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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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Words still have meanings

I posted the first “words have meanings” last August. Check out the original post here. It was a longer post with lots of pictures and examples. This is a followup. Still an issue so I’ll keep re-posting. Developers continue to mis-label development projects to curry favor with local government officials who don’t know any better. Making matters worse journalists still happily regurgitate the developers narratives. This is unfair to the public who genuinely desire smart growth development.

“Main St.”, “Mixed Use”, “Village Center”, “Walkable” ect. are terms that have meanings.

Developers and their marketing teams use of these buzzwords proves that people want these communities. Problem is when we allow developers to mis-use the terms we let down the people we represent who expect certain end products.

Just because a project smushes together single use buildings on a sea of parking lot doesn’t make it mixed use. Walking from your car to a single use building does not make a project “walkable”. To qualify for these labels projects need measurable qualifiers like street wall continuity, density, street grid, mixed use buildings, meaningful sidewalks, diversity of architecture, complete streets, positive ROI cash flow over multiple lifecycles ect.

Here is what spurred this post today:
‘Main street’ concept takes shape at Sterling Ridge

Mixed use "Main St." Village center?

Mixed use “Main St.” Village center? Really?

Not a mixed use. This is a low density auto-centric strip development with (maybe?) some bells and whistles. This isn’t necessarily a terrible project for what it is. But we must label it correctly. 

What’s really sad is this is actually better then some of the projects that have been mis-labeled here in Lower Macungie from 2009-2013. (Hamilton Crossings, Allen Organ Development and most absurdly and blatantly incorrect the Jaindl warehouse development)

Time to weigh in on Hamilton Crossings is now.

When I ran for office a promise I made was that I would do everything I could to let residents know important decisions were being made before they were made.

There is no doubt Hamilton Crossings is a huge issue. The township is being asked to defer 50% of future revenue over a 20 year period. The developer is seeking this money to pay back bonds needed to build the property.

On March 29th I outlined my thoughts as they stood on the issue. Here is a link to the op-ed. This was an effort by me to ensure residents were aware that no decision was made. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve gotten dozens of emails and phone calls. It’s my hope in the next week and a half we get many more.

Now is the time to weigh in. Whether you are for or against the project. for or against the TIF financing, for or against creation of the TIF district let us know!

How to voice your opinion?

  1. Write a letter to the LMT Board of Commissioners. This is the easiest way is through the township website contact form: www.lowermac.com NOTE: letters must be rec’d by Monday the 28th at noon to be printed on the formal township agenda. 
  1. The second option is to attend the May 1st hearing which will start at 7pm. (The Hamilton Crossings portion of the meeting will begin at 8pm)

My suggestion is to write and letter and also if possible attend the meeting. This way you will hear the discussion and be able to listen to your elected officials debate the issue. I hope to hear from more of you over the next week and a half.

Live blog: LV Business Matters – Fedex vs. NIMBY syndrome – what wins?

This is a “live blog” of sorts meaning that I re-watched the 3/30 taping of Business Matters and I sort of stream of consciousness blogged as I did so writing whatever came up.

Watch the show here: Business Matters – FedEx Jobs vs. NIMBY Syndrome – What wins?

Don Cunningham LVEDC – 2:30 minute mark – NIMBY. “A project is going to happen there”. I’ll throw Cunningham a bone here since I’m mostly critical of the narratives he utilizes. Made this point in a post couple weeks ago. Using the NIMBY term here has some merit. Why? Because the land has been zoned a certain way consistent with regional planning for years. It’s adjacent to an airport and close to the spine infrastructure. Very different from the LMT Jaindl issue where we had a rezoning fight. For 23 in LMT an area was zoned agriculture protected in accordance with regional plans representing smart growth boundaries laid out in the 80′s. People bought homes assuming it would remain agriculture. Also the LMT warehouses are significantly further from the infrastructure spine. Quarry threat plus local officials rolling over were the reasons zoning changed. In our case, arguments weren’t NIMBY but rather about the rights of a community to protect itself.

8:30 minute mark – Here Cunningham refers to a community needing to adjust infrastructure. He refers to Bethlehem Steel infrastructure on former Moravian farmland. Unfair comparison. Warehouses are different then a mega manufacturing hub located in a growing city core. When Bethlehem Steel was built new infrastructure served the city not just a single project. It was inevitable that Bethlehem would expand. New infrastructure serviced entire neighborhoods surrounding the plant. It was efficient use of community resources. Excellent ROI. The locations where warehouses are often built is often the very definition of sprawl. They are frequently directly (or indirectly) subsidized by taxpayers at a premium since the infrastructure serves only one purpose. I get where Cunningham was trying to go here. But using Bethlehem Steel was a major stretch. The political economy of sprawl.

