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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.

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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

Rail never really in play to move freight in Lower Mac….

Why isn’t rail used more to transport freight form Lower Mac warehouses?

Excellent question. One I get frequently. Most recent by an old friend on facebook. I thought I’d post the answer here since it’s a pretty common (and good) question. Every rail car takes a half dozen or more tractor trailers off the road.

Rail transportation is safer, more efficient and better for the environment than trucks. Reality though is, trains were never in play to service warehouses in Lower Mac. To ever say they were was misleading.

Rail transportation is safer, more efficient and better for the environment than trucks. Reality though is, trains were never in play to service warehouses in Lower Mac. To ever say they were was misleading.

Why isn’t rail utilized more to transport freight in Lower Macungie? Afterall, this was one of the flawed reasons used by both the developer and then parroted by certain Commissioners in 2010 to justify the 700 acre negotiated rezoning from agriculture protection to largely industrial warehouses.

Here is the problem:

From the LVPC: (Lehigh Valley Planning Commission) – The freight and freight-related business growth in the region has been significantly e-commerce and quicker turn around type companies (Amazon, Trader Joe’s for example). Since customers buying products from these companies expect 2-day or less delivery or the business deals in highly perishable goods, the longer time transfer rail lines are not viable to these companies.”

 

Basically, certain types of freight have a high percentage likelihood of being transported by rail. Others don’t. So, had Lower Macungie been serious about inducing rail usage leaders in 2010 could have negotiated assurances into the rezoning agreement guaranteeing it.

Most who opposed the 2010 rezoning understood rail was unlikely and that using it as justification for the re-zoning was lip service. (This was mentioned many times in public comments by those opposed, unfortunately as most followed closely understood the decision was already made.) Bottom line is pressure for these warehouses locally was always e-commerce and other types that exclusively use tractor trailers.  So justification that properties had rail access made no sense and was in my opinion very much misleading.

To date there are ZERO rail sidings that will be built on “Jaindl” warehouses off Spring Creek Rd. In fact there isn’t a warehouse with current rail access in the entire township. There is one siding “ghosted” onto one new plan. But, there is a low likelihood it’s ever built. 

Lastly, and ironically a material distributed at a very high percentage by rail is quarry rip rap. So essentially, Commissioners in 2010 took a proposed use (a quarry) where a significant portion of the output (rocks and materials) would generate a high likelihood of rail usage and they negotiated a different land use with literally zero likelihood of using rail.

Yes, a quarry has a numbers of negatives obviously. But traffic standpoint only, Commissioners in 2010 actually negotiated a far more traffic intense outcome.

 

Avoid statistically inevitable outcomes…

We cannot ethically continue to design roads in a way we do not give pedestrians and drivers a fighting chance to avoid tragedies.

Current speed limits in many Lehigh Valley town centers simply do not give folks a fighting chance. That was the case was in Emmaus in May. The 11 year old who lost her life wasn’t the only victim. The elderly driver who has to live with this is also a victim. An investigation ruled correctly the driver was not at fault. The driver was obeying the posted speed limit.

Statistical reality caught up with us in the Borough that day. The same will happen in Macungie as it’s inevitable with the current design of Main St.

In Emmaus, the 11 year girl was an unforeseen variable. Problem is 11 year olds tend to do that. No matter how well raised. So do elderly, the disabled, pets, someone who leaves a restaurant and had a glass of wine with dinner. I can go on and on but you get the point.

By nature and by design town centers are full of unpredictable variables. (that comes with density) They are complex environments. It’s what makes them special places. Within them not everyone behaves in a predictable manner. This is a baseline. It is. You cannot change it. We have to accept it.

What can we change?

We can change the speed limit. We can change the road design to match the speed limit. The “inconvenience” factor relating drivers is negligible to non-existent.  Let’s quantify.

IF Chestnut St. was a straight shot with no stops, driveways, crosswalks etc. and considering the “business district” is 1 mile in length.

1 mile travel time: (roughly the length of Emmaus business district)
35 MPH – 1:45 seconds mile
25 MPH – 2:24 seconds to go 1 mile

Under the best (unlikely) scenario the difference is 39 seconds of travel time. Of course the route isn’t a straight shot. The road has traffic signals, crosswalks and driveways. Statistical reality is that your almost never going to have that “straight shot” through town. Therefore, accelerating to 35 mph for brief periods of time to get from one obstacle to the next won’t get you somewhere 39 seconds faster. Reality is  it’s just a few SECONDS quicker if anything at all. Not to mention the incredibly inefficient waste of gas/wear and tear on your automobile that comes with rapid accelerations/decelerations. And just the plain stupidity of accelerating from red light to the next.

