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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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ROI – Neighborhood Mixed Use vs. Strip Commercial

In the Lehigh Valley where land is an ever increasingly valuable commodity, it’s time to stop ignoring the property tax implications of different land development patterns.

Neighborhood mixed use developments and re-developments produce more value/acre and less long term liabilities than strip commercial development. The comparison below breaks down one block in the Village of Wescosville located in Lower Macungie. It demonstrates that traditional mixed use development produces 53% more revenue than the strip development that occurred on the other side with significantly less liabilities. The most obvious being traffic generation.

The additional major benefit is aesthetics since the traditional side of the street maintains the historic character and form of the Village.

Here in Lower Mac we need to integrate this into our thinking. High value/high quality mixed use development can be used to balance low value strip commercial development. My fear is we’re becoming increasingly saturated with the latter. Restoring balance is a win for EPSD but moreso for the twp. since we’re the ones who have to maintain roads and provide services. The major issue today is that our ordinances actually encourage (and in some cases require)  strip commercial development.

The more value we capture from small infill properties near East Texas and the Hamilton Boulevard Corridor with community friendly development while also maintaining a certain “Main St.” character the more financially resilient Lower Macungie will be moving forward.

EXAMPLE 1: 2 Acre Mixed Use Neighborhood Commercial Block in Photos.
Higher revenue vs. lower liabilities

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 4.08.12 PM

The 9 businesses on this block include: Landscape Designs, Carrols Hair Salon, Designer Re-runs (consignment apparel), Ritters upholstery, Tom Bates Construction, Werner CPA, Express sign outlet, Thrive media, Pathstones Phoebe Ministries. All together the block employes almost 50 people in addition to 6 residents.  Parking is hidden in the rear making a more pleasant interaction with the street.

 

 

 

Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses.

Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses. The entire block consists of very pleasant context sensitive buildings. Next store is an awesome reuse project of an old Church which now houses a CPA and a sign business.

Mixed Use Neighborhood Commercial Block by the numbers:

Land consumed: 2 acres
Businesses: 9
Employees total: 48 
Residents:
*Projected EIT revenue for LMT: 984.00
School District Revenue per acre: 15,332.00 (16/Mil)
LMT LST revenue: 2,496
LMT property revenue per acre: 300/acre (.33 Mil)
Total LMT revenue: 4080.00
Traffic generation: LOW
*based on total 2015 / population. I understand not everyone contributes but thought this was the best way to get an estimate. Some of the 6 residents could be retirees. And this is assuming they all have average incomes. Anyone know a better way? I think this represents a fair projection without knowing that info.

2.25 acre strip commercial block in Photos

Lower revenue vs. higher liabilities

WaWa

WaWa

2.0 acre Strip Commercial block in Wescosville by the numbers:

Land Consumed: *2.25 Acres
Businesses: 1
Employees total: 30 (increases seasonally up to 35) 15.5/acre
Residents: 0
Projected EIT revenue for LMT: 0.00
School District Revenue per acre: 14,862.66 / acre @16.6 Mil
LMT LST revenue: **1,690  
LMT property tax revenue per acre:  294/acre @.33 Mil
Total LMT revenue: 2,351.50
Traffic liability: HIGH

*I counted the remnant township parcel since the WaWa precludes any future development but it really would not have changed the numbers since it’s only .25 acre

** since employment figures are seasonal I split the high and low and used 32.5

 

Lastly, below is a snapshot of one of the buildings demolished to make room for the WaWa. If the WaWa side were re-developed via adaptive reuse projects in the same fashion as the traditional side we’d likely see the same 50%+ increase in value returned to the township with much less traffic.

This is one building that was torn down in 2000 to make room for the WaWa

This is one building that was torn down in 2000 to make room for the WaWa

The best DOT…. Tennessee

Here we have a head of a state DOT putting these concepts out there very publicly. He identifies fundamental problems. This needs to be shared, applauded and celebrated.

