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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.

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Vote to remove Quarry from Budget fails 3-2

Two Commissioners fail to stop 3.3 Million Dollar Quarry Plan

I am pleased that a motion was made last night to force an up/down vote on the line item. When you have an issue where there is a clear disconnect between the public, stakeholders and Commissioners it’s important residents know clearly where elected officials stand. The vote last night showed that.

In favor:
Brian Higgins
Ryan Conrad
Jim Lancsek

Concerned for numerous reasons: I list mine here and here
Myself
Doug Brown

With this clear information voters now can cast votes accordingly when they perform job reviews on the 5 seated Commissioners.

Couple other bottom lines for me:

First, the project isn’t supported by the most significant stakeholders including the Rec board or LMYA and synthetic fields aren’t a top priority in adopted Parks and Recreation comprehensive plan which lists dozens of other recommendations. Synthetic fields are merely mentioned but not identified as a top priority nor are they supported as a priority by any survey or poll. In spending this large amount of money I would look for a high level of consensus and grass roots support. Neither exists here. As a member of the public pointed out last night, this is not our money to spend based on our personal wants.

Next, the proposal and line item was inserted into the proposed budget literally out of nowhere. The whole process felt was rushed. Never in my life have I seen a local municipality decide to spend 3.3 million dollars (13% of the total budget) on one line item with so little public discussion and so few answers to the most basic questions.

Lastly, residents at the latest BOC Mtg. complained directly we weren’t answering simple questions. Unfortunately, in this case I agree with them. Personally I try to respond to every communication and question we get. The problem is I do not have answers. And apparently based on silence from 4 other commissioners when asked repeatedly the same basic questions about the project no one else does either.

We have not done nearly enough due diligence on this issue. This is fundamentally why I voted to remove the line item from the budget. Last night we needed to pump the brakes on this project but that effort failed 3-2.

Moving forward:
The budget process and Quarry’s inclusion in it simply earmarks money for the project for one years timeframe.  In the coming year there will definitely be much more consideration as planning for the project moves forward. Eventually there will be more votes to authorize the project construction.

The park will also certainly be an item voters consider in next May’s primaries when Commissioner Brown and Lancsek run for re-election. 

Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 11/20

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.

Hearings:
Plan approval for Eastern Industries:
This is a lot consolidation and minor subdivision plan. The property is located on Hamilton Boulevard and Schantz Rd. This parcel is zoned Commercial and it’s likely we will see a large shopping center land development proposal in the next 2 years. The subdivision and lot consolidation is the first step. 

Communication/Letters
The agenda has 9 letters concerning Quarry Park. All expressing opposition or concern for various reasons.

Appointments to Boards & Commissions
I will be motioning (as chair of public safety committee) to appoint Mark Spengler to a vacant position on the Public Safety Commission (PSC) and additionally to appoint Dr. Janine Mathesz as an Ad-hoc (non voting member)
Both these folks were the unanimous recommendations of the PSC.

The reason the PSC recommended an ad-hoc is that this cycle we had an exceptionally deep pool of qualified candidates. 9 applications to be exact. Any one of the people would have made excellent members. The decision was made that although we are limited in number of voting members we can appoint at this time we can appoint non-voting members. These people sit at the table and can offer feedback and participate in discussions.

The amount of well qualified residents we have who apply to volunteer positions is a credit to the township.

Dept. Matters

Planning
Planning Commission for Recommendation for action on Smart Growth plan. 

Below is the letter. I will write about my thoughts on this issue next week.photo (7)photo (9)

Manager
Presentation of 2015 Budget & Authorization to advertise ordinance.
Here is the process moving forward.

We completed 3 budget workshops where the budget was examined in terms of departments and grants. The 3rd workshop focused on Quarry Park. At that workshop “consensus” was reached to keep the line item in the budget. To translate consensus this means each commissioner had the opportunity to sum up there feelings on the subject. Commissioner Brown and myself expressed concerns. Lancsek, Conrad and Higgins are in favor.

Moving forward at tonight’s meeting the board will consider advertising the budget. The last step is formal consideration and adoption which occurs at the last meeting of year Dec. 18th. Both tonight and that final meeting present an opportunity for residents to weigh in.

Committees

The Budget & Finance committee will meet today at 6:15.
Approval of Budget transfer
Basically this resolution accounts for various revenues and expenditures from 2014 that either exceeded or fell below budgeted amounts. This resolution reconciles that.