On the flip slide there is an irrefutable and direct correlation between a 10 mph speed reduction and a reduction of both the frequency and severity of accidents. From 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES. (Triple A foundation for traffic studies) Full stop. Again, from 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES.
Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.06.59 AMGive everyone a fighting chance.
First, it’s my opinion you take the “convenience” of drivers where in measurable terms equals mere seconds of drive time completely out of the equation. It is an asinine argument. It’s also an inflated argument where perception isn’t reality. But let’s say it was. To think seconds of your time is worth putting yourself and everyone around you at higher risk is incredibly selfish and tragic.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Reducing the speed limit on Main St. Macungie (35 to 25) Chestnut street in Emmaus (35 to 25) and Hamilton Boulevard in Lower Macungie (from 40-45 to a consistent 35mph) needs to happen now. Followed by aggressive traffic calming strategies so the physical design matches the posted speeds.

I know for a fact Macungie Borough, Emmaus Borough and Lower Macungie Township have all requested over the years lower speed limits on Chestnut, Main St. and the Boulevard. The problem each time from what I understand is Penndot. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Penndots own smart transpiration guidebook outlines a 25 mph desired operating speed on a “Main Street“. In Lower Mac the catalyst for a request was actually Hamilton Crossings shopping center. Clearly,the developers understand slower speeds are good for business and the economy of the upstart Boulevard.

Common sense dictates lowering the speed limits. Standards reinforce it. Local municipalities who know the roads best have requested it. Residents have demanded it. So what is the issue here? When we set operating speed too high we have a statistical inevitable outcome of tragedy. 

What we know:

  • Slower speeds are safer for everyone
  • The loss of travel time is negligible to non-existent
  • Slower speeds in town centers actually ease congestion
  • Slower speed is better for downtown businesses

You can also sum up this entire argument here. ELIMINATE STROADS! As deadly as a STRAOD designed too fast through a Borough is, a STROAD designed with highway geometry seemingly for 55+ mph but posted artificially at 45mph or containing traffic signals is just as dangerous.

Very few roads should be posted between 35mph and 55mph. That is the tragedy zone. Design it as a road (get people from A-B) or make it a street (multi modal value capture) But please, STOP BUILDING STROADS.

STROADS: Dangerous Expensive Low return on investment

STROADS:
Dangerous
Expensive
Low return on investment

Top down regulations create ramps to nowhere.

In this article Charles Marohn outlines the problem with the otherwise well intentioned Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The requirements when regulated and applied in a clumsy top down fashion leave little wiggle room for smarter more cost effective approaches. This “orderly but dumb” approach often results in forcing ADA compliant facilities literally in the middle of nowhere but leaves downtowns, town centers and other multi modal corridors neglected.

A local example? Throwing money away on walking facilities on the Rt. 222 bypass. I am a big supporter of multi-modal streets and sidewalk facilities as a long term value play for communities. Problem is obviously, the bypass is a place no sane person whether disabled or otherwise would (or should) ever walk. It’s fundamentally designed as an un-safe place for pedestrians. And it should be as a road designed (albeit poorly) to get cars through an area from point A-B quickly and efficiently.

Rt. 222 Corridor – streets, stroads and roads.

But here we have the expensive pedestrian facilities to cross a 4-lane divided highway. The result of clumsy top down policy leaving no room for nuance or interpretation in line with local land use goals.

Sidewalks to nowhere on the bypass, a place no one should be walking.

Sidewalks to nowhere on the bypass, a place no one should be walking.

The problem:

“Like any top-down regulation, a lot of times [the ADA] gets boiled down to checklists and bureaucratic regulation,” Marohn told me. “There are a lot of times when MnDOT has standards about how a signal will go in. It will detail all the ADA elements, the lowered curb, the rumble strip, the different things for people with vision impairments. It’ll have all this stuff and they’ll go out and build it, but it’s out in the middle of a cornfield where there’s nobody walking anywhere.”

