Featured

Dear Neighbor,

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

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

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

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

Featured

Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

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

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

Continue reading

Conservatives need to avoid hypocrisy.

Why on earth is the Texas legislature considering a bill to “hobble” a private companies effort to build a critical high speed rail connection in Texas? Kind of mind boggling. Anti competition, anti market.. Especially considering the private company has vowed not to take a dime of public money. And by building this rail line the company helps Texas avoid dumping countless millions into massively subsidized highway improvements.

Here is the issue: A private company wants to finance a bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes. The company undertaking the project has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. Texas Senate Bill targeting bullet train project advances.


As usual Strongtowns nails it:

“Texas is known for its commitment to limited government, individual responsibility and personal liberty. At least it likes to think of itself that way. When it comes to transportation — specifically automobile transportation — Texas is one of the most socialist states in the country, taxing and spending at amazing rates with an additional predilection towards borrowing enormous sums of money to build even more government-backed infrastructure.

I thought us Republicans were all about competition and the free market? I know that I believe in those things? So what’s the issue? Turns out to be eminent domain. Ok, I get that.

But here’s where the hypocrisy comes in. I wonder if the Texas legislature has the same mentality with the Keystone pipeline (also for profit venture) and eminent domain? Taking the eminent domain issues off the table, I have mixed feelings on the pipeline project. What I do know is I can’t stand hypocrisy. And that’s exactly what I’m smelling out of the Texas legislature.


Currently, hundreds of private firms have eminent domain authority in Texas, including pipeline companies, utility companies and telecommunication firms. More than a dozen private railroad companies also have that authority, according to an unofficial list maintained by the state comptroller.

What about if the proposal was a new massively taxpayer subsidized highway that required eiminent or STROAD widening project that involved a taking? Legislators would probably fall over themselves to support it. Can we please avoid cherry picking and applying our conservative principles evenly? We aren’t in the business of picking winners (taxpayer subsidized highway and air lobby) and losers (in this case privately funded rail)

Hypocrisy. Can’t stand it.. Throw in the immensely powerful and massively taxpayer subsidized highway lobby. (Airports also). Very smelly.

This is exactly what we need in the US. Private companies can make passenger rail profitable. The key? SPEED.

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 4/16

Board of Commissioner Meeting Agendas & Previews:   FYI – With these previews while I may indicate a voting inclination, it in no way means my mind is made up on any issue.

Presentations: Tonight we will honor 90 year old Veteran, Bertram S. Winzer. Mr. Winzer a WW2 veteran served in the famed Devils Brigade received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star during the war, but never received the latter medal. When Senator Pat Toomey learned of the oversight he met the veteran in May at a National Military Appreciation Month event. Toomeys office then contacted the Army and arranged for Mr. Winzer to get his award. Albeit 68 years later. Learn more here.

Hearings: Conditional Use Hearing – Jimmy Johns – This development is on the sleepy’s/Dickeys side of the Wal-Mart shopping center. Note: The way our ordinances are written new restaurants are always conditional uses since they can have major parking impacts. The only planning issue here is the fact that the planning commission has some concerns about available parking spaces on that side of Millcreek. Not sure if I agree that parking is an issue, however the simple solution is improving the walkability between the strip and Wal-Mart by adding another crosswalk on Millcreek Rd. This way employees can be required to park across the street and allow more parking for customers on the Dickeys side of Millcreek. I will say that Millcreek Rd. through the shopping center from Lower Mac Rd to the Boulevard is a particularly STROADY, fast, abrasive and dangerous Rd/driveway. It’s exactly what we are trying to get away from in terms of making access roads more Boulevards in tone and character. Anything we can do to address it by a road diet should be considered.

What: Conditional use hearing for new restaurant
Where: Wal Mart (Dickies BBQ side)
Concerns: Parking

Liberty at Millcreek – Another 2 massive warehouses. These ones are primarily in Upper Macungie, but there is a excellent change Lower Mac will get alot of the traffic. Unfortunately, since the project is primarily in UMT we have little sway. There are some major concerns about traffic generation on Grange Rd. It’s likely it will be used as a cut through when traffic jams up on Millcreek. Uline is reported to be the user of the warehouses.