Bethlehem Steel at its height employed over 31,000 people. It maximized the city’s infrastructure investment in a way we just don’t often see today. Allentown’s city center project would be today’s example of this kind of transformative project. The comparison of Bethlehem Steel to warehouses is totally ridiculous. 

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Mcall point counterpoint – Should Gov’t collect union dues?

“Pennsylvania lawmakers (HB 1507 – introduced by Bryan Cutler) are considering “paycheck protection” legislation to prohibit government agencies from collecting dues on behalf of unions. Supporters say taxpayer resources shouldn’t be used to help unions fund political activity; opponents say it’s meant to weaken unions.”Here is link to the Morning Call point counterpoint

I want to talk about this a little more. Here are thoughts on the topic: First why do public unions so fiercely protect this practice? The obvious question is that this indicates a fear that without automatic deductions by the gov’t body then public union members may not voluntarily continue to pay dues? If the benefits were so clear then paycheck deduction shouldn’t be an issue right? Am I missing something here?

Another argument I’ve heard is that the cost to local bodies is very low and therefore inconsequential. Ok, so if that’s the case then why is it a big deal to ask the unions to take over the cost of collecting dues? Aren’t we then eliminating any question of conflicts?

I will say the one argument I’ve heard that makes sense in favor of status quo is the fact that automatic deduction isn’t required by law but rather bargained for during negotiations. So a local gov’t can simply bargain it out if they feel strongly. But on the other hand to negotiate something away a local gov’t would have to give something up. Should it be a chip?

I have always looked at private unions (where the market is a check a balance) differently then public sector unions.  In the private sector unions compensate for potential uneven bargaining power between owners and workers. Public unions don’t work that way. They aren’t bargaining against owners for a fair cut of jointly produced profits they had a part in creating. Public unions are bargaining against everyone who pays taxes. In the private sector I think workers have the right to organize. The public sector I am wary. They are two different animals. In the private sector if the consumer is unhappy with the costs passed on because of union labor then they can choose not to buy that product. In the public sector of course the taxpayer has no way to opt out.

This has always been the fundamental way I look at this issue. What if anything am I missing here? Either on this specific issue or my general thoughts on private vs. public unions.

FYI In Lower Macungie per collective bargaining agreements, both the Clerical and Public Works Dept use the payroll deduction for union dues. – FYI

Traffic impact fee suddenly does not apply to Hamilton Crossings.

This is extremely disappointing. First, here is an article the Morning Call posted tonight. And here is the WFMZ article which delves just a little deeper. We have two issues:

1. The fact that this just came out now. These fees have been discussed as part of the township narrative regarding Hamilton Crossings for almost 3 years. How on earth can we just be discovering now that the fees don’t apply? I am having trouble wrapping my head around that.

Was all the talk about waiving the fees purely theater by the former BOC? Was this always just a bullet point to try to convince County Commissioners LMT had ‘skin in the game’? Was this always just posturing by township officials on behalf of the developer?

2. The ramifications of the township traffic impact fee ordinance. (TIFO)  The 2009 TIFO was enacted by the first appointed BOC so that the township could address traffic issues associated with hyper growth on a global scale. The alternative is to piece-meal improvements together one development at a time. Credit should be given to Commissioner Doug Brown who was one of the drivers of the impact fee.

Traffic Impact Fees: Here is a great 101

What the impact fee theoretically should have allowed us to do was collect a dedicated fee that could be used in various township wide (the study breaks the township into two zones) to address big picture traffic problems on a township wide scale. The problem is the 2010 board never seemed to have buy-in. It should never have been waived for the Jaindl rezoning and the Hamilton Crossings deal should never have been struck without accounting for it’s collection.

As an example to how the fee works. Hamilton Crossings has to (no matter what) mitigate the traffic caused by the center to get certain required PENNDOT approvals. This is the baseline for any project. It has to happen. But these improvements rarely address the regional issues or the cumulative impacts of multiple projects.

If we would collect the full 2.7 million dollar fee from Hamilton Crossings we could use that money to address the half dozen or so “pinch points” identified in the 2009 impact study. This allows us to address not only the problems directly adjacent to the center but problems that are a result of hyper growth in general. This money could be used right away or banked for 10 years or until the study is updated. (an update which is sorely needed since we’ve grown faster then the plan predicted)

So now that apparently the impact fee is all the sudden moot, I believe this is more reason that the township should not participate in the TIF and lose 50% of the new revenue over the next 20 years. This is most certainly money we will regret giving up 10 years from now when the township is reeling from congestion issues.

