vs. part time and sometimes are inflated with temporary construction jobs.)

That being said giving the promoters of the project the benefit of the doubt and assuming this project will create 600 full time permanent jobs. . .  Let’s #Dothemath and stop looking at job counts alone in a vacuum.  We also must account for revenues, expenses, assets (land) and long term taxpayer liabilities. To do this we look at community return on investment. 

Returns on investments – New Hamburg Commerce Park
Acres of land consumed: 200 acres mostly lost farmland.
Total Jobs: 600
Jobs/acre of land lost: 3 jobs per acre
Municipal revenue per acre: Unknown but based on Lower Mac comps very low.
Municipal liabilities per acre: High impact.

Warehouses generate very low jobs and revenue per acre. What a community does get... freight traffic which is a very expensive public liability.

Warehouses generate very low jobs and revenue per acre. What a community does get… freight traffic which is a very expensive public liability.

To compare let’s take a Lower Macungie manufacturing facility. I usually use Mack Trucks to demonstrate but this time let’s use our newest facility Smooth-on.

Returns on investments – Smooth On 
Acres of land: 12 acres. A reuse of an unused existing facility in a mixed use walkable neighborhood. This transition required no new infrastructure and no municipal taxpayer dollars. (I excluded the parking lot which is a separate parcel and will be redeveloped into employee housing reducing employee trips to and from the facility as an added bonus)
Total Jobs: 150
Jobs/Acre of land: 12 jobs per acre of land (all excellent paying jobs)
Municipal revenue per acre: $242/acre. In Lower Mac this is 2x the ROI of a warehouse.
Municipal liabilities per acre: Low impact.

Smooth on employs 150 people at excellent wages. Large majority full tim positions. Photo from the Morning Call

Smooth on employs 150 people at excellent wages at it’s East Texas facility. Large majority full time positions. Many employees choose to live within walking distance of the facility. Many more will in the future as the company re-develops a vacant parking lot with employee housing. This facility provides fantastic return on investment for Lower Macungie Twp. 
Photo from the Morning Call

Another warehouse project. Another terrible low return and high impact project. *Missing information here is what taxpayer subsidies are being utilized on the Hamberg project. It’s likely there is some kind of assistance. Usually a RCAP grant or something similar. This is almost always the case. If so this makes the equation even more lopsided. I’ll dig a little deeper..

This particular project is outside the Lehigh Valley but it’s the same story. Moving forward our economic development and planning forces (local and regional) must start considering land as the increasingly finite resource it is. That means demanding higher return on investments. Especially when a commodity lost in the exchange is farmland, which is in itself a form of irreplaceable industrial infrastructure. The manufacturing facility example above generates 4-5x the return on investment in even the most conservative ballpark estimate. We’ve got to seek higher value development.

*Disclaimer – As always, logistics operations were always in the cards for our region. This is because of geography and highway access. My problem is I worry we have already lost balance and will go far beyond a certain critical mass our infrastructure can reasonably support. It boils down to a financial and impact equation. Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long term prosperity. We have not been and still are not doing the math. If we don’t expect to repeat this 20 years from now

Rt. 100 corridor study is warning, not a roadmap.

Earlier this year at the request of the Board the township engineer prepared a report evaluating anticipated traffic impacts and associated liabilities resulting from three potential development scenarios of Rt. 100. They range from least to most intense.

To summarize:
Under the current scenario because of decisions made by the prior board including two ill advised rezoning decisions, both in conflict with comprehensive plans, corridor congestion will increase. Including an exponential freight volume increase.

However, the worst case scenario can still be avoided. That is, if the township stops rezoning land for more development and stays on track with land preservation and smart growth goals. We’re making progress. Most recently we put in motion plans to preserve 66 acres of farmland off Rt. 100. If this property is preserved we will take 75 homes and 100,000 SF of commercial off the table. By preserving today, we avoid traffic liabilities tomorrow. The way I see it, this corridor study is not a roadmap, but rather a warning. If we go off the rails again, we certainly end up with Rt. 100 the same as Fogelsville. What happens will be determined over the next 6 years.