What: 2 warehouses and office buildings.
Where: Millcreek and bypass. (former Air products property)
Concerns: TRAFFIC

“Grandview” Crossings (Allen Organ) – This project has a long history. As a resident I opposed the rezoning that allowed for it to happen. All kinds of backgrounders here. That being said and the new ordinance being the “law of the land” and what we have to work with the focus here was quality. Township planners and staff did do a pretty decent job (with the confines of what I consider to be a weak ordinance) at ensuring the project is high quality.

What: 75k Weis supermarket + gas station, 200+ apartments and 2 pad sites for future restaurants or banks.
Where: Gehman and Rt. 100
Issues: Limited to what I consider a poor/weak ordinance that was enacted before I took office, the focus was on traffic, quality and walkability.

Communication:
32 more residents sent letters in support of Rt. 222 “bypass” upgrades.
The grand total is over 180 written. The township however is only putting township residents in the agendas. There have been over 100 township residents who submitted letters over the last few weeks. More information on the campaign here.

Sen Browne letter of support: Related to above the township rec’d official correspondence from Sen. Pat Browne in support of Rt. 222 upgrades.

Resident Pete Pavlovich writes in support of roundabout, in support of a verizon cell phone tower and in opposition of 10M capital projects/open space bond. Always looking for more resident feedback on all these issues. 

Letter from Julie McDonell Parks and Recreation Board liason to the Dog Park group.
Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 1.01.34 PMWe will have an update on Hamilton Blvd bike lanes:
Background info here.
And nice LTE in support this past week.

 

Are locals getting Hamilton Crossings construction jobs?

I want definitive answers to these questions:

1. How many construction jobs will there be vs. the estimates provided in the TIF narrative.

2. And of these jobs, how many and what % are going to locals? Locals defined by residents of the Lehigh Valley.

I have now heard from two people who work in trades that the jobs might not go to locals. Ok. Wasn’t this one of the reasons that some who voted for the TIF cited?  “X00″ construction jobs for the area?

If this is the case I sincerely hope that those who used this rationale to justify the public subsidy are doing whatever they can to encourage and influence the development team to use local labor.  It’s my understanding bids are happening now.

My argument was always the shopping center would have been built without the TIF. (an argument justified by the County vote) BUT those elected officials who used the jobs argument as reasoning not to in their words “gamble” (silly word to use since there was never a question whether the center would get built) should be following through on this. Also why wasn’t there a project labor agreement put on this tied to the TIF? Couldn’t that have been something the 2010 township BOC negotiated if they were truly interested in local job creation?

I criticize public unions often. (that’s a lengthy convo we desperately need reform) But I have ZERO problem with private sector unions. Esp. trade unions. And in this case since public dollars were used to finance this project we should have absolutely REQUIRED local labor.

Wherever possible these jobs should go to Valley residents. I will monitor this.

I need to learn more here and confirm what I’m hearing. More on this soon.. If anyone else has insight here please contact me. Ronbeitler@gmail.com

Lower Mac Garden Plots still available for 2015!

Lower Macungie still has plots available for 2015. But get them quickly. Only a couple more still left at Bogie location. Olympic has about a dozen or so.

The price is 30 a year. Tilling is done every spring (see photo below) and water is available at both locations.  The increase in price is to pay for the time involved in preparing the plots and the monitoring of them.  This program is revenue neutral. Also there were some complaints about plots being rented out but let go to seed. So the hope is the small increase will thin out those gardeners that don’t maintain for a full season leaving more plots for more serious gardeners.

FAQ’s
-Plots are approximately 20’ x 30’.
-Plots are rented on a firstcome, first-serve basis.
-Kratzer Farm (Bogie Ave) plots are rented to township residents only
-Camp Olympic plots are available to the wider community (because grant money is used at Olympic) non-resident fee at Olympic is 40.00

Kratzer Farm garden plots (off Bogie Ave) are tilled and ready for Spring veggies!

Kratzer Farm garden plots (off Bogie Ave) are tilled and ready for Spring veggies!