 

And the logical advice:

“While it’s easy to find places where ADA improvements seem silly, figuring out what to do about them can be difficult. One of Marohn’s key pieces of advice is that transportation engineers should spend more time listening to people with disabilities about what they want, and where they want it, instead of blindly following a top-down checklist. ”

 

25 years after the ADA, sidewalks still speak louder than words

First if ADA is going to mandate the curb cuts etc it should also require and make sure they go somewhere. And second roads need to be defined by contextual purpose. Let’s NOT put walking facilities on 4 lane divided highways. Let’s focus the money where we get the most bang for the buck. Where walkers are in danger today. Lastly, not building #dangerous by design roadways from the get-go is a much cheaper strategy then applying lipstick on a pig.

More information:

STRONGTOWNS: Chuck talks to Heidi Johnson-Wright, an ADA coordinator in Miami Dade County, about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Education. Comparing PA to other states.

I’m probably nuts for writing about education cause it’s a hyper-partisan mine-field littered with special interests and an ingrained “team mentality”. As a township commissioner I have no influence on these conversations. I have no team and I’m not interested in joining one. I just want to step outside the echo chambers for a minute.

But here goes nothing. I try hard to remain agnostic. Step away from the partisanship and just look at the big picture. To that end, you can somewhat do so since in our American education system we have 49 relatively independent systems to compare. I always go back to how are we doing vs. other states as a baseline. In the US we have 50 laboratories to study.

I also understand that the broke system we have today has in the past affected the township. This is because as we scramble to apply band-aids to a system overly reliant on local taxing bodies to sustain the unsustainable by chasing ratables we’ve made some awful land use decisions “for the school district”.  As I often say it’s a rob Peter to pay Paul mentality. Low value development gives the district a band-aid windfall but hurts the township financially long term. But that’s what we get when we are constantly playing catch up. You can’t even blame the district for what is a rational response to a broken system.

So how do we fix it? First some things I know based on comparing our system to other states: (determining baselines) Often we look at PA in a vacuum. To me that is an irrelevant exercise that only serves the status quo. To do so when we have the ability to benchmark against 49 other states makes no sense.

1. Pennsylvania is among the tops in total education spending. Meaning we have one of the most expensive systems in the nation. (29 Billion dollars)

Full stop.

Again, we have one of the most expensive systems in the nation. Pennsylvania today also has some of the highest paid teachers in the nation. Not saying good or bad. I’m just saying what is.

2. Pennsylvania has one of the highest per pupil spends. (Around 15k per child)

3. But, we have one of the worse ratios of local to state contributions. Less than 40% of our ed funds come from the state. Meaning the rest comes from local taxing bodies. This is a huge issue that band-aids will not fix.

4. We also have an incredibly inequitable system. With our current broken funding formula poorest districts are hurt the most.

5. Based on education efficiency ratings, Pennsylvania is middle of the pack. Efficiency ratings measure outcomes compared to dollars spent per pupil. In other words, we spend among the most as a state but with middling results.

Based on these five items what is clear to me is Pennsylvania does not have a revenue problem. Therefore the solution should not involve the nations highest net tax increase which is the Wolf proposal. That is a solution unrelated to a problem.

More and more revenue? A solution unrelated to the problem.

Gov. Wolfs proposal represents the highest net tax increase in the nation. More and more revenue? A solution unrelated to the problem.

Other things I know: While we do not have a revenue problem, we definitely have a funding equality problem. Both state to local ratio but also district to district. We might also have a “bang for our buck” problem meaning a correlation problem. Higher spending does not necessarily mean better outcomes. There are other states that spend far less money and have far better outcomes. The Wolf budget ignores the structural problems that lead to our overly expensive (based on efficiency) system and doubles down on revenue. More and more and more money always.

There are literally a half dozen priorities that are more important than revenue. Revenue relating to total spend is NOT the problem in Pennsylvania. But there are also items Democrats are demanding that I haven’t heard Republicans willing to address. Cyber Charter reform is one example. I support school choice, but on equal funding footing.

As I’ve said in other posts I dip my toes into this topic from a viewpoint that both parties seem to have masters they are unwilling to upset. That’s a political problem we have to overcome. As I’ve also said I would support a severance tax on extraction of a state natural resource in line with other states. (a resource that we have a PA constitutional obligation to protect) But, only if it directly relates to property tax reduction on a revenue neutral dollar to dollar basis. Meaning shifting burden away from homeowners. What we have on the table today in the Governors budget is very simply the nations most extreme tax grab with some extra smoke and mirrors shell game property tax reduction.