Rt. 100 is going to get more traffic. But we can still avoid this.

Rt. 100 is going to get more traffic. But we can still avoid this.

Below are two engineering representations of additional capacity improvements needed under our current situation and under the worst case scenario. 

Current Scenario:
Improvements slated to be built:
Rt. 100 and Weilers
-Left turn lane off Weilers Rd and Rt. 100 and a right turn lane off Rt. 100 onto Weilers Rd.  Both associated with Jaindl Spring Creek Warehouses.

Rt. 100 and Spring Creek Rd.
– Additional eastbound and southbound turn lanes, additional northbound through lanes and additional westbound shadow lanes. All associated with Jaindl Spring Creek Warehouses.

Sauerkraut Ln. Extension. (connect Sauerkraut all the way “through” to Spring Creek Rd. Associated with Jaindl Spring Creek properties warehouses to give tractor trailers another way “out” to Rt. 100.

Schoeneck Rd. and Rt. 100 re-alignment. (New Traffic signal) – To address existing safety concerns related to freight traffic.

New signalization of Gehman and Rt. 100. New signalization and turn lanes on Rt. 100 and Willow. Associated with “Grandview” crossings. (Allen Organ supermarket and apartments)

FullSizeRender (27)

Current situation – Includes these approved but not yet online land developments: -Jaindl Spring Creek Properties 4,785,000 SF of high cube warehousing. (result of 2010 rezoning) -Allen Organ supermarket and apartments – Grocery Store, fueling station and 200+ apartments. Rezoning approved by prior board. – Stonehill Meadows – 109 single family homes. Major upgrades will have to be made, but the roadway still avoids the character of Rt. 100 through Upper Macungie. 

The worst case scenario – Traffic Armageddon. 
Additional green, blue and white improvements outlined below are associated with the worst case scenario. This represents a roadway similar in character to Rt. 100 through Fogelsville. Along with it would come a major decline in quality of life and massive public liabilities that will fall on the backs of township taxpayers. This will happen unless the township remains serious about preservation. It totally depends on leadership maintaining it’s backbone.

This represents the worse case scenario. A sequence of 9 traffic signals. 4 lanes. Highway geometry. This represents full development of nearly entire corridor. Millions of dollars of needed capital improvements. All of which will have to be permanently maintained by Lower Macungie Twp. The look and feel of Rt. 100 in this scenario would be much like that in Upper Macungie.

 

I’m a John Kasich supporter. But will be an anti Trump voter.

I am a John Kasich supporter but I will be an anti Trump voter. I support Kasich for a number of reasons. But this post isn’t necessarily about that. Two points below demonstrate where my head is at. 

First, Donald Trump is truly running an absolutely deplorable, despicable and vile campaign. Today he posted this juvenile twitter attack on Ted Cruz’s…. wife. On the left is Trump’s tweet. On the right Cruz’s response. I am not in love with Ted Cruz but I will certainly vote for him in the Republican primary if it means stopping Trump. This is truly becoming embarrassing with the Donald. Each day it’s new lows. His conduct is insulting to the office he seeks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 2.20.21 PMNext, we have this excerpt from the now released Washington Post transcript of their recent interview with Donald Trump. Trump in his own words explains to you what China is doing in the S. China Sea. What follows is a collection of incoherent gibberish. This man is totally and completely unqualified for the position he seeks. He has no idea what he is doing and that is very dangerous. Both in pure qualifications but also personality and temperament the man is not qualified for the Presidency.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 2.22.15 PMIn some ways I get the frustration. Even the anger. I really do. And Trump has masterfully cashed in on it. I do believe his campaign has raised important issues to the forefront. I honestly do. Fundamental problem remains that he just doesn’t temperament, personality or requisite experience to be our commander in Chief. These two most recent items amplify that fact. Bottom line is I don’t like, respect or most important trust this man. So for me it’s #NeverTrump. No way. No scenario. I can never vote against my conscience. 

Agenda Preview 3/17/16

Happy St. Patricks Day!