 

Senator Pat Browne letter of support for 222 upgrades

Couple weeks ago I posted a letter from Rep. Ryan Mackenzie in support of Rt. 222 upgrades including grade separated interchanges. (on and off ramps at Millcreek and Krocks) Today we were copied on a formal letter from state Sen. Pat Browne. These letters are in response to a letter writing/petition campaign I started in March.

The de-stroadification of the underperforming roadway would allow for a more free flowing bypass. This is critical to ensure regional traffic flows as Rt. 222 provides a critical connection between the cities of Reading and Allentown. This connection essential on a regional scale as well as local scale to ensure freight traffic can get safely and efficiently in and out of Upper and Lower Macungie. This is a quality of life, economic development and most important a safety issue.

Have you signed the petition yet? It takes about a minute.

Here is a copy of the Senators letter:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 11.21.57 AM

death by 1000 cuts

Couple months ago Republican County Commissioners moved forward a budget with an 8 dollar tax decrease. This was by some derisively called a “Happy Meal” tax cut and subsequently vetoed by the Democrat executive. Later that veto was over-ridden by a 7-2 margin along party lines.

One of the supporters of the cut Republican Mike Schware stated: “It was less about the dollar amount being saved and more about sending a message that taxpayers will not be forgotten when the county has a good year.” 

The more I think about the Happy Meal characterization the more it bugs me. Look at it this way. As a resident of Lower Mac that cut put 8 dollars in my pocket. So ya, the cost of 2 happy meals. But take it another step and pair that decrease with the savings from the townships newly adopted homestead program that I proposed last January. On average the program saves homeowners 19 dollars.

Another $19 in a vacuum? 5 Happy Meals. Add it to the County cut? Now we’re talking a swing of $27. That’s 7 Happy Meals. Year after year adding up. For me? I don’t eat at Mcdonalds but I drive. $27 is a tank of gas.

Let’s go one last step. Add onto our figure the last EPSD tax increase. Averaged $58 per per household per year. I own a property within the avg. So for me, the cumulative swing is $85. Here are all the local tax increases and cuts together:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.28.18 PM

Cumulative impact for Lower Mac residents across all 3 taxing bodies.

Had the district held the line that would be $85 in my pocket. 3 tanks of gas over a year. Do we now see how the phrase “death by 1000 cuts” pertains?

Let’s consider another perspective. I live within my means but I’m lucky to have a successful small business. My wife also has a good job. We’re lucky. What about folks who aren’t? Stats show that Lower Mac has a poverty rate of 4.9%. Very low. Still we have around 1500 residents trying to get by day to day at or below the poverty line. Also a large population of seniors on fixed incomes.

For these folks 85.00 isn’t a laughing matter. They certainly aren’t looking at it in terms of Happy Meals. According to this USDA food costs chart for folks under the poverty line: (using the thrifty plan) At or below the poverty line 85.00 means:

FOR SENIORS: 85.00 feeds two seniors on fixed income for one week.

FOR A SINGLE MOM: 85.00 helps a single mom feed a newborn for 4 weeks, a 9 year old for 2 weeks. 

 

I could go on with other examples but you get the picture. Bottom line is 8 dollars might mean a happy meal for most of us. But for others if we look beyond the one-liners and consider the cumulative tax liability that compounds year after year the impact increases 10 fold. This is where the mindset of “oh it’s just a small tax increase” gets dangerous. These add up.

*Note: Incumbent County candidates Brad Osborne, Amanda Holt and Vic Mazziotti all supported this tax cut before it was vetoed by the Democrat Executive. They and other Republicans needed a super-majority to over-ride.

Republicans saw a $2.3 million dollar surplus and believed as Commissioner Schware stated that when the county has a good year, taxpayers should also. This thinking also sets us up for another measured decrease next year. Maybe it’s another Happy Meal decrease? But as we can see from above, that’s fine by me. It all adds up.

Lehigh County ended 2014 with a $2.3 million surplus

LVPC Jaindl nomination

The nomination of David Jaindl by the County administration for a seat on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is a bad idea. The benefits of developers serving on the LVPC make sense, but with all due respect to Mr Jaindl he is not the right choice. Lots of others would be better suited.

County Commissioner Percy Dougherty who represents Lower Macungie outlines some good arguments why the nomination isn’t a good idea. Some I agree with more than others but we come to the same conclusion.