Bottom line is structural reform means changes to the system. Not band-aids, not stop gaps, not windfalls but fundamental changes. Looking at things that are broken and fixing them. They can be transformative but also can be subtle.

Let’s get out of the echo chamber and find the middle ground. SB1 is critical reform. In some circles it already represents a compromise bill. But we must start somewhere. And we have to do it now. No signature on that bill is a non-starter since it is the structural reform we need. If that means Republicans need to cave on severance tax, so long as it’s tied to REAL property tax reduction and not a revenue grab I think it’s a deal that needs to be made.

Resources:
Teacher Salaries by state
Quality rankings of education in 50 states
Public Education finances: US Census

Lehigh Valley Legislators talk budget

Collection of social media posts. Tried to get one from every west Valley official. If I missed anyone send me a link and I’ll include. Did this quick.

Everything is hyper political now of course.. but you can glean useful information from most of these. Posted video where available. (thanks to all local officials who actively maintain social media!)

I think the Republican proposal hits alot of the most critical points. But neither is perfect. Here is what I think is most important.

In no particular order..

Rep. Ryan Mackenzue. 134th (Includes Lower Macungie)

Senator Pat Browne – 16th District (includes Lower Macungie)
Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.42.05 PM

Rep. Justin Simmons floor comments. 131st

Rep. Michael Schlossberg. 132nd

Rep. Gary Day 187th

Sen. Bob Mensch
https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/wk1et90ulk

Rep. Peter Schweyer


Budget letter to elected officials

I’ve been trying to follow the budget process closely this year. It’s a bear of an issue and takes alot of time to process. Lots of moving parts and lots of hyper partisanship.

The budget is obviously very complicated. As much as time allowed over a busy week I came to the following conclusions and I wrote my elected officials accordingly. I think both proposals are flawed. But I do think the Republican proposal is a better starting point since it contains no tax increases or reshuffling of tax burdens. 

Dear Sir/Madame,

Neither the legislature or Governors proposed budgets do all the items below. Although one is closer than another both are flawed in some fashion. All of these items I believe (backed by polling) most Pennsylvanians agree on. Compromise is needed. Here are the key items I think are most important:

1. No tax increases. (including sales tax) Real Reduction of property tax burden – Not tax reshuffling gimmick resulting in increased burdens elsewhere.  I am open however to closing most sales tax loopholes.

 

2. Structural education reform is critical starting with pensions. Passing SB1 is essential.

 

3. More equitable funding formula. 
3a. Cyber Charter reform. I support school choice but with equitable funding.

 

4. Get PA out of the liquor business

 

5. Institute a Severance tax in line with other states and directly tied to property tax relief. Gas is a natural resource. It’s extraction should be taxed in line with other states. When it’s gone it’s gone. It’s a natural state commodity. Look at it that way.

 

Fundamentally, additional education funding not from more taxes but rather from structural reforms. This includes item 2 and 3 on this list but others as well.Again, neither budget does ALL these things. The final one should. Elected officials: Get it done.Ron Beitler

Mission creep in preservation efforts.

Over at ramblings Bernie is writing a series on issues that arise when otherwise well intentioned open space preservation programs experience mission creep. Good stuff. Brings up lots of very good points.

“Northampton County’s Open Space program is designed for farmland preservation, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. Like kissing babies, it’s politically popular. In many instances, it is also the right thing to do. But there have been questionable decisions like the preservation of cliff lands and swamps that could never be developed…”

There are many reasons to preserve open space. The one I focus on and that you would think all should agree on regardless of political persuasion is keeping taxes low. Want to keep taxes low? Preserve farmland.

When a local program strays from a focus on the preservation of developable properties – preferably actively farmed since it’s a form of industrial infrastructure – there is potential for mis-use of public funds. The number one criteria should be preservation of developable land where otherwise low value land uses like warehouses could be built. In other words land uses that do not provide a net financial gain for localities and generate very few jobs/acre and low revenue/acre vs. the new taxpayer funded long-term municipal liabilities created.

Preservation of natural resources is also a worthy goal. But I’m convinced the priority for local municipalities should be developable properties and farmland since you can justify use of tax dollars with lifecycle cost analysis of farmland vs. the alternative. There are other programs and ways to preserve the natural resources.