This includes:
Additional 7,000 in revenue from the decision to keep the Kratzer Farm house and continue renting.
Additional 6,500 in electrical permits above forecasted amount.
42,500 in insurance reimbursements

On other end the director of finance has determined that the township will require an additional 9,408 to pay for Volunteer firefighters relief, 37,000 in workers compensation and 12,000 for health insurance.

Planning & Zoning

EAC recommendation for earmarking Jaindl real estate windfall for open space.

I cover this issue here. I 100% support this and outline reasoning here.

Gen Ad:

Review of LMYA land use agreement. I have reviewed the draft agreement but I am looking for some context tonight. The issue will be considered at the 6:15 general administration committee meeting.

Camp Olympic – A how to guide to developing a park.

I’ve been critical of the Quarry Park synthetic field proposal. More so than any one critique of the actual plan for me it’s more about how I think local gov’t should spend taxpayer money on park improvements. Although I have said that for me synthetic fields are very far down the list of my park priorities.

With the Quarry synthetic fields we have a proposal that materialized seemingly out of nowhere as a 3.3 million line item. As it stands now looks like this will be approved with Commissioners Lancsek, Conrad & Higgins supporting. Myself & Doug Brown have concerns.

As an alternative to that type of windfall reaction budgeting (in other words how quickly can we spend “found money”) is the way we purchased and incrementally developed the entire 120 acre Camp Olympic based on a master plan and funded through grants, public private partnerships, volunteers and incremental funding. Contrasting these two projects shows two very different philosophies of how you plan and fund major park improvements.

Camp Olympic:
Since purchase of the 120 acre park and subsequent adoption of a master plan over 4 years we’ve incrementally secured funding for improvements. Much of that in the form of grants. Each year one or more components were addressed. Over time some aspects of the plan were scrapped. Others added as we tweaked and adjusted based on feedback. Many improvements were considered and prioritized over time by our volunteer parks and recreation board.

First we upgraded the access driveway and bathrooms taking care of basic infrastructure needed to support more intense uses.

Next, we sold auxiliary buildings that didn’t fit into long term plans. Then through a private/public partnership via a generous donation from Bear Creek Mountain Resort we began designing a disc golf course. Construction will begin next year. Clearing of the course will be done by volunteers through the Lehigh Valley Disc Golf Club working with our public works dept.

Camp Olympic disc golf course is the result of a volunteer group spearheading the effort. Bear Creek Mountain Resort donated the baskets.

Camp Olympic disc golf course is the result of a volunteer group spearheading the effort. Bear Creek Mountain Resort donated the baskets.

Last 2 years our volunteer EAC has spearheaded tree plantings funded by grants reinforcing the parks overall theme as a conservation park. CO offers some of the best publicly accessible fishing spots in the township.

The park is now interconnected with adjacent homes through the volunteer efforts of an Eagle Scout who constructed a trail connection as an Eagle Scout project.

Over time we’ve secured grant monies for an eco park and BMX pump park. (Both coming next year!) We designated an area for community gardens. This past year rented 40 plots out to residents. Finishing the year we’ll use green futures funds to refurbish pavilions, the bridge and barn and access to the upper facility will be improved with a new loop road.

In the future as we continue to carry out the parks and rec comp plan the park may be a location for a potential dog park.

Additional adjacent land could be acquired in the future as well. This land is identified by the CO master plan and could be used as active parkland with the potential for Soccer or multi use fields with the added benefits of additional parking, another trailhead and access off of Lower Macungie Rd.

In every measurable way, Olympic has been a prime example of how you plan, develop and fund a 120 acre park. The multiple facets of the park serve many varied interests and are the results of many stakeholders working together for years. by incrementally executing the plan staff was able to identify varied sources of funding and support. 

What’s a PUMP PARK? Check this video out:

 

 

 

LC Republican leadership does not support Browne Censure

Politics PA yesterday reported that The Lehigh County Republican Committee (LCRC) is calling a meeting in order to vote on a censure action against both Senators Browne and Mensch. It’s important to clarify the LCRC leadership does not support this. The headline stating that the LCRC seeks to censure Browne was incorrect.

What actually happened was 5 committee folks forced a notification of a possible vote via petition utilizing a bylaw. They submitted it with the minimum 5 signatures. It’s yet to be seen if the LCRC as a whole supports this notion. Personally I don’t think they will. 

