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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. Brian Higgins and I 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)

By preserving open space via a well thought out smart growth plan we reduce costs for infrastructure and services, thereby 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

The street light fee.

Last night in the first budget presentation an elimination of the ornamental street light user fee was proposed in the managers cover letter. This was stylized as a “tax reduction.”

Problem is, here is how the street light program works today. Residents who want a street light have to get 70% of homeowners in their neighborhood to agree and sign a petition. If this happens the township ok’s the installation. These residents who want the ornamental lights then pay the fee. This covers the electric costs. Currently, residents who do not have streetlights pay nothing.

Questions:

  • This year electric for the street lights cost 250,000. This was 100% paid by the user fee. If we eliminate the user fee that means we need to make up that 250,000 in the general fund. Essentially, that means everyone including those who not have lights will now be paying for them. QUESTION: Is that a tax reduction? Or is it a gimmick…Link to information on current township street light program.
  • If this happens, do we have a plan to install streetlights in every single neighborhood without them that wants them?
Should everyone pay for streetlights or should users pay directly?

Should everyone pay for streetlights or should users pay directly?

Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 9/18/14

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. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at ronbeitler@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

Here is the Agenda with Detail

Hearings: Plan approval Trexlertown Shopping Center. This is a pad site that will be next to the Giant gas station. This is a project that was a part of initial concept but never built. The likely user will be the People First Credit Union which will move to this new facility that will include a drive through. The existing credit union will be an expanded state store. 

Announcements and presentations – QUARRY PARK PROPOSAL – This will be the big agenda item tonight. Please bear in mind this will be the first time I have seen this presentation and also the first time it’s presented in public. I have no opinion on this now other then I need more information.

First some background information. A few weeks ago we budgeted 3,000 to hire a consultant D’huy engineering to come up with a concept plan for quarry park centering around the installation of lights and turf fields.

Tonight’s presentation is that concept plan. (IT IS JUST A CONCEPT NOW) This was moved forward since these improvements were identified as part of the recently adopted parks and recreation comprehensive plan.

Here is an outline of what’s in the proposal:
QUARRY PARK ATHLETIC FIELDS 
PROPOSAL SUMMARY

  • Lower Macungie Township has hired D’Huy Engineering to develop a plan for Quarry that includes artificial turf and lighted fields. The cost was 3000.00. This was a recommendation of the adopted Parks & Recreation plan. (I supported creating the concept plan)
  • Lighted, turf fields are suggested in the Township’s recently completed Parks & Recreation Plan. The Board made the decision that Quarry was best location to explore these options. (I support this notion)
  • The proposed project scope includes:
    • (2) artificial turf fields for lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and football where the current flat fields are located- between baseball fields #1 and #2;
    • Lights;
    • Walking path around perimeter of fields and park;
    • Expanded parking;
    • Renovated comfort station/concession/storage building
  • A third field, including a combination multi-purpose field and a baseball field where Quarry #1 is located was proposed, but considered for a future phase due to cost.
  • The rough budget is $2.7 million:
    • $700,000 from the Hamilton Crossings development
    • $2 million from ??
  • Primary partner/users could be LMYA, but the Township would rent the fields as well, including to:
    • School District for after school use
    • Elite/select/tournament teams
    • Tournaments
  • Project could be part of a larger project involving purchase of the adjacent Muse Tract for development of a sports complex; (This is something I support as this would take developable property off the market while also compensating the landowner. This parcel is currently zoned Ag-Protected.)
  • Hoped for benefit from this development is to move some uses from smaller neighborhood parks to one regional park at Quarry.
At this point I have many questions. Again, remember this is a concept plan. How do we pay for this? What do residents think? What is LMYA’s position? What we know now is we have 700,000 of developer recreation fees. This money must be used for recreation. I think this is a good way to spend it. We have a robust youth sports program in LMYA. Survey after survey shows residents desire for park facilities. This being the case, there are long term cost and benefits of field turf & lights. Mainly, this revolves around being able to use the field after dark and also not having to rotate the fields. The concept plan is a good idea. BUT….The million dollar question of course is how do we pay for the rest of this?