For me the biggest problem with Mr. Jaindl is too often his projects directly and substantially conflict with the regional comprehensive plan. Here in Lower Mac we understand this better than most. Residents have and will continue to pay the price for maneuvers he made over the years that circumvented both the regional comprehensive plan and local comprehensive plans.

When appointing someone for the LVPC we have the opportunity to find a developer who consistently builds projects within the framework of the plan as opposed to someone who for years has quite literally run rough-shod over it.

Nominees should at minimum consistently demonstrate a belief in regional comprehensive planning. For developers that means their body of work should reflect key development concepts of the plan. Jaindl’s greenfield projects too often represent quintessential sprawl. Lots of responsible land developers out there. Once a year I get to spend time in DC with members of LOCUS. LOCUS is a smart growth oriented national coalition of conscientious land developers. Business people who recognize pent-up demand for a market shift toward high quality, sustainable, walkable smart growth oriented development.

Check out LOCUS here on twitter.

If Commissioners proceed with consideration of this nomination at minimum Mr. Jaindl should have to publicly defend why his projects so frequently clash with the comprehensive plan. Basically, Commissioners can and should request a public interview. I would have a number of questions I would ask.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.48.42 PM

David Jaindl’s 700 Spring Creek properties development directly conflicts with both the LVPC comprehensive plan, the southwest regional comprehensive plan (Alburtis, Macungie, Upper / Lower Milford and LMT) and also Lower Mac local plans. The project is the result of a 2010 rezoning of previously protected farmland. This project represents a blatant disregard for growth boundaries. Aside from the loss of farmland that was protected for 23 years, this will also negatively impact township residents both financially and in terms of quality of life.

Read Mr. Jaindl in 2010 got 700 acres of preserved farmland (over 1 square mile) rezoned.

Disclosure: In the past starting 3 years ago I expressed interest in the LVPC including a formal statement of interest most recently in February. I don’t see this as relating to critique of this nomination. Mainly because for this cycle I do agree seeking a developer and someone from Northwestern Lehigh makes sense for 2 open slots. I just don’t think we have the right developer. Personally, I’ve waited 3 years for consideration. I can wait another. Applying just made sense for me since regional planning issues are an interest of mine. I also think Lower Mac should have an elected official on the board since we are the 3rd largest municipality in the region and so many of our projects are of regional significance.

Pedestrian fatality epidemic

This week we had another local tragedy involving a pedestrian on a STROAD. We have a national epidemic of pedestrian deaths in this nation. And unfortunately Pennsylvania is heading further backwards.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association Pennsylvania had the second highest increase in pedestrian deaths from 2013-2014:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.01.46 PMHere in the Lehigh Valley a woman lost her life walking on the shoulder of Airport Rd. when she was hit by a drunk driver. The drunk driver will be punished as he should be. But the local officials, planners and engineers who designed and allowed a dangerous STROAD that mixes restaurants, movie theaters, pubs and retail (things people want to and should be able to walk to) with zero pedestrian accommodations will not.

This death like most could have been prevented through better policy, design and practice. There was a crosswalk near this accident because it’s mandated by the state. But like most STROADS there are no sidewalks or any facilities at all to get people from places of business safely to the crosswalk. In fact, the whole environment was built to be completely abrasive and dangerous for anyone not inside a metal cage. So, people react naturally and they walk on the dangerous shoulder.

More than half of all pedestrian fatalities occur on arterials, and over 60 percent of these tragedies occur on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or higher. These are the STROADS. Here in Lower Macungie Brookside Rd., Lower Macungie Rd., the “bypass” and Hamilton Boulevard are all STROADS. Locally, along these STROADS we have built a library, pool, parks and schools. We’ve zoned for places of business including daycares, restaurants and retail. Naturally, people want to be able to and should be able to walk to these destinations. If we continue to plan to put commercial uses on these roads, we need to expect people will walk and bike on them and design accordingly.

This includes:
Bike Lanes
Sidewalks
Pedestrian scale road geometry
Appropriate design speed that correlates with appropriate posted speed
Context sensitivity: Neighborhood commercial form, street trees, etc.

STOP #dangerousbydesign

STROAD DIAGRAM