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Dear Neighbor,

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

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

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

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

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Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

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

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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Great Ted Cruz quote from CPAC

A quote I have referred to often on this blog over the last 2 years is: “A state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” – Brandeis

This notion is something I strongly believe in. Change should occur from the bottom up. This is the primary reason I oppose Obamacare.

Over at disgruntled republican Rod Williams writes about the conversation about legalizing pot at this years CPAC convention. CPAC, is the Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation.

I was happy to read this quote from Ted Cruz:

“I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy’. If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

I agree with this federalist approach 100%. Nice to see Sen. Cruz on board. Last year at this time he wasnt. I have the same general federalist 10th amendment opinion of other issues such as minimum wage and healthcare. All examples of issues individual states should be free to decide without federal government mandates.

Economic gardening vs. economic hunting. How can we help?

Economic Gardening is the opposite of Economic Hunting. Economic gardening is an entrepreneurial based approach to economic development that seeks to grow the local economy from within. Its premise is that local entrepreneurs create the companies that bring new wealth and economic growth to a region in the form of jobs, increased revenues, and a vibrant local business sector.

Economic Gardening is an inside-out strategy while Economic Hunting or as recently in Lower Macungie chasing strip malls with tax gimmicks is very much an outside-in strategy.

economic-gardening
Oftentimes politicians prefer the hunting approach. With the hunt/poach approach comes large projects, ribbon cuttings, inflated job forcasts. (oftentimes with quantity, quality suffers) etc. Nice things you can put on campaign lit. But oftentimes these projects over the long term are contingent upon subsidies, abatement programs, special treatment, long term obligations and major government intervention akin to an escalating arms race.

The issue is the downsides to the hunt are substantial vs. the rewards.

Economic gardening is a much more resilient approach where benefits play out over the long term. For better or worse the Lehigh Valley and Lower Macungie have been very good recently at the hunting game. The long term liabilities of this approach unfortunately only will become clearer over time. Check out this article: Economic gardening is growing but what is it?

I believe it’s time to put equal emphasis on a gardening approach. One strategy is taking a good hard look at our sprawl zoning code which as currently written actually presents barriers to local entrepreneurs. That is step #1. That’s an action item that we’ll hopefully tackle of the next 3 years. But other strategies are more long term. Tending an economic garden doesn’t provide an immediate feather in any one politicians cap. It’s hard work.

Another step I want to concentrate on is just asking the right questions. For example:


If you’re a local entrepreneur in Lower Macungie or a small business with less than 100 employees what can we as a community do to help you grow and expand your existing small business keeping it in Lower Mac?

Recently, we’ve invested significant money in low value hunting schemes. My question is moving forward what can we do for everyone else?

Economic Gardening in Emmaus

Economic Gardening in Emmaus

County Commissioners demonstrate good government

I wanted to share a note of compliment I sent to County Commissioners this morning after attending a meeting last night. It is not often I (in fact I never have) given a wholesale compliment like this to a board applauding the way they conduct business. The entire 9 person board and Chair Brad Osborne deserve praise. 

Commissioners,

I wanted to take a moment to give you all a Compliment. I decided to come to last night’s meeting at about 6pm. Hind-site was a good decision. I was interested in the LCA appointments in general but didn’t have strong opinions on the subject. Note: I agree with the decision to retain some members, but replace the chair. I have mixed feelings about LCA’s role in the water lease but have always been and remain concerned about overflows along the L. Lehigh which I live next to. New blood in the case of the LCA board is warranted.

Regarding the LCA topic. First, it was tedious. That being said, it was also great government. It was (painfully) clear Commissioners weren’t prepared to vote until they all understood a complicated maneuver. This demonstrated to me as an observer in the gallery that this issue was not “worked out” beforehand and that last night you conducted the business of County in public. Not behind closed doors as is far too often the case. Discussion was slow, deliberate and purposeful. Didn’t make for great theater, but it makes for great government.