The other big note for tonight is that Bruce Fosselman our township manager will present the first draft of the 2015 preliminary budget This is step one in a LONG budget process that will take us from now until the end of the year. Step one is presentation of the managers proposed budget. From now until the end the budget will be scrutinized at a series of budget workshops. . I will post the budget workshop dates ASAP.

Lower Macungie Trick or Treat 2014!!

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Remember, It’s a cold hard fact… On average, children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other day of the year. But it is COMPLETELY avoidable! -

Halloween Safety Tips from safekids.org Top Tips

  • When selecting a costume make sure it is the right size to prevent trips and falls.
  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors. Since masks can sometimes obstruct a child’s vision, try non-toxic face paint and makeup whenever possible.
  • Have kids use glow sticks or flashlights to help them see and be seen by drivers.
  • Children under the age of 12 should not be alone at night without adult supervision. If kids are mature enough to be out without supervision, they should stick to familiar areas that are well lit and trick-or-treat in groups.
  • Popular trick-or-treating hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. so be especially alert for kids during those hours.

Downtown on a night the arena is dark.

Naysayers: “The arena will only bring people downtown on game nights or when events are planned at the arena”

Pictured below is a random Wednesday. The arena was dark this night. This is the Hamilton Kitchen & Bar. There were 50 ppl dining al fresco on new outdoor patio. From the outside looking in it looked like most tables were full inside. Up and down the street around the arena people were everywhere. Downtown feels like a city again. People who haven’t spent much time there last 20 years are now doing so again. Will it last?

Yes, the city still has issues. But it’s tough to say this isn’t a step in the right direction. 

The NIZ will be successful because its MUCH MORE than just the arena. If it was just the arena, or an entertainment district or a convention center or any of the usual “magic bullets” it wouldn’t have worked.

The NIZ is mixed use, residential and commercial all integrated together in the time tested traditional urban form. That was always the key.

On a night the arena is dark, Hamilton Kitchen was packed.

On a night the arena is dark, Hamilton Kitchen was packed.

Arena thoughts on opening week.

10627196-largeRead about from afar about the opening of Allentown’s arena since I’m out of town. From what I can tell, the concerns about a traffic and parking apocalypse were much ado about nothing. I didn’t see first hand but will Tuesday at the Tom Petty concert. I’ll take pictures & blog.

Couple thoughts. NIZ, hypocrisy & Traffic.

Personally, I support rolling back most top down subsidies that skew local markets and leave communities strapped with long term liabilities. But in this case it’s pretty much the height of hypocrisy to complain about losing a tiny bit of EIT (which is earned in the city of Allentown) but on the other hand gleefully accept taxpayer money to induce a strip mall.  I can’t stand hypocrisy. This is the height of it.

I’d be interested to look at the other NIZ objectors and how much state money they have or are soon accepting to induce development projects. Hanover Township and the Fedex project I suspect would be pretty interesting.

Lower Macungie officials weigh in on NIZ.

  • Second, the parking and traffic apocalypse predicted by naysayers didn’t materialize. I think this is why. A city arena with an interconnected street system will always handle event traffic better then a single use suburban arena served by one entrance in and out. Think a system of valves. Yes, we saw a spike before and after the event. But that’s a symptom of success. In Allentown concert-goers have a dozen options to get in and out of town on an already existing grid network. There will be increased traffic on some main routes but a savvy driver can find alternate routes. In a suburban event center the norm is usually one supersized and super expensive road. One way in and one way out. No matter how many lanes we build, the induced traffic will fill the lanes leading to gridlock immediately before and after an event. What makes this worse are 6 lane mega access roads are typically used to capacity only a few days a year. The ROI is very low for these single purpose roads.

Blogging Strongtowns gathering day 2

Blogging Strongtowns Day 2.