UPDATE: Paraphrased from a conversation with a member of the 2008 Traffic impact fee committee.

The seeds of the issue were planted in early 2008 when the court-appointed commissioners, following the recommendation of Commissioner Doug Brown, started the process to generate a transportation impact fee. I think that the intent to establish the fee may have been advertised, but a resolution creating the Transportation Impact Fee  Advisory Committee (TIFAC) was never presented or passed. The responsibility for this major error was never assigned to the Commissioners, nor to the then solicitor, (Blake Marles) Interim township manager or the paid TIFAC consultants.  After the advertisement of the ordinance in March 2009, Atty. Zator discovered the error, and all of the previous action of the TFIAC and township was nullified.As a note, this fee then was much larger than the one now in place. The township scrambled to restart the process correctly by creating the committee anew on April 16, 2009, but before it could, many development plans flooded in during the window of opportunity, thus avoiding any future impact fees. I was not aware that Hamilton Crossings plans was among them.
 

Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 4/17

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.

*Very light published agenda again this week. We rec’d a memo today however that Hamilton Crossings Traffic Impact fee will be discussed. I suggest those interested tune in. I will wait til tomorrow to comment on the impact memorandum that will be outlined by the Solicitor tonight. It is significant.

No hearings, announcements or presentations.

Communication:
LMT Historical Society – Letter of support for HC’s Log Home upgrades in exchange for taking of park land.

LCIDA – Formal letter indicates that the Lehigh County Industrial Authority will no longer actively seek County participation in the Hamilton Crossings TIF. More information here.

1 letter in opposition to TIF – Cites traffic concerns

1 letter in favor of township enacting a Homestead exclusion. More information about Homestead exclusion here. Please take a moment to read this proposal I made in January.

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Don’t blame the Truckers.

I had another beneficial conversation with a trucker last week. It’s why I’m hyper active on social media. It’s a way to solicit this kind of helpful dialogue. This particular trucker is named John. I met him after he msg’d me in response to a post I made. John has worked on or around trucks his whole life.

John saw a comment I made and took it as an affront to truckers. That wasn’t my intention, but hindsight I can see how he took it that way. Below is the conversation we had. In the end John understood my position and I better appreciated his issues. He’s someone I’ll stay in tough with when I have a truck questions. Truckers are not the bad guys. The failure is a breakdown of good planning.

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Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

I’m away for the week with my business partners shooting back to back destination weddings in Bermuda then Jamaica. (plug for my business here)

Didn’t want the blog to go dark for a week so decided to pre schedule a cross post from James Bacon over at www.smartgrowthforconservatives.com

If you are right of center politically and you think that smart growth is just for tree huggers or crazily some wacky agenda 21 conspiracy theory to take over the world then you should spend 5 minutes to read this post.

Then if the argument makes sense purchase Pamela Blais’s Perverse Cities and read itConservatives are missing a tremendous opportunity to re-frame the debate over growth and development in line with the principles of fiscal responsibility and free markets. I never will understand why. But it’s never too late to change.

Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

perverse_citiesby James A. Bacon

If planning and regulation were the answer to sprawl, then the Toronto metropolitan region ought to be a smart growth paradise. Toronto has a sophisticated, multi-tiered planning process, starting with an regional plan, plans for 30 upper-tier municipalities, and plans for 241 lower-tier municipalities (towns and townships, mostly). Yet outside the city of Toronto itself, which is undergoing a condo boom, there isn’t much to show for it.

The various municipal plans, which are comparable to Virginia’s comprehensive plans, define urban boundaries, control densities and show where growth should take place. The goal is for 40% of all new residential units to be built in already-urbanized areas. “That’s not happening,” says Pamela Blais, a city planner and principle of Toronto-based Metropole Consultants. “All the plans said all the right things. … [But] the regulatory approach isn’t sufficient to bring about the change.”

pamela_blais

The failure of regulation to halt sprawling, auto-centric development was the basis for Blais’ 2010 book, “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl.” She had researched and written the volume to figure out how the planners’ plans had gone awry. If smart growth made so much sense, and if planners had the power to bring it about, why weren’t developers and home builders doing what they were supposed to do? Something else had to be going on, she reasoned, something that was not commonly recognized.

As she delved into the subject, Blais found that real estate development is guided by massive hidden subsidies that shift costs from inefficient, land-intensive development to efficient, compact development. These invisible subsidies work at cross purposes to the regulations. As it turns out, developers follow the dollar.