HERE IS A LINK TO THE AGENDA WITH DETAIL
All township BOC meetings are available on video online the next day at www.lowermac.com
You can also always watch them live on Channel 66 on RCN cable.

Announcements & Presentations:
We originally had two presentations scheduled for tonight however the Hamilton Crossings update has been pushed back to the 4/7/16 meeting.

The other presentation on the agenda is the LVPC update on the Southwest Lehigh Comprehensive Plan Update.  If you cannot make it tonight for the update, we have all sorts of information here on the Plan Southwest Lehigh County Website!

Mark down these future dates to get engaged! So far over 1000 regional residents have either participated via survey or in person. We’ve had excellent public participation and feedback.

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Under communication from the community a couple items of note:

First a thank you to Representative Ryan Mackenzie:

From the letter below: “I previously spoke with Commissioner Beitler about this issue. After our conversation, I reviewed HB 1683 and became a co-sponsor. I believe this bill will aid local governing bodies in recruiting and retaining volunteer first responders” – Ryan Mackenzie

This bill (HB1683) would allow us to give property tax credits to first responders including our volunteer fireman. I thank Ryan for his co-sponsorship. I’ll follow this and other similar bills closely and continue to be an advocate. Looking forward to working with Senator Pat Browne also on this issue.

Recruitment and retention of volunteer fire fighters is vital. Although we are in good shape today according to a recent fire study more incentives for recruitment and retention will ensure we remain in a good position. We depend on hard working and dedicated first responders on a daily basis to protect residents and properties.

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Next a note a thoughtful letter from resident Julie McDonnel on the issue of whether or not to hire an in-house township engineer. This has been an ongoing conversation. To be honest, I’m still undecided on this issue. There are alot of pro’s and con’s. Julie outlines alot of items to be considered.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 4.59.32 PMLast letter of note is from the LMT Library director. Kathee Rhode. The library is considering becoming a distribution point for a local CSA. I think this is an interesting idea worth considering. What’s a CSA? Learn here. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal produce directly from a farmer in their community.

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Departmental and committee reports
We have 4 ordinances for consideration tonight. 3 deal with freight traffic:
1. Restricting Trucks on Creamery Rd. – You may have seen a guide rail was recently taken out by a truck attempting to turn on Creamery. No excuse for an 18 wheeler to be on this road. This ordinance is a no brainer. As we have to live with unfortunate decisions to increase warehousing made by prior boards we’ll have to continue working towards ensuring freight stays on appropriate routes.

2. Adding no parking zones on Industrial way. This is a safety and site distance issue that was brought up by the business owners along the roadway.

3. No parking on Gehman Rd. This was coming regardless as part of the Allen Organ development but was expedited at the request of PennDOT.

The last ordinance deals with tweaking and amending a couple SALDO standards. First, we are reducing the front yard setbacks in our commercial zone. This allows for better smart growth design allowing for friendlier neighborhood commercial design. This allows parking to be located to the side and rear of buildings. Visually that means…

THIS:

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OR THIS

Eliminating arbitrary regulations like excessive setbacks + working with developers on design standards means higher quality development.

Eliminating arbitrary regulations like excessive setbacks + working with developers on design standards means higher quality development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSTEAD OF THIS….

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A strip mall is categorized by large expanses of parking lot. Reduces setbacks gives developers the option to build more attractive neighborhood commercial designs.

 

Lower Mac’s all of the above Farmland Preservation strategy

I ran for Twp. Commissioner very clearly on a platform focused on farmland and open space preservation. In addition to protecting an irreplaceable natural resource I also believe preservation is linked to the health of our schools, keeping taxes low, protecting property values and our quality of life.  Want to keep taxes low? Preserve open space. With about half my term over I wanted to write a post highlighting what we’ve accomplished.

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Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to be a panelist at Renew LV’s #saveitorpave it luncheon. I was very proud to be invited to overview the townships efforts. Here is what I shared with a room of about 75 local leaders and advocates. In the last two years Lower Mac has gone from throwing in the towel to having what I believe is one of the most aggressive and comprehensive preservation strategies in the Valley. 