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Just listened to the unveiling of the newest strongtowns traveling discussion. Chuck Marohn will begin to deliver it in towns across America over the next few months. The discussion is in the mold of the very successful curbside chats

Chuck delivered the presentation to a room full of dynamic people who will then critique. The purpose is for the group to “sharpen the steel” so to speak and improve the presentation. Fascinating to watch. This is truly less of a conference and more of a working gathering. This session was for me the highlight so far. Below are my thoughts, stream of consciousness style. (The critique aspect comes in the very entertaining parliamentary style!) I write this as I listen and participate in the discussion. Though I do much more listening vs. participating here. The parliamentary style is an energizing way to synthesize the thoughts of 30 ppl, but better suited to those who process things much more quickly then I do. Today I do more listening than talking.

Transportation in the next American city. Reactions how it relates to Lower Macungie and the problems we face.

Across the suburbs of the LV the math of dumb growth is wholly contingent on an availability of cheap open space and green-fields and the ability to expand outward onto them with subsidized infrastructure. This is accomplished via institutionalized top down systems. These systems and the money made available through them mainly relate to bran new single purpose infrastructure needed to support an outward pattern of growth. This is inherently artificial in that without the subsidies, the infrastructure would prove unaffordable and likely not be built since it is so expensive. Even when it’s not directly subsidized, it is indirectly subsidized since the cost to maintain these systems always exceeds the value they create. 

LMT’s unique situation is further compounded by the fact that currently we rely on state taxpayers to fund police protection. Someday we’ll have to fund that ourselves and someday (sooner rather then later) we will run out of open space. As it stands what we’ve built overtop of our former greenfields is woefully unproductive since we inherited the long term financial obligations to maintain. This low return on investment growth pattern was only made possible in the first place by artificial (meaning not financially sustainable over the long term) means. This is the math of dumb growth.

There is a life-cyle of sprawl. It’s a cycle that we’re (for now) locked into. For a decade we were on the height of that curve. Here, one time and temporary revenues associated with hyper growth led to a bloated rainy day fund. For a decade we lived on these funds and had no property tax. That was the height of the curve since money (one time) coming in exceeded liabilities. Only recently have we started the decline. This began a year ago with the first property tax in Lower Macungie in over 12 years.

The choice today is break the cycle, or continue pave over our last remaining open space. Doing this might delay the inevitable but eventually we’ll have to address issues related to long term financial health. Delaying further will only dig a deeper hole.

So how do we get away from the math of dumb growth and get back to a formula that allows us to maintain our existing system over the long term? This correlating to a sustainably low tax rate. How do we transition away from relying on mechanisms like one time monies, other people’s money (OP$) and surplus money and get back to financial productivity, sustainability and resilience?

Big part of the problem is that our top down system loses all sense of nuance at the local level. This isn’t because local leaders are incapable of making nuanced decisions. It’s because the top down heavily bureaucratic system doesn’t allow for it. It forces square pegs in round holes. The current system rewards dumb (or at least shortsighted) decisions with massive amounts of money. For example: Locally, millions of dollars of state grants were rewarded to induce development along the Rt. 222 “bypass”. A massive expenditure of money for a band-aid that we could have never afforded locally. (everything short of grade separation and getting rid of the signals on the bypass is a band aid) Problem is, this will lead us to spend more money down the line as it will compound underlying issues and delay the real end game. Do I even have to mention again the true insanity of believing we need to induce any kind of development in Lower Macungie township? Yet alone a strip mall. We remain one of the fastest growing townships in the state…

*Above I refer mostly the the millions of dollars of state grants (direct gov’t subsidies) rather then the TIF.. Eventhough I voted against TIF, I acknowledge the argument is more complicated. 

 In other words, how do we at minimum build a system that pays for itself and at best a system that creates value/wealth instead of eroding it? How do we flip the system on it’s head? How do we transition from top down to bottom up? Measure success on quantity instead of quality. What’s the metric for high quality of life, sustainability low taxes, good schools and affordable transportations?

First and foremost local leaders must lead they cannot be followers. Let local leaders make decisions based on local needs. Don’t accept one size fits all. Question assumptions and systems. Build what we can afford to maintain. Accept we can’t change this overnight, but we have to start somewhere to incrementally changing the underlying system. The current system at worse does not allow this. At best does not make it easy. 