The following video is only a 4 minute investment of time. I think it’s critical for anyone who cares about transportation reform to watch. Tennessee and Commissioner John Schroer get it #transportationreform

Commissioner John Schroer  - “1.8 Billion dollar a year business with 4000 employees”  “We broke the department down and built it back up” “Top to bottom review. Looked at everything we did”

Fundamental issue is (paraphrase) - “Alot of places did a poor job of long range planning and took very little consideration into transportation mode – oftentimes these places would call us (TDOT) and say how do we fix this?”

The fix of course is to throw more and more and more money at the problem. “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to build a bypass of a bypass” “It would be alot cheaper for a school board to buy a better piece of property with existing transportation infrastructure from the get go, than it would be to buy the really cheap (short term) property but one where the state needs to come in build a 30-40 million dollar access road.”

How do we avoid these pitfalls? What’s the bottom line? “We need localities to make better decisions. This helps the state save money.”

STOP WHAT WE’RE DOING! Re-evaluate assumptions. Identify alternatives. TDOT gets it.

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How to keep taxes low? Preserve Farmland. 

Lower Macungie Snow Emergency Rules

 Snow Emergencies will be announced via the news media. The township facebook page is also a great source for updates. Also monitor the website at www.lowermac.com

Operation Snowflake program airs on WAEB-AM790 and WAEB-FM B104

*New for 2015: If a Weather Emergency is declared it is mandatory that all vehicles be moved from ALL STREETS.

The Township will plow three public parking lots for residents to park; Wescosville Recreation Center, Hills at Lockridge Park, and Farmington Hills Park.

Plowing policies: The township will begin to plow when there is approximately 3” of accumulated snow. For public safety first priority is connector roads to allow for emergency vehicles.

Developments Lower Mac. does NOT currently plow include: Lehigh Crossings, Schaefer Run West and Spring Ridge Crossing. (These newer developments contain roads not yet dedicated to the township). Developments Lower Mac PARTIALLY PLOWs include: Graymoor, Harvest Fields, Hills at Lockridge.

More information here

On referendums

I support most forms of ballot initiatives & referendums. Specifically on the local level and especially relating to local tax and spend decisions. Access to these tools should be expanded. Unfortunately, ‘Citizens in Charge’ a foundation that monitors initiative access ranks Pennsylvania one of the lowest in terms of ballot initiative rights.

thumbs up or down

The subject came up frequently here in Lower Mac over the last couple months in relation to open space funding and 3.3 Million dollar discretionary spending line for synthetic fields in the 2015 township budget.

In Pennsylvania:

  • We can’t recall elected officials
  • We have zero statewide initiative or referendum rights
  • We cannot propose state constitutional amendments via amendment
  • Silent majority has no access to final check & balance on Government through putting acts passed by legislators to a vote of the people.
  • It is currently muddy in PA if citizens can even legally petition for non-binding advisory questions. Even if to simply to gauge resident sentiment.

We are one of the worse states in the union in terms of local referendum rights. Is it coincidence we suffer from some of the same issues as other states who also have very low referenda access scores?

Elected officials tend to dislike initiative processes because they see it as infringing on their monopoly authority to legislate. This often takes form of dismissive statements such as “I was elected to make the tough decisions“. This is one we heard recently. Another is “most people don’t vote“. Which kind of puts the person making that statement in a hypocritical position since they simultaneously discredit the very electorate that put them into a position of power in the first place. Not sure exactly how that works.

Of the many advantages to initiatives at the local level one of the most important is they create rigorous inquiry on questions of policy by placing issues squarely in front of voters. Rigorous vetting of major spending decisions was certainly something missing in Lower Macungie’s 2015 budget process which included a major discretionary capital spending plan. Studies have also consistently shown that ballot initiatives result in more people voting. So again, back to the claim that “not enough people vote”…Initiatives are actually one of the most sure fire ways to address voter apathy by giving residents a direct voice. 

Although it’s definitely a bi-partisan sentiment many conservatives see initiative access as a much needed core reform. This includes Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich.