Lower Mac’s 6 pronged strategy. Using all the tools in the toolbox.

#1 The township is about to adopt an official map.
This was a goal outlined in my campaign. An official map is a combined map & ordinance designed to implement the goals and community vision set forth in adopted comprehensive plans. Basically if a preservation priority is on a municipal official map, once a developer notifies the municipality of their intention to subdivide, the municipality has up to a year to confirm its acquisition interest and negotiate to acquire the land. This will be the townships first line of defense. It makes sure the township has a fighting chance to preserve a property while respecting private property rights.

Learn more here – What is an official map.

#2 Zoning
We learned the hard way that zoning alone is not enough to protect our community. For over two decades the township relied primarily on agricultural protection zoning to preserve large swaths of prime farmland.

We all now know that an unfortunate number of circumstances combined in 2010 with a very pro developer Board of Commissioners and resulted in the loss of 700 acres of farmland that was for over two decades zoned protected. Zoning is one tool to keep in the toolbox, but zoning alone cannot be relied on to permanently protect farmland. It is not permanent and it is political. The wrong board can overturn protection zoning.

To this end the township planning commission has been instructed to work on a new conservation by design ordinance. Locations where growth is inevitable; smarter growth is the goal. Conservation by Design provides the opportunity for adding land to a community-wide network of open space. It manages growth while protecting natural and cultural resources for little or no public cost. It differs from traditional cluster developments in that it establishes higher standards for both the quantity and quality of open space.

Sprawl zoning on the left eats up all the open space. Conservation zoning on the right preserves and protects open space and natural features.

Sprawl zoning on the left eats up all the open space. Conservation zoning on the right preserves and protects open space and natural features.

#3 The County Farmland Preservation Program. Lower Macungie now has 4 more properties with active applications in the county farmland preservation program! The county program purchases developments. When this happens enrolled properties are permanently protected farms. If all the farms with active applications are selected and preserved we could have nearly 300 more acres of protected farmland in Lower Macungie Twp by 2017. An important part of this strategy is identifying potential tracts and making sure owners are informed about preservation opportunities and benefits.

A 5th farm property went through the final step to preservation earlier this year. We now have an additional 55 acres of new preserved farmland off of Mountain Rd.

Lower Macungie commits funds to preserve 55-acre Heim farm

#4 Funding
I believe in market preservation. This means compensating landowners for their development rights or outright acquisition. To do this we need to fund programs. In the 2016 budget the township did this with a 500,000 line item and an additional 150,000 we can leverage with the county municipal match program. Muni match is a pilot program championed by County Commissioner Percy Dougherty and modeled after the very successful Northampton County program of the same type.

Turning 200,000 to 800,000 for farmland preservation. 

#5 Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a market-based program that allows landowners to sell or transfer development rights from one property to a developer or landowner of another property who can use those rights to increase density of development.

In the case below we have a 200 acre agriculture property on our draft official map designated for preservation. Since the same landowner owns a 16 acre property that’s in an area designated for some targeted mixed use or village center density we can take advantage a TDR to transfer density to a more appropriate location. The result is promoting both the townships smart growth and preservation goals at the same time.

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Family and township pursue transfer of development rights to protect 200 acre farm

6. Act 4 reauthorization
Farmers and farmland generate a surplus of .75 cents on every dollar of taxes collected. This means farms pull their weight. And act 4 let’s us give them a break on tax increases.

Years ago Act 4 amended Pennsylvania’s Open Space Lands Act to allow counties, school districts and municipalities to reward landowners who have chosen to permanently preserve their land with conservation easements by freezing their property tax millage rates.

Lower Macungie, East Penn School District and Lehigh County all have Act 4 tax freezes instituted. End of last year we sent a letter to the Lehigh County Admin and Commissioners encouraging them to re-authorize Act 4. This means as an incentive to preserve, once a farm is in permanent protection landowners get a permanent tax freeze. This also helps farmers remain viable from a business perspective by shielding them from school property tax increases. This is a fair trade since in most cases by not developing their land they are helping to avoid over crowded schools.