Random thoughts and great one-liners

  • Our land use policies need to respond to congestion. We have to stop throwing money at the problem. (OP$)
  • Today we have socially engineered a society. We want to unplug this. Our engineers need to lead the charge. – Joe Minicozzi.
  • Police giving out giving tickets same spot every day, day in and day out. (“bypass”)That doesn’t mean you have a ppl breaking the law problem. It means we have a design problem. #dangerousbydesign
  • ROI over the long term… address diminishing returns. Create more systems that hold value. MATURE OUR RESPONSES! (stop throwing money at problems, esp OP$)
  • People are not obstacles in the clear zone and recovery area on a street designed to capture value (vs. a road) People are shoppers, neighbors and commuters.

  • The challenge was presented regarding state roads outside local control. This is a common excuse given in LMT. Enough. We have to stop accepting boilerplate designs on our state roads when they contradict local planning goals. We need to stop taking up front “free money” and build roads that will cost us more down the line. (the ponzi scheme). It’s ok to say. “You will not do this in our town”. In fact I would argue that is a local officials job. Penndot is slowly talking the talk, but in my observation less inclined to walk the walk. It takes a local muni defining and defending it’s local goals. In our top down system change is painfully slow.
  • Partisan politics is irrelevant to these issues. Period. The room I am in right now is filled with people from across the spectrum.

Lumber Street opening soon!

Lumber street will be opening any day now! Today, final touches were being completed in the form of line painting. Great work by Macungie Council getting this done and paid for. Clearly having one of the Boroughs main N-S connections on it’s local grid as a pot hole filled dirt road was a major problem.

I want to also give big compliments to the contractor JC & Son excavating. Having a property adjoining the road project I have to say they were nothing but great.  Yes, road construction is noisy. That’s a fact of life. The crew however was pleasant and helpful answering my many questions. And looks like they will complete the project on time. (early even?)

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17 Ft!! Travel lanes. . . This will most certainly lead to excessive speeds. In almost all cases wide roads are fast roads…

This brings me back to the one criticism I had and feel even more strongly about now that the road is finished. And again note, this isn’t a criticism of council or staff. I happen to think Macungie right now has very good proactive council. This is a criticism of a dated SALDO and the outdated thinking it reflects. SALDO is the set of standards that dictate how we build infrastructure. Oftentimes they are boilerplate standards with no regard for the context of a community.

The fact is (I’d be shocked if it wasn’t) we just built THE fastest road in the Borough. 17 ft travel lanes!!!!! is excessive to the extreme. Federal standards for local roads are 9-12. 17 is pretty much insane. Again, it’s probably the result of what was dictated by the Borough’s SALDO. 

This reflects the old bigger is better mentality. One that makes no sense most places but definitely not in a small Borough.

Bigger in terms of streets always means two things:

1. The roads design speed will be much faster than the posted speed
2. More expensive to build and maintain.  

This translates to two things. If this road is say 30% too large, it will cost 30% more to maintain long term. And second, when design speed is too fast, people will drive too fast. This is regardless of what the posted speed is.

How do we fix this? I feel strongly that on-street parking should be allowed on at least one side. This would narrow the road and get more value and ROI for taxpayers. It would also go a long way to fixing the Borough (perceived) parking issues. . .

:)

Macungie's parking problem?

Macungie’s parking problem?

Now of course I say that tongue in cheek as I honestly believe there is no parking problem in the Borough. Never was, and likely never will be. This is from the standpoint of both a current business owner and also former resident. But as it stands now the Borough now owns ALOT more blacktop. Shouldn’t we get our most bang for the buck out of our new ultra fast ultra big expensive road? (STROAD)

More gas tax thoughts

Up in the 40th Senatorial district (new seat) we have Democrat Mark Aurand facing Representative Mario Scavello (R). Scavello voted for the gas tax increase as a representative. This has led to the campaigns sparring over the issue and as BOH points out a Republican defending a tax increase and a Democrat attacking it.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

The issue however is more complex and in my opinion both gentleman are missing the mark. At least in terms of a long term solution.

As with most issues the transportation funding problem we face is not a revenue issue. It’s a reform issue. Like education, the solution isn’t raising more and more revenue. The end game is fixing a broke system. 