 

Assessments for calculating property taxes.

After a meeting where the township blindly took on another long term financial obligation to maintain a storm water basin with zero accounting of the real dollar costs…It’s clear the township needs to bring in a professional consultant who does lifecycle value per acre evaluation if we cannot do it consistently in house. We have to make officials responsible for choices they make by demonstrating clearly long term impact. My friend and former Commissioner Deana Zosky was the first and only person who talked about this kind of stuff in Lower Mac. Economic growth should build on a foundation of understanding the tax implications of differing choices. We do not have that foundation today and it was on full display last Thursday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 12.23.25 PM

As I write often here, we rarely don’t at all consider land uses in terms of the value/revenue vs. the financial liabilities the taxpayer assumes. The calculus often gets muddled since the school district would love for us to chase certain types of low value greenfield development since it’s “windfall” for them. To that end EPSD is about to sell a chunk of land for low value strip development off Lower Mac Rd. (in part we are to blame since our urban zone allows poor built form) End of the day though, can you blame the district? It’s a logical reaction to a broken system with systemic problems including but not limited to pensions, inconsistent state funding etc. Most of all however it’s the fact the municipality has to pay for municipal services. Not the district. These include roads, stormwater, public safety etc. The township takes on the obligation to provide all this. So with every low return greenfield development the district gets the unencumbered windfall but the township gets the long term financial liabilities. It very much is a rob Peter (township) to pay Paul (EPSD) scenario. Even bigger picture, the windfalls really amount to nothing more than band aids as long as we keep our heads buried in the sand and do not address underlying issues. (enter dog chasing tail visual) But back to topic. . .

Looking exclusively at municipal side. Municipal residential taxpayers are the ones who really get throttled in our system. It’s amplified when we do not account for lifecycle costs. The way we calculate assessed values is one more of many fundamental issues. Assessed value determines what your property tax burden is. In the system we have today there is a fundamental in-balance in terms of how much responsibility is shouldered vs. impacts created. 

Think about this for a second:

An average single family home in a subdivision in Lower Mac:
(used an average assessed house on wheatland dr. as example)
Square feet: 2,128
Assessment calculated at: $256,700
This means the homeowner pays about 120 dollars in assessed value per SF

Example of an existing warehouse in the township:
Square feet: 1,000,000
Assessment calculated at: $24,100,000
This equals 24 dollars in assessment per SF

So basically, a residential homeowner is paying 6X the tax liability per square ft vs. a warehouse. This is insane. A residential single family home maybe generates 4-6 car trips a day. Sits on maybe an acre of land. Compare to warehouses that generate massive public liabilities, create mind boggling amounts of traffic, huge amounts of storm water discharge, require super-sized – and massively expensive road improvements – and most disturbing each million plus warehouse churns up 60 acres of land. In Lower Mac’s case prime farmland. All while generating extremely low jobs and revenue per acre vs. other more community friendly neighborhood commercial uses.

The problem is an assessment calculation system that heavily weights market value as a determining factor. Market value has little to nothing to do with impact. Why should a homeowner be punished for adding a deck? Does that somehow increase the amount of traffic your home generates? The amount of stormwater? The kids you have in the district?

When you dig into this it’s maddening. It is a totally broken and backwards system where the highest liability land uses pay the least amount in taxes apples to apples in relation to the impacts they create. Road wear and tear. Stormwater run-off. Public responsibility to maintain infrastructure. Muni services. Again, this is top of mind since we just blindly took on a new storm water basin with ZERO information about long term costs. A stormwater basin that would have never existed in the first place had the township been able to maintain it’s growth boundaries of the 80’s. Now that we have it I’m interested in how we pay for it. That’s what this conversation is all about. What land uses shoulder the burden.

As I always ask: Whose subsidizing who?

It’s not just about fundamental in-balance. Again, in the current system if you take a dilapidated building and fix it up. Or start a business and consider converting to commercial. What happens? You get punished for it tax wise. But the greenfield developer who gobbles up huge amounts of land, requires new public infrastructure, creates very low jobs/acre and revenue/acre vs. other other massive liabilities. They get rewarded.

RELATED: Gaming the system makes it worse – Big Box stores ringing up property tax discounts.