Quick thought:
I am glad the LCRC has functioning bylaws. Even though I completely disagree with the censure action. I don’t think it will pass and maybe not even get a quorum. That being said it’s nice that our county party is operating at a high level under Chairman Heydt. It has functioning bylaws, an effective chairperson, an energized Young Republican group, supports local candidates and in general functions much better than the county Democrats counterpart.

One of the reasons for the energy is the big tent mentality that Heydt brings. Pat Browne won 70% of the vote in some areas of Lower Mac because he is considered a moderate and has a long history of getting things happen. He’s one of the best legislators we have in Harrisburg and invaluable champion for the Lehigh Valley.

Heydt best choice for LCRC chair

Chairman Heydt wrote this comment: 

The Lehigh County Republican Committee is not calling the meeting to censure Senators Browne and Mensch. All that happened is a small group has asked for the meeting and only 5 are needed for that request to be made. There is no assurance there will be a meeting because until the night of the meeting there is no assurance of a quorum. Neither the party itself or the leadership has suggested a censure. We are supportive of the Senators overall and of their leadership bids as good for our region

Lehigh County Republican Party Chairmen William Heydt

Digging deeper into Lower Mac results.

Local results
Statewide Tom Wolf won handedly. This was expected. Here in Lower Macungie however, Tom Corbett squeezed out more votes with high turnout at all polls edging out Wolf 52%-48%. With just under 10,000 votes cast Corbett won 9 out of 10 voting precincts in Lower Mac. The only one edging out for Tom Wolf was LMT 6 representing areas south of Rt. 100 and including the Hills at Lockridge. The biggest win for Corbett was LMT 8.

 

In the other contested race in the township for State Senator across the 16th district Sen. Pat Browne won easily 62% to 38%. The 16th is very diverse including a large part of the City of Allentown, Upper Macungie, Lower Macungie, Macungie, Alburtis and up into rural areas of NW Lehigh. Here in Lower Mac the moderate Republican had one of his best showings winning with nearly 70% of the total vote. 

 

What’s the takeaway? Lower Macungie remains very Republican but tends to prefer moderates. The State Senate race demonstrated that township Democrat voters are willing to support a moderate Republican who is strong on education and growth. (I spent alot of my time talking to voters at LMT 1 about Browne’s NIZ) For example this is most clear in LMT 6 the only precinct Wolf (D) won but where Sen. Browne (R) still won with over 60% of the vote. In this precinct many who voted for Wolf split their ballot and also voted for Browne.

 

I think that this reflects voters in LMT by and large do not just pull levers based on party but rather look closely at candidates. That is a very good thing. We have in both parties sophisticated high information voters.

My thoughts working a poll:

I worked LMT 1 for Sen. Browne for about 8 hours one that went 70% in favor of him.
The weather was awesome so many people wanted to stop and chat. Not many wanted to talk about state issues. Most were well informed and asked questions about local. This is very nice to see.

 

One takeaway is people still want to talk about Hamilton Crossings. Opinions are wide ranging on the merits of the actual center. Many are excited for it while others are nervous about it specifically traffic issues. This makes sense since district 1 is closest to the center. Most are still confused why we authorized a TIF with an opinion that the center would have still come without it. I think this represents very high information voters who really took time to understand the issue.
No surprise also lots of questions about Quarry Park which has gotten some newspaper coverage. The comments largely mirrored those of the residents who made public comment at the last budget workshop. Most aren’t against spending money on parks but question the value of synthetic fields vs. other higher priorities. Fair questions.

 

Clearly, LMT residents are very plugged in to local issues. This is not the norm and a reflection on our informed and engaged residents.
Lastly, and as always HUGE thanks to poll workers! These volunteers are amazing and are a huge part of our democracy. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! 

Tuesday is Election Day

downloadBelow are some of my thoughts on local races including some links to resources. As always I encourage folks to do their own due diligence. I’m an active member of the local Republican party however I do not pull levers based on party alone and encourage others not to as well. This has gotten me in trouble in the past with former party leaders. I believe strongly in voting for the best candidate for the job. Most times for me that is a Republican but I have supported Democrats before who were better candidates.

Here is a run-down of local races of interest and my thoughts:

Governor of Pennsylvania I will be reluctantly voting for Tom Corbett on Tuesday. This is based on Corbett’s pattern of inaction on issues I care about. I would have seriously considered a moderate or Blue Dog Democrat. Tom Wolf is not that. Corbett has been an ineffective leader. This includes liquor store privatization and pension reform. These are issues where Corbett had the support of a Legislative majority and most Pennsylvanians but failed to get things done.