To accomplish this first we have to acknowledge the relationship between transportation funding issues and land use decisions. 

Most modeling exercises now take land uses decisions as an input and transportation “improvements” as output or a reaction. This is happening right now in LMT as we try to play a very expensive game of “catch up” resulting from decisions to let sprawling development get way ahead of our transportation infrastructure system. That system today is already failing to support it. This will get much worse in the next 10 years as we assume massive unfunded long term obligations and liabilities.

Today, we have localities making irrational land use decisions resulting in induced traffic. Next we have the bloated and super sized infrastructure. This of course will likely be paid for with “someone else’s money”. In addition to LMT also think Fedex and Rt. 22 widening. 

The whole system is so convoluted it’s really impossible to actually quantify real public costs when your constantly “playing the game from behind”. Pinpointing the actual long term costs of development projects is step 2. 

Back to funding, for now the best solution might be gas tax. At least that is a user fee. Since we have no idea the real big picture costs of infrastructure improvements I prefer those using the roads are the ones who pay for them. Use the roads more, pay more. Use them less pay less. But again, this is a bandaid.

In the end it’s not the long term answer. We have to reform a broke system or shortly after this tax increase we’ll need another. Just like school taxes the answer isn’t more revenue constantly. The solution is to stop what we’re doing that isn’t working. Evaluate. Reform.

So while I think both candidates are missing the mark in terms of addressing underlying problems right now the gas tax is paying the bills. Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow. Aurand, while attacking the gas tax proposes nothing in it’s place. . . As a campaign strategy this may work with low information voters but most will see right through it. 

Cell tower proposed on Kratzer Farm

I wanted to dig a little deeper into the Verizon cell phone tower proposal. For those who might not know the township has been approached to lease land on the Kratzer farm for a 120 ft cell phone tower which would enhance service for Verizon customers. There is a possibility that more carriers could also piggy back off the tower in the future as well. This would result in monthly payments to the township. We’ve been initially offered 1800/mo with  2.5% increases year on a 20 year term leases re-negotiated every 5 years. I am currently looking into the market rates for other poles on public property across the Valley. Very interested to see how this offer stacks up.

Nuts & bolts.

1. It’s actually not Verizon who we’re dealing with rather a third party leasing agent who negotiates on behalf of the carrier. These firms are typically paid in performance bonuses for bringing in leases at lower rates and favorable terms.

2. There is a definite service issue for Verizon customers in and around the East Texas area. This includes the neighborhoods around WLES and into Shepherd Hills. This pole will solve these issues for 1000′s of residents. The issue is both capacity and also bandwidth as more and more folks use “heavy data” with smart phones.

When we were approached, first at the planning and zoning committee level neither Commissioner Lancsek or I had a problem with kicking up the conversation to the full board level. (I also don’t believe issues should stall or be killed in committees at the local level)

While I have not made up my mind I am genuinely interested in learning more about the proposal and of course intrigued by the potential for a stable monthly income. As I stated last night, I would insist the money be earmarked for the park system since the location would be our largest passive park. I would likely take this a step further and insist that the money at first be earmarked for a Kratzer farm comprehensive planning effort.

I also stated last night my main concern is that the 120 ft pole doesn’t adversely affect the “skyline” of the park. Having done a little research today’s modern evergreen or elm “stealth” monopoles are much better than the ones of a few years ago which frankly looked silly.

Here are some pictures:

 

This represents a 2 branch per ft. pole with no “antenna socks”.  The difference between 2 and 3 is pretty clear. IMO this wouldn’t be acceptable.

Here is a "3 branch per ft. pole". Much better looking then the less dense pole.

Here is a “3 branch per ft. pole” with antenna socks.  Much better looking then the less dense pole. The added branch density makes for a more camouflaged pole.

 

 

 

winter

Here is a how a 120ft pole towers above a wooded lot in the winter. These trees are roughly 80 ft in height vs. the 120 ft. pole. This is close to what the pole would look like on the Kratzer farm until the tree grove matures fully. Some of the species in the woods will eventually reach about 100 ft.

So now curious. What do you think? I am especially interested in hearing from those who live near the proposed tower.