Weyrich who passed away in 2008 wrote of critically needed reforms:  “Conservatism should promote increased use of ballot initiatives and referenda, term limits, putting ‘none of the above’ on the ballot and ending legalized bribery under the name of campaign contributions.” – Paul Weyrich. (I just happen to be reading one of his books currently)

It’s certainly not just conservative groups. Many groups advocating for better government across the political spectrum openly advocate for initiative access. Typically those who take the biggest issues with initiatives (this includes activists on both sides of the aisle) are people who champion viewpoints that run counter to the silent majority. Obviously, these folks would not support the great public check and balance available in our system.

Our referendum question was laid to rest last thursday in Lower Macungie accompanied with the usual statements of “we were elected to make decisions” and “not enough people vote”, however I still enjoy the conversation about this issue and will remain an advocate for good Government.

If your interested in more information check out: citizensincharge.org/

 

 

Roundabout FAQ’s

Roundabout FAQ’s in Lower Macungie:

Why are roundabouts being discussed now: Penndot policy is that at intersections where roundabouts could be built on state roads municipalities must now prove why a roundabout won’t work before constructing a traffic signal. The driver is safety. Roundabouts are statistically safer for both pedestrians and automobiles. There currently is no township plan for a roundabout. Just a discussion. The driver of the conversation at Willow and Sauerkraut is the planned Allen Organ supermarket and apartment complex which will add 200+ more units at Willow & Rt. 100. Developers are required to study all intersections that will be impacted by new projects. In this case Willow/Sauerkraut is one.

Federal Safety Statistics:
This is the key statistic: By converting from a signalized intersection to a roundabout, a location can experience a 78 percent reduction in severe (injury/fatal) crashes and a 48 percent  reduction in overall crashes. (FHWA safe roads for safer future)

There are literally volumes of research on the internet. But the generally accepted bottoms lines are this:
1. Accidents are reduced over time
2. Catastrophic accidents (fatalities) for both pedestrians and automobiles are drastically reduced.
3. In some cases the frequency of “fender benders” increases immediately after construction. This is the “learning curve”. This is rare, but could happen. Critics often point to this (while ignoring all other data). Almost every time it levels off and decreases to below pre-roundabout levels.

The same is for pedestrians. Pedestrians and cyclists have far less risk navigating roundabouts vs. typical intersections primarily because of the lower speeds. A pedestrian has an 85% chance of being killed by a vehicle traveling at 35MPH. This drops to 15% when the vehicle is traveling at 20MPH. There are also less conflict points (see below) the crossing distance is shorter, and there is oftentimes a refuge spot in a splitter island.

Roundabouts are not traffic circles: Nor are they rotaries (New England) or neighborhood circles. Immediately as an almost knee jerk and hysteric reaction folks claim “Jersey is removing their roundabouts”. Not true. Jersey primarily has had traffic circles. These are not roundabouts. The two have almost nothing in common. At one point New Jersey had over 100 traffic circles. Many circles have been removed or slated to be. These are not roundabouts. According to the Penndot presentation last night NJ has 4 actual roundabouts and is considering more. In fact most states are.

Roundabouts are NOT Traffic circles.

Roundabouts are NOT Traffic circles. Traffic circles and Roundabouts are not the same thing. A traffic circle is not a Roundabout. :)

These are are examples of Traffic Circles:

Marlton Circle: Traffic Circles are massive high speed mechanisms employed on arterials or interchanges.

Marlton Circle: Traffic Circles are massive high speed mechanisms employed on arterials or interchanges.

The former Brielle Circle Wall Township, New Jersey, Formally located where Route 34, Route 35, and Route 70 meet. Replaced in 2001 with an at-grade intersection with jughandles

New Jersey is removing circles not roundabouts. Here is the the former Brielle Circle Wall Township, New Jersey, Formally located where Route 34, Route 35, and Route 70 meet. Replaced in 2001 with an at-grade intersection with jughandles.