Inaction on other issues where Corbett has expressed support but again no action for include Rideshar – Uber/Lyft.

Lastly, Corbett has been completely against a severance tax while many other moderate Republicans have started to consider one. Personally, I support more revenue from drillers in line with other states but not as another band-aid in the same vein as gambling or other gimmicks to raise revenue as an alternative to fixing fundamental underlying problems.

Again, I am for more revenue on drillers in line with other states but that money should be returned to the communities impacted. Not thrown into the general fund. I’d also be ok with using the money to fund new infrastructure. This could set Pennsylvania up for the next great energy boom which should be an advanced clean green energy initiative. The money should be used for something forward thinking. Use our nat gas strength to further diversify our state economy as a green energy leader. Point is, let’s initiate a severance tax but use that money to make investments and help the communities impacted and advance PA’s economy not feed a pig funding a broken and unsustainable pension system. The pension issue has to be addressed for the fiscal health of the state. And we also owe it to teachers to make sure they are taken care of for the long run 10-20 years down the line. Wolf doesn’t even acknowledge the problem.

One last thing I’ll mention that I was very critical of was one aspect of Act 13 that would have allowed drillers to circumvent local zoning laws which was championed by Corbett. Thankfully this was overturned by the courts. My friend Scott covered this issue on his blog.

Bottom line for me is I am not excited about either candidate. However, as a centrist I see Wolf as being a little too far left for my comfort. It also boils down to pension reform. Wolf exhibits total ignorance of the problem and that frightens me. End of the day I have go with the ineffective leader who at least acknowledges the problem even though he hasn’t been a leader on the issue.

No confidence: Neither Wolf nor Corbett has earned our support

PA Senate
I am an enthusiastic supporter of Sen. Pat Browne who enjoys broad bi-partisan support and should win the race by a large margin esp in the suburbs. I expect him to get 60+% or more of the vote in Lower Macungie. 

As a smart growth advocate Senator Browne’s innovative and groundbreaking NIZ was the catalyst for revitalization in the city. Fundamentally it allowed Allentown to keep state money local to jump start re-development. (when to use ABC tax gimmicks the “but for” test) The NIZ is successful because it’s so much more than just the arena and that is the beauty and key of its current and future success.  Yes, the arena is the anchor but the success of the project is because it’s grounded in great land use planning and smart growth urbanism. It’s a true mixed use city core featuring a robust mix of office-space, commercial including retail, residential and entertainment.

Beyond the NIZ success the Senator has broad bi-partisan support in education which is a key issue for Pa voters including earning the endorsement of the education voters action fund.

I will mention I was very disappointed with Brownes vote on HB1565 which eliminated important protections for streams. I still support him. That’s the way it is with members of the State House or really any politician. They vote on 100′s of bills a year. No one is going to match up with your views 100% of the time. Be wary of people who tell you what you want to hear 100% of the time. We have to get over that mentality as a voting public. Though discouraged by that one vote I believe in looking at a legislators entire body of work. Over the years Senator Browne has been one of the best legislators in the state house. 

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GUEST BLOG – Why are people talking about walking when I just want to relax a little?

Walking:

It is about increasing our exercise level but walking is a lot more important to our lives than just exercise!

It is about getting to know more of our neighbors, making friends and feeling more connected to our neighborhoods.

It is about safer neighborhoods because people out walking know more of their neighbors and are outside in their neighborhood seeing more of what is going on. Vandals, thieves and robbers avoid places where people are outside possibly seeing and/or preventing their acts.

It about being known at a local café, deli (like Brookside deli centrally located to 1000′s of township residents!) or coffee shop because you get your coffee and newspaper or lunch and snacks there from time to time. 

It is about supporting local businesses so they will succeed, offer better services and attract other services we want in our community.

It is having some quiet time in our lives while walking to allow us to think a little.

It is about making walking more convenient to reduce a few car trips.

It is about making Lower Macungie a more attractive place to live which can improve property resale values!

And ultimately it is about each of us living a longer life retaining more capabilities as we age.  It is about avoiding diseases that come from sedentary lifestyles.

What is worse than living to an old age but in such poor health we cannot enjoy our later years on this earth? See this very interesting article “Top 10 health benefits of walking every day” from Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers with over 500,000 employees in 12 countries.

To get these benefits, Lower Macungie needs more walkways connecting us our residences to services we want and need.  Join this effort by signing up at our web site below and tell us what you think.