There are very real underlying financial issues where the deck is stacked in favor of greenfield development and other stealth subsidies that drive sprawl. The way we calculate assessments is one aspect. We need to calculate assessment based on land + Impact. Not buildings or building improvements or building quality.

 

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 6/18

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations before issues are settled. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. This is one mechanism to avoid that. I hope people find it useful. 

Hearings:
Trexler Business Center
The issue is we have a grandfathered application under an old shopping center ordinance. Since the original application the plan has changed but the applicants argue not enough to require a new submittal under the current shopping center ordinance. (which is much better)

The second iteration of the sketch is improved from a traffic standpoint, but I worry that we have less leverage to improve the internal design of the overall plan under the old inferior ordinance.

The goal is to have all new shopping centers in the township at the same level of quality or preferably even better than Hamilton Crossings. The problem here and what we have to consider tonight is whether or not we are legally obligated to consider the plan under the old ordinance. And also if Mr. Jaindl is willing to commit to working together to improve the current plan. It’s my opinion there is alot of room for improvement.

Here is the sketch:

The question is whether this plan is fundamentally different from the original submission.

The question is whether this plan is fundamentally different from the original submission.

Here is an abridged list of items I’d like to see addressed summed up in 4 categories:

  • Improved context sensitivity with Hamilton Blvd as outlined in the corridor vision study.
  • Much improved pedestrian Interconnectivity with the project. Walkability is more than just the physical sidewalks.
  • Amenities package on the same level as Hamilton Crossings
  • Assurances that the traffic improvements will remain as in the sketch

 

Jaindl & Liberty Building Permits.
This one is a complicated one to sum up. I will try to do so succinctly. Basically the issue is as a requirement of the Spring Creek Properties settlement agreement all traffic improvements on Spring Creek Rd. are to be in place BEFORE certain permits that trigger additional traffic are issued. Originally Mr. Jaindl requested flexibility on that issue. Over the last couple days there has been a flurry of updated memo’s. I would have been hard pressed to support the original memo since it represented a fundamental departure from the original settlement agreement designed to protect the community by ensuring the roadways can handle traffic BEFORE development takes place. Staff also expressed serious reservations. Making sure improvements are built before truck traffic comes from warehouses is a lesson we learned the hard way over the last few years at Schoeneck & Rt. 100.

This will be an interesting discussion tonight. It boils down to if our professional staff – legal, planning and engineer are comfortable with the latest iteration of the proposal. The fundamental question being – Does this protect the township from unfinished improvements? They were not comfortable with the original proposal. It remains to be seen if staff is with the latest proposal. This issue has been fluid all week. As commissioners however our duty is crystal clear. That is to make sure the intent of the settlement agreement remains intact and rock solid. I will rely heavily on our internal legal, planning and engineering experts to make that determination.

Plan approval for Liberty at Millcreek.
This is approval for two very large warehouses off Millcreek Rd. on what is now Air Products property just off the bypass. Most of this project is un Upper Macungie and unfortunately (inexplicably..) they have this area zoned for Industrial. I’d have no problems with Industrial the same scope as Air Products but this isn’t the best location for a warehouse since our area is over-saturated.

Unfortunately, since this is largely in Upper Macungie it is out of our control. I am very nervous about these two warehouses but we are left with very little leverage. Fortunately, I do place a good amount of faith in Liberty properties. Though I disagree with the land use in this location, I am happy it is Liberty developing the property. They have been great to work with. It’s important they get this right as it will be an industrial warehouse in the middle of our boulevard.

Engineering
Schoeneck Rd. long term maintenance of stormwater controls.
To sum up we are being asked by a developer to take long term maintenance responsibility for stormwater controls. I have concerns with this as it represents a long term financial responsibility for taxpayers. This is a fundamental problem in the township. Over time we are accrusing more and more long term responsibilities to maintain systems that will increase in cost over time. We should be very careful taking on even more we don’t absolutely have to. 

Authorization to advertise 7871 Mtn Rd. in Agriculture security zone.
A step to preserving 50+ acres of farmland off mountain Rd! Purchase of these development rights will be done entirely with county money. Inclusion in the townships ASZ is a step in the process. This land will forever be permanently preserved. The first 50 acres of I hope a couple hundred over the next 10 years.

Brake retarder study on Rt. 100
This is a resident request that I support 100%. This is one of a number of items we have to get a handle on as truck traffic is going to essentially double in the township. The study will hopefully result in a prohibition of brake retarders on Rt. 100.