Below is a small single lane Roundabout: (This would likely be a proposal in Lower Mac) A roundabout is a compact one-way, circular intersection in which traffic flows counterclockwise around a center island. They DO NOT utilize signals in any way. (The Easton Traffic circle is not a roundabout, it is a large traffic circle with signals). The purpose of the design is to slow the speed of vehicles, keep traffic moving and drastically reduce conflict points. (see below)

Small low speed single lane roundabout in a suburban setting.

Small low speed single lane roundabout in a suburban setting.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 11.26.49 AM

Roundabout not only statistically see crash data drop for cars, but also pedestrians.

Conflict points reduced drastically for automobiles: (FHWA)

One of the indisputable advantages of roundabouts is the drastic reduction in conflict points. Roundabouts have ZERO vehicle crossing conflict points as opposed to the 16 vehicle crossing conflict points at signalized intersection. This is where most of the safety benefits arise from. Accidents are A. reduced in number over the long term and B. accidents that do happen are fender benders not fatalities.

One of the indisputable advantages of roundabouts is the drastic reduction in conflict points. Roundabouts have ZERO vehicle crossing conflict points as opposed to the 16 vehicle crossing conflict points at signalized intersection. This is where most of the safety benefits arise from.
Accidents are A. reduced in number over the long term and B. accidents that do happen are fender benders not fatalities.

But also for pedestrians: (FHWA)

Pedestrians are faced with simpler decisions at a time and they travel shorter distances.

Pedestrians are faced with simpler decisions at a time and they travel shorter distances.

COST: Roundabouts are the same cost to install and cheaper to operate long term. Frequently, roundabouts save money over the long term because they do not require signal equipment to install, power, and ongoing re-timing. Smaller roundabouts may require less right-of-way than traditional intersections and often less pavement is needed because additional pavement width is not needed for turn lanes. (FWHA) The advantages come long term, but the cost to install is roughly the same. This varies location to location according to PENNDOT.

Why do people oppose them? Public attitude: Roundabouts are almost always resisted. Oftentimes the resistance is almost hysteric. The public usually has an initial fear or negative opinion of roundabouts, but almost always after installation that opinion changes rapidly. This is after they’ve experienced the benefits.

Dark green is before. Light green is after. This is a compilation of before and after sentiment surveys conducted by the FHWA. People oppose roundabouts before they are installed, but after installation opinion rapidly shifts.

Dark green is before. Light green is after. This is a compilation of before and after sentiment surveys conducted by the FHWA. People oppose roundabouts before they are installed, but after installation opinion rapidly shifts.

Please note: I tend to have a favorable opinion about roundabouts since I am a data driven person. Therefore I can’t ignore the safety benefits. But I am very interested in how Lower Mac residents feel. In roundabouts I see a way to statistically reduce accidents. I also love the notion of keeping traffic moving as opposed to ANOTHER traffic signal.

I rank my preference for Willow/Sauerkraut as follows:
1. *Status quo (4-way stop) 2. Roundabout. 3. Traffic signal.
*To change anything on a state road we need to meet warrants. This can only be determined after a study.

Municipal pensions face 7.7B in debt. Why is Lower Mac not on the list?

Recent headline in the Morning Call: Municipal pensions in Pennsylvania facing combined $7.7 billion debt

All surrounding municipalities are on the list with Macungie listed as ‘not distressed”, Alburtis, Upper Milford and Upper Macungie as “minimally Distressed” and Emmaus Borough as “moderately distressed”.  The level of distress relates to debt vs. assets in municipal pension plans.

The reason Lower Macungie is not only un-ranked but also not on the list at all is because our pension plan is a defined contribution not a defined benefit plan.  Therefore we do not have the actuarial issues of determining funding liabilities. In a defined contribution system participants gets back what was put in for them each year, plus, hopefully, some earnings rather than losses. The issues of “fully funding plans” don’t apply.