I actually left the meeting with a little bit of a headache, but as we know sometimes good government does that. Our representative republic has a tradition of separation of powers, checks and balances and conducting meetings in the public eye. Local boards mirror that American tradition. Far too often bodies I am very familiar with simply do not operate in this fashion. Issues aren’t explained in detail, officials don’t explain their positions, deals are worked out beforehand instead of hashed out in the public, chairs keep one eye on the clock as if meetings have an expiration time. Public input is only lip service. None of this appeared to be the case last night. 
It was very clear that County Commissioners conducted the business of the County in the sunshine. Good Government does not operate at light speed. And yes, sometimes it can be tedious. I appreciate that. All 9 members of the board impressed me last night.  Thank you.
Ron Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd. 
Macungie, PA

Quarry Park concept presentation thoughts

Below is a memo I wrote to the Public Works Committee after seeing last night’s first presentation of the latest Quarry Park Concept plan. This outlines some topics and items I hope to discuss at future planning meetings. As stated in the memo, while I felt synthetic fields weren’t the best investment in our park system now that the issue has been settled we need to now focus on the best design possible.

WFMZ has a photo and article here.

2/24/15
Manager & Public works committee,


Here are some thoughts after listening to discussion from last night on the latest concept plan. 
First, now that decision has been made to move forward although I disagree that synthetic fields are the best way to spend taxpayer dollars to address field use issues that issue is settled. I am now motivated to have the best project possible. I think the latest plan is an improvement over the initial sketch. That being said here are some concerns and items I feel strongly about.
BIG PICTURE
1. As far as configuration and number of fields and design I want to see the math that justifies certain designs. If the problem is field usage then we should be sure design addresses that problem. To demonstrate this: What is the usage now, what is the current deficiency (sport specific) and how many more playable hours (sport specific) would new/different configurations of park provide? 2. I’m sure this has already been discussed but security must be a part of a concept plan. This should include video monitoring. We have to protect our 600,000 investment. A fully designed security plan should be a part of the concept plan.
3. I don’t support any additional volume of scheduled use at Quarry above and beyond what is currently scheduled until the Saurkraut punch through is finished. This would allow for signalized access to Rt. 100. I’m not interested in delaying the build. We can design and build the project, but scheduling should be kept at current levels until the punch through is complete. Any major tournaments or additional usage based on synthetic fields is inappropriate as long as the primary access is an offset un-signalized intersection on Rt. 100.
PROCESS
4. I feel strongly that “task force” meetings should be public and would request that the planning commission, EAC , LMYA and Parks and Recreation board have a formal chance to review and weigh in on the concept plan before we get to deep into it as a courtesy.5. Any future public vetting of plans Astroturf/consultants should have two copies one for the Board/committee and one for the public which can be displayed on a easel. It was impossible last night for anyone in attendance to see the plan. 

INITIAL CONCEPT PLAN COMMENTS
5. I don’t know if room permits but establishment of a Greenway trailhead should be considered. (Since this is a recommendation of of the Parks Comprehensive plan specifically for Quarry Park)

6. Reduction of the amount of proposed impermeable parking. I know we need some additional and that’s fine. But the amount proposed seems excessive. Have we considered overflow parking in designated grass areas? We should build parking to handle normal park usage accounting for increased volume of synthetic fields. Tournament or other highest intensity usage should utilize overflow parking in non paved areas. (stone or grass) We should also consider the potential to design more parking, but not build it right away. We can “bank” future lots and build as justified.

Since this parcel is next to the river we should include best practice greening and sustainable storm water management of new parking areas.

7. What is justification for additional storage buildings.
8. Are we addressing deficiencies? I remember during parks comp plan mtg’s it was stated we are:
Deficient one baseball diamond currently.
Have a surplus of Soccer and “rectangular” Fields
Since the current plan increases playing hours on rectangle fields but loses one diamond at Quarry where are we gaining at lest 2 diamonds? And can that location be lit with natural grass diamonds.9. The concept plan should account for potential acquisition of the Muse parcel. I think this was stated last night. Just want to ensure. Should maybe include a sketch of possible muse layout.
10. I agree with the Dog Park group, Sara and the Parks board that the first Dog Park should be at Olympic. But we should if space allows sketch in location for potential 2nd park at Quarry. This can be on future muse acquisition of existing park. Ron

Let local officials know the bypass needs to be upgraded

Let officials know you think the Rt. 222 "bypass" needs upgrading to full grade separation! (on off ramps and raised speed limit)

Let officials know you think the Rt. 222 “bypass” needs upgrading to full grade separation! (on off ramps and raised speed limit)

STEP 1: THE ISSUE Municipalities in Lehigh and Northampton counties are competing to be included in the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range transportation plan. Recently, communities had the opportunity to present long range planning proposals.