Blais describes herself as a pragmatist. “It’s not an ideological argument I’m making,” she told Bacon’s Rebellion. “I’m interested in getting better cities. I’m happy to talk to everybody on the whole spectrum.” But her approach to urban development is one that fiscal and free-market conservatives can appreciate. The system for pricing public goods such as roads, water, sewer, electricity and public services bears little relationship to the cost of providing those services, she argues, with the result that a tangled skein of hidden subsidies incentivizes low-density development.

“Everybody thinks [sprawl] is the the invisible hand of the market. It’s a highly distorted market,” she says. “I’ve been arguing, let’s remove the distortions and take it from there. Remove the distortions and you’ll get a different development pattern. That should be the starting point.”
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Lower Macungie Commissioners Agenda Preview 4/3/14

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.

Township Board of Commissioners 4/3/14 – Agenda with detail here

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King George is saved.

I wanted to write today about the good news. One of the core proponents to save the historic building wrote a nice post on the Save King George FB. It’s better then what I would have written, so I thought I’d just re-post below.

Couple of thoughts first. Total team effort led by a tireless core. Activists including our LMT historical society, local residents & officials and most crucially the developer. Sincerely can’t thank Mr. Patel enough.

Having been immersed in a grass roots resident driven effort before but sadly the disappointing end, it’s great to see residents score victory. I hope the group stays active. When we fought the Jaindl rezoning we made a Facebook page. The “Friends LMT” page was created to raise awareness of the 2010 decision to rezone 700 acres of farmland but still lives on as a smart growth watchdog despite the outcome. During the height of the Jaindl issue the “Friends” group had 400 followers. Today it’s near 1000. We kept the inertia deciding to make the best of it by keeping residents informed of future issues. We hope never again will residents be blindsided by a decision with such wide reaching impact without the chance to weigh in.

I  hope Save the King George inertia also remains as a watchdog and proponent for other historical preservation projects. They succeeded in raising awareness to the point where the developer and local officials had no choice but to hear the valid arguments of preservation. For now the group deserves a victory lap, a huge pat on the back and many thanks for their efforts.

Saving the King George Inn: 
Using Social Media and Technology for Awareness
By Dean K. Ziegler

As with any hard fought victory, now is the time to savor and reflect. I am amazed at how the nuances of local government came to life with this issue, and what methods were used to accomplish our goals. First, there was no substitute for hard work, networking, and involvement from a core group of people with similar interests. Without this, the outcome would have been very different, I am sure. Countless meetings, both public and private, with elected officials is what got the job done. But, without social media sites, like Facebook, and modern communication technology, I doubt the awareness of the King George Inn situation would have happened on the magnitude that it did.

I first saw the news on a Facebook post. Someone had commented on a post of what a shame it was to have the King George Inn demolished for developmental purposes. My incredibility and perhaps ignorance made me comment that the current owner would never let that happen! Being publically corrected made me realize what was going on. The King George Inn had not only been sold, but was scheduled to be demolished. My next thought was how was this injustice going to be corrected? With that in mind, myself and a few other Lehigh Valley residents started this journey of local government intervention.

Facebook let us put out feelers as to who was organizing what in order to save the King George Inn. A brief meeting at the Lehigh Historical Society gave us the inspiration that we needed. Nancy Lloyd and Susan McDermott chaired the meeting, as well as a representative from another historical organization. The events that needed to happen seemed a bit intimidating. We could either convince the proposed owner not to demolish, find another buyer, or have local government officials step in. Our work was cut out for us.

I started the MoveOn.org petition in hopes of showing our local politicians that our tight knit group was not a fluke. Within several weeks, we had over 1,500 online petition signatures, and you can bet we used this fact in our presentations, first to the South Whitehall Township Commissioners, and then to the Lehigh County Commissioners. The number of signatures later swelled to over 2,000. Every single one of them was in touch with us by e-mail, courtesy of MoveOn.org’s protocols.

After the petition was started, we formed the Save the King George Inn Facebook site. This was invaluable for notifying the public about what was going on, sharing newspaper articles, and hopefully, some recognition by the affected politicians that we were not a group that would go away quietly. McDermott and Lloyd, and a host of others sent a flurry of e-mails to everyone. We received countless suggestions from non-affected politicians, retired government officials, and even the builder who completed a very similar project of utilizing an existing historical structure for commercial purposes.

By being proactive with the newspaper reporters, several key points were included in their coverage. Of course, we cannot claim that we swayed anyone’s writing or opinions. But, little by little, I feel that not only did the politicians grasp what our movement was about, they also had a pulse on public opinion.
I wish Mr. Patel the best of luck in his commercial endeavors. I am satisfied to write that even if it seems that public opinion is just a little cog in the wheel of society, once in awhile it plays a significant role in our community.