Jim Palmquist Volunteer Chairman
Lower Macungie Township Walkways
See our web site at https://sites.google.com/site/lmtwalkways/
jim.palmquist01@gmail.com

LMT Open Space Preservation Funding Proposal

At the end of last night’s budget workshop I outlined a proposal to bank all previously collected & future real estate transfer taxes  associated with the Jaindl Spring Creek Properties rezoning for preservation initiatives to offset the loss of protected open space. All together this would roughly generate 500,000 dollars.

The unfortunate rezoning of the “Jaindl property” resulted in the loss of 700 acres of previously protected farmland in the western portion of the township.

It makes sense to save one time money associated with the sales of subdivided lots within Jaindl Spring Creek properties to offset the loss of previously protected open space by permanently preserving other parcels elsewhere. Smart growth and preservation initiatives are supported by a majority of residents. This is based on elections, polling & surveys. It’s also reinforced by multiple adopted and pending comprehensive planning documents including smart growth and parks & recreation comp plan. Moving forward this is the best way to fund that initiative. The time to do it is now.

Banking this money moving forward gives us the flexibility to debate it’s precise application for a variety of types of open space projects including:

  • Farmland protection via easement
  • Acquisition for park expansion
  • Critical future greenway connections

My preference is easements on currently farmed properties with a focus on those with the highest residential development potential. This kind of preservation is the best way to keep taxes sustainably low over the long term by reducing the need for more services and infrastructure. It’s well documented that over the long run residential subdivisions do not generate enough revenue to mitigate new liabilities.That strategy is my preference but all these can be debated and considered over the next year. 

Today the township has an unfunded farmland preservation initiative. With the exception of Commissioner Lancsek who is openly opposed to preservation efforts, all Commissioners are on record stating preservation is an important goal. Each year that we do not actively pursue preservation we lose out on thousands of dollars of matching county funding which could go away at any point. The township has in the past been proactive. In 2007 supervisors unanimously passed an Act 4 ordinance allowing for the exemption of millage increases on preserved properties. This is a very powerful incentive that has been under promoted by the township since 2010.

Across the Valley communities are making preservation a priority but LMT lags severely behind. This despite our availability of parcels worth preserving and public support.

At the mtg last night Commissioner Brown supported the open space preservation “lock box” concept. This likely gives me a second to make a motion to formally propose the concept at the Nov. 6th BOC meeting. The initiative is also supported by the township EAC.

Jim Lancsek opposed. Commissioner Higgins and Conrad did not comment.  It’s time to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk with open space preservation.

 

EAC's 10/21 letter regarding open space preservation funding

EAC’s 10/21 letter regarding open space preservation funding

 

2014 Lehigh Valley Planning awards

Tonight had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Lehigh Valley Planning Awards. Thanks to William Ahlert/HDR Engineering for the table and the great company of some folks from RenewLV.

The inaugural award ceremony is an initiative of new(ish) LV Planning Commission Dir. Becky Bradley. The event was held at Lehigh’s Iacocca Hall high above Bethlehem and was packed with attendees able to take in one of the best views in the Valley.

The purpose was to celebrate projects, plans, policies and people who show exemplary scholarship, leadership and inspiration in planning and implementation. Recognizing exceptional initiatives is important. As we know the Valley continues to grow at a rapid pace. Because of this we have our share of mundane, cookie cutter and plain old bad projects resulting from a lack of vision. That is exactly why it’s important to celebrate those leaders, builders, architects and engineers who build and lay the groundwork for special projects and initiatives. There is great stuff happening in the LV and it needs to be celebrated. Doing so hopefully leads to emulation by other communities.

It’s a goal of mine that LMT’s East Texas Village Center Project will warrant consideration at the 2015 awards in the community ordinance category.

Some highlights: 25 honorees and winners in 9 different categories. The projects below are ones stuck out to me the most as being really great. Take a minute to check out the links to learn more about them.

Community plan category
Borough of Portland Comprehensive plan.

Open Space Project 
Nevin Park Revitalization, City of Easton
Lands at Kirkland open space preservation, Upper Mount Bethel
Prydun/Mickley Farm Acquisition, Whitehall Township

Revitalization Project
Iron Works Site Master Plan, Catasaqua

Transportation project
West End Allentown Streetscape

Multi-Municipal Cooperation
Slate Belt Regional Police Commission. Borough of Pen Argyl, Wind Gap and Plainfield township.

Land Development
PPL Center Allentown

Video-Tony Cimerol

#LVawards2014 #B!LV