Lower Mac presented 8 proposals for funding but one in particular rises to the top of the list in terms of regional significance. That is full grade separation of the Rt. 222 “bypass”. In everyday terms this means replacing signals with full ramp interchanges allowing for traffic to flow non-stop with increased speed limits from Rt. 100 to I-78.

I’ve written over the last year my belief that today the bypass is a STROAD.
What is a STROAD? 

Today the bypass isn’t safe, it doesn’t move cars quickly or efficiently. This is demonstrated by accidents and the fact that less than a decade into it’s existence the bypass is already receiving twice the volume of traffic originally anticipated. According to a recent joint UMT/LMT study, traffic on the bypass will hit critical levels within the next decade. The end game to address the cumulative impact of corridor wide development is full grade separation. *(similar the Kutztown bypass)

Hamilton Crossings design was completed in a way that the layout can accommodate grade separation.

Hamilton Crossings design was completed in a way that the layout can accommodate grade separation.


STEP 2 YOUR OPINION MATTERS:
If you agree please consider sending a message to local officials. Below is a form letter that can be sent exactly as written or can be edited by clicking “view the petition” and customizing the theme into your own words. 

Here is the form Letter:

Lehigh Valley Decision Makers,

Today, the Rt. 222 “bypass” in Lower/Upper Macungie less than a decade old is already receiving twice the volume of traffic originally anticipated. The existing problems will be further compounded upon completion of major projects along the corridor including the Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center and additional distribution warehouses both on Rt. 222 and the Rt. 100 corridor.

This message requests that public officials and administrators who receive this email consider urging PennDOT, in concert with the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, and state authorities, prioritize full grade separation of Rt. 222 in western Lehigh. This means full on and off ramp interchanges paired with increased speed limits similar to that of the Rt. 222 bypass of Kutztown. Specifically upgrades to intersections at Millcreek Rd. & Rt. 222 and Krocks Rd. & Rt. 222. Both intersections have been configured in a layout that accommodates future grade-separation.

According to Lower Macungie’s 2015 Lehigh Valley Transportation Study proposal “for safety and congestion, the ultimate configuration of the bypass requires grade separation to handle increases in regional volume from Berks/Lancaster Counties.”

Thank you in advance for your efforts. The growing Lehigh Valley economy requires modern transportation routes that are presently lacking in this critical corridor. Future economic success depends on the ability to get customers and freight traffic in and out of the corridor quickly, efficiently and safely.
*read full letter by clicking “read the petition on the form below”. You can also customize your letter.

STEP 3 SEND THE ABOVE LETTER TO OFFICIALS USING THIS QUICK FORM

SEND ABOVE LETTER TO STATE OFFICIALS BY FILLING OUT FORM BELOW.
*NOTE: If you aren’t a resident of Western Lehigh Valley (Emmaus, Upper Milford, Upper Macungie, Lower Macungie, Macungie, Alburtis, Trexletown etc) Your still welcome to send the form, but please amend the letter to state that while your outside the immediate area of the Lehigh County section of Rt. 222 bypass why you think it’s important to upgrade. Maybe you use the route for work. Or you own a business that depends on delivery of goods. You can amend the letter by clicking “Read the petition” in the form below. Just add what you want before clicking send. 

Grade separation for Rt. 222

Lehigh Valley Decision Makers,

[signature]

109 signatures

Share this with your friends - Help us reach our goal!