If your not familiar it is this sound: (:23 seconds) Jake brakes is using the engine to brake a truck. It’s a safety feature for stopping on long hills. It saves the mechanical brakes. Problem is sometimes truckers abuse them and utilize them on flat roads near residential communities.

Big Box becoming more of a terrible deal.

From the Institute for local self reliance: About ILSR
For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal.

#DoTheMath – Couple of takeaways from this:

1. We have a potential dark store issue in Lower Macungie. Since.

It’s an established part of the big-box retail model that the boxes themselves be custom-built, cheaply constructed, and disposable. If retailers decide that they need a bigger space, it’s cheaper for them to leave the old one behind and build a new one.

This is happening in Lower Mac right now with Weis. They are currently in the process of abandoning their current store to build a new one – across the street. This opens the possibility for Weis to argue the “dark store” method for calculating tax assessment.

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2. Even without assessment reductions box retail isn’t a fiscal winner for local communities. The reduction strategies happening in some states just make it worse.

When eight communities in central Ohio looked at the fiscal impacts of big-box retail, they found that the stores actually demanded more public services than they generated in revenue, and created a drain on municipal budgets to the tune of a net annual loss of $0.44 per square foot, or about $80,000 for a typical Walmart supercenter. 

Mark my words, our increasingly boxy/strippy Hamilton Corridor will be the driver for local police and a massive unavoidable tax increase: 

“Higher demand for police departments is one example. In Port Richey, Fla., nearly half of the town’s crime emanates from the area Walmart. “The taxes that come from Walmart are not even enough to cover two police officers’ salaries,” Police Chief Robert Lovering told Vice.”

It’s happening in Lower Mac today.

3. With Hamilton Crossings we are beginning from an even bigger hole. Throughout the HC discussion it was parroted that the windfall was worth the tax gimmick. The narrative was: “There is nothing now, when something is built we can tax it”. Problem is what we approved costs us much more then what’s there now – fallow open space. And the new tax revenue won’t cover the long term liabilities. Our problem is the fatally flawed short term way we look at municipal finances.

“Cities and towns continue to buy into myths sold to them by the mega-retailers themselves, that big-box stores spark economic development. In service of this myth, local and state governments across the country have granted at least $2.6 billion in subsidies to just six large retailers, including $160 million to Walmart and $138 million to Lowe’s, according toanother study from Good Jobs First.  That’s without factoring in the cost of services, which as Marquette, Mich., saw, can pile up”

We got to start thinking beyond the windfall and look at lifecycle sustainability. That is: Lifecycle costs (liabilities) vs. revenue (tax base). I am not arguing for a valuable corridor to be vacant. This isn’t about NIMBY. My argument is a financial one. We need to build better. Smarter. Patterns that create positive value. But since at least with Hamilton Crossings that ship has sailed….

4. Living in reality. What’s done is done.  Can’t change the fact 3 members of the current BOC opted to hand out a 20 year tax subsidy. So, moving forward our strategy has to focus on repair and triage. We accomplish that with balance. First by preserving farmland and open space concentrating on places where expensive infrastructure would have to be built and maintained by taxpayers to support greenfield growth.

Second, we encourage better/smarter growth in patterns that creates higher value in locations where infrastructure exists. We get there by fixing our terribly archaic and restrictive zoning code. By instituting aspects of a form based code we allow and even incentivize more “Main Street” oriented walkable neighborhood mixed use devleopment on Hamilton Boulevard.

The land development alternative – What does that mean? Lower Mac is working on a vision.  Here is an outline: Lower Mac’s Hamilton Corridor vision study. If we adopt and follow this plan we will induce more high value growth on Hamilton Boulevard. This is essential to balance the low value. More positive growth will help balance the net negative financial development.

“Locally owned retailers provide value to a community in many ways, but one of them is to the municipal accounting books. In a study that found that big-box retail generates a net deficit for taxpayers in a Massachusetts town, the researchers also discovered that specialty retail, like Main Street businesses, are the ones with a positive impact on public coffers, generating more revenue than they require to service.”

One thing to watch is avoiding falling into the pitfalls of “smart growth light” like we have in the past. #WordsHaveMeanings.

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The taxing alternative - Shift the burden off residents and onto warehouses and box stores.