   

An email will be sent on your behalf to the following:
State Sen. Pat Browne 610-821-8468
pmbrowne@pasen.gov

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie 610-965-9933
rmackenzie@pahousegop.com

State Rep. Gary Day 610-760-7082
Gday@pahousegop.com

Penndot District 5: 610-871-4100
ra-penndot5@pa.gov

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission: 610-264-4544
LVPC@LVPC.org

Lower Macungie Township: 610-966-4343
rflexer@lowermac.com

Upper Macungie Township: 610-395-9355
Dolpere@uppermac.org

County Executive Tom Muller: 610-782-3000
tommuller@lehighcounty.org

Lehigh County Commissioners: 610-782-3000

Gov. Tom Wolf: 717-787-2500
governor@pa.gov

State Rep. John Taylor, chair of the PA House Transportation Committee 717-787-317
jtaylor@pahousegop.com

State Sen. John Rafferty, chair of the PA Senate Transportation Committee 717-787-1398
jrafferty@pasen.gov

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation: 610-266-6775
LVEDC@lehighvalley.org

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 2/19

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

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

Hearings:
Farr Tract Rezoning Request:
This property located at Lower Macungie Rd. and Cedar Crest Rd. is currently zoned S Suburban. The applicant is seeking a text amendment to allow restricted over 55 as a condition. The developers have submitted a sketch plan that calls for 142 homes on 54 acres at the northwest corner of Cedar Crest and Lower Macungie Road.

Both the Planning and Zoning Committee (PZ) and Planning Commission (see letter below) have recommended rejecting this request. I sit on the PZ. My views reflect that of the planning commission on this issue. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 1.47.01 PMCommunication
Resident Donald Richards writes asking for an ordinance to control distribution of free newspapers like the merchandiser. This is something we’ve talked about recently. The problem is when people are away these papers stack up as a tell-tale sign the house is empty. Also in the winter the papers often get buried under snow… then when you go through with a blower it jams up the intake. These are just a couple of examples on why we should take a look at this issue see what we can do. Maybe evaluate what other communities do.

Dept. Matters
Approving the Southwestern Lehigh County Plan Inter-municipal agreement. I support this. 
The plan is a non-binding document created 7 years ago in a joint effort by Emmaus, Alburtis, Macungie, Upper Milford & Lower Macungie.

This original Plan was funded by grants. The Comprehensive Plan is intended to establish overall policies for the development and conservation of the Southwestern Lehigh County Region over the next 15 years. This Plan is not by itself a regulation, but is intended to provide the policy direction for changes to the municipalities’ development regulations.

Recently there has been consensus to update the plan. This was largely necessitated because Lower Macungie has significantly deviated from the plan.  The biggest example of course was the Jaindl development debacle and rezoning of 700 acres of ag protected land to Industrial, Strip Commercial and Residential.

Manager Report:
The manager will be requesting moving forward Quarry Park Synthetic Field Turf Project and NPDES permitting. I voted against inserting this project into the budget and have been vocal in opposition. More information here. I think it’s important to to invest in our parks but I don’t believe this is the most cost effective way to do it.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 2.07.10 PM

 

Update on executive session abuse legislation.

I originally wrote about this here. I believe executive session abuse is unfortunately rampant at the local level of Gov’t. This is amplified locally based on the process which led us to the Jaindl Rezoning. The latest bill HB 340 is an update to the original HB 1670. I would encourage local Representatives to co-sponsor this legislation which I see as essential to open and transparent government.

Below is a quick 3 min overview where Rep. Saccone talks about his bill:

Lehigh County at-large race shaping up.

3 Democrat challengers announced today for at large Commissioner seats in Lehigh County via what appears to be a flyer produced by a PAC called Citizens for a better Lehigh County. The website at this point simply says “coming soon”. With the exception of Hillary Smith I don’t know much about them at all but I am looking forward to learning. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 12.54.51 PM
Hillary is a Lower Mac resident and very active in Democratic politics. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the LCDC. But she has in the past supported bi-partisan slates in local races. Personally, I tend to support Republicans but I always keep an open mind. Bi-partisanship is something I appreciate. And a quality Hillary exhibits. Elections should be about the quality of the candidate, not just the letter behind someones name. I am interested to learn about her platform. I know Hillary to be a good person and wish her the best of luck. Running for an at-large position is a huge undertaking if done right. To do it seriously takes a major time commitment. The rest of the slate I look forward to learning more about.

The Incumbents: Lisa Sheller Fmr. Chair, Vic Mazziotti, Amanda Holt and Brad Osborne Current Chair. Of them I have heard Lisa Sheller will not be running for re-election. This is not confirmed. *Update confirmed via Express times Sheller is out. 

Amanda Holt was appointed last year to fill a vacancy left by Scott Ott when he moved to Texas. She was one of 15 who applied. As an activist before her appointment Holt legally challenged the way redistricting was occurring in PA. She felt as though there were too many municipal and county splits as a result of gerrymandering. According to the letter of the law this was unconstitutional. Her work on the issue is really interesting to read about. End of the day courts agreed with her assessment and forced the legislature to re-do the maps. When Holt was appointed she said she wouldn’t run when her term was up but didn’t totally rule it out. *updated Amanda Holt announced she is running.

Vic Mazziotti ran together with the very conservative block of Sheller and Ott. Ott has since moved to Texas. Schware very narrowly defeated challenger Wes Barrett last year. Have heard from couple people he may be 1 term. *Updated Vic Mazziotti has announced he is running. *Correction: I had indicated Schware ran with the so called reform team. That is incorrect. Schware was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Glenn Eckhart in 2012. Schware does however vote often with the block on major issues. 

Osborne was recently elected Chair. His second go around in the leadership position. He has not officially announced his intention for re-election but I imagine he will. If so I will support him. Brad is consistently one of the most informed members of the board and the voice of reason. For example, after much deliberation and reflection he correctly voted against the Hamilton Crossings TIF. This was the right decision then but even more clearly so in hind-site. Because of his vote Lehigh County will receive 100% of the incremental tax increases instead of giving 50% away. I know Brad struggled with the decision. But that struggle reflects how he thinks through an issue from all sides. Too often politicians locally come out the gate with an inflexible position and refuse to reconsider. Brad isn’t that kind of ideologue. Prior to serving as County Commissioner Brad served 6 years in South Whitehall Township. *update Osborne is officially in. 

Rest of the field: It’s likely former Commissioner Chair Dean Browning might take another stab. I like Browning. He’s another voice of reason. Very intelligent. Great guy. But is he still viable after two unsuccessful races? Does he have enough political capital left in the tank for another run? If he runs I’d consider supporting Dean, but if the field gets crowded on the Republican side he needs to be realistic about his chances. During his last two campaigns he was hammered pretty hard in primaries. Some of the criticism fair but most was not.

Marty Nothstein announced he’s running as a Repbulican. Yes, for those of us in western Lehigh Valley that’s EHS grad and Olympic Gold Medalist Nothstein. At this point he’s a neat and interesting name. But we know little about his politics. Looking forward to learning more.

Bernie has some thoughts over here.

Could a tax break be coming to East Penn?

Looking into the crystal ball the answer is… possibly. But it all depends on Lower Mac. This is based on the districts summary of outstanding debt. My friend Mark Spengler presented an outline of the school districts outstanding debt last week. Here is a summary:

East Penn School District Summary of Outstanding debt.
2017: $13,998,754
2018: $13,498,225
2019: $7,972,918


This shows the school districts debt payments will drop dramatically in 2019. Basically, what Mark was demonstrating is that long range strategic planning has for a long time accounted for another major capital investment in a second High School or other major academic building. However the most recent demographics report compiled by the Pennsylvania Economy League shows that East Penn will likely experience declining enrollment over the next 10 years.This means that if we can avoid having to build a new school that in just a few years the East Penn School District would have a $6 million reduction in the budget.

Whether or not major capital expenses can be avoided depends primarily on… Lower Macungie Township.
 Our land use policies will dictate whether we need major school construction or not. This is why the current conversation about open space preservation must be centered around strategies to take developable residential land off the table. Farmland preservation is the best strategy for keeping local Lower Mac taxes predictably low and stable. But it’s also clearly the best chance we have to set the table for East Penn to actually lower taxes in 2019. Lower Macungie can help even more by focusing efforts on more valuable neighborhood commercial mixed use (vs. low value strip commercial) and incentivizing over 55 communities with a new conservation cluster ordinance.

Now admittedly, all this accounts for alot of variables falling into place. As we know school districts are at the mercy of the state year to year. But the fact remains two predictable variables are debt and enrollment. We can by and large control these two items. Based on that alone we have the potential for a golden opportunity. That is, if Lower Mac doesn’t go off the rails again.