Basically, Twp. leaders decided back in the late 1970’s to head down the defined contribution plan route as a cheaper way to pay employee benefits. To put it mildly, we lucked out thanks to those old dutchies. :) 

For now our situation is stable. One of the biggest ways this could someday change is if and when the township creates a local police force. For example: The pension plan Upper Macungie Township created when it formed its 22-member police force in 2012 is already carrying debt of about $2.2 million dollars putting it in the minimally distressed category.

As the Morning Call article states “Bills being circulated in Harrisburg, new municipal police, fire and nonuniform workers would have a corporate-like “cash-balance plan” that guarantees a smaller rate of return of 4 percent on contributions made by employees and employers.” If something like this passes before we ever have to change our police or fire protection arrangements it would benefit us immensely.

pension_1237582c

 

Defined Benefit Plan (distressed plans)

With a Defined Benefit employers pay a specific retirement benefit based on salary and years of service. The most common formula to calculate benefits is based on the employee’s earnings at the end of the worker’s career. The problem is the employer or government bears funding and investment risk. As is the case in many PA municipalities these can (most oftentimes) create crippling unfunded liabilities that get worse over time. This puts the whole system in jeopardy for newer employees. 

Defined Contribution Plan (Lower Mac)

Defined Contribution (DB) plans provide a means for both employees and employers to contribute a steady stream of revenue into the participant’s retirement account.

Plans generally allow participant-directed investments and vest (or allow employees to receive benefits) sooner than DB plans. Benefits are also portable, which is becoming more important for workers in today’s evolving marketplace where the average worker may switch jobs and even careers multiple times over the course of a lifetime. While DB plans are managed collectively, employees have ownership of defined-contribution retirement plans and choice over their retirement investments. Since they are fully funded up front, this prevents pension obligations from sneaking up on future generations of taxpayers and allows for more stability in budgeting. 

We can do better in Lower Macungie.

Every once and awhile I like to do a post primarily of photos demonstrating visually what I think represents more community serving and friendly development for Lower Mac. The type of development that we need more of. Alternatives to sprawling strip commercial. Specifically in the Villages of East Texas & Wescosville and along the Hamilton Corridor. I’m often critical of development projects and our current zoning ordinances that allow them. It’s only fair that I present what I think the alternative looks like.

We are making progress. We really are.
(For ex. our Planning Commission is now serious about walkability!)
But we can always do better. We have to.
#wecandobetter

Example 1: Alternatives to the strip
Here is an article about a neat neighborhood commercial project that might be built in Hellertown. 
Right out the gates this proposal is oriented in a more friendly fashion with parking to the side and rear. More attractive and in line with the desired character of Hellertown (Main St. in tone vs. STROAD in tone). This encourages walkability by framing the street, calming traffic by visually narrowing the roadway and since it’s an infill project it takes advantage of existing infrastructure representing great value. Today, our zoning code doesn’t allow this type of form.

The way this building is oriented to the street encourages a more cozy and attractive character.

The way this building is oriented to the street encourages a more cozy and attractive character. This would be a great alternative to buildng more strip malls on Hamilton Blvd.

Example 2: Even the big dogs are slowly getting it.
Here is a photo of a new prototype store built by Wal-Mart. Even the vaunted and much maligned big box behemoth is slowly but surely creating more community friendly store designs.
They are doing this because they know that’s what the market will dictate moving forward. Most of the big box players now have better prototypes. As a community  you just have to insist on quality! No excuses in a community so highly sought by retailers like East Penn is. Due to our highly coveted demographics. 

An attractive alternative to the typical Wal-Mart superstore "box".

An attractive alternative to the typical Wal-Mart superstore “box”.

Example 3: You can build beautiful new construction!

When artists draw idyllic classic representations of American Communities how come they never draw strip malls or STROAD commercial corridors?

When artists draw idyllic classic representations of American Communities how come they never draw strip malls or STROAD commercial corridors?                   Key elements here include: PEOPLE centric design, multi modal, attractive and warm. This represents simplicity and timelessness. Something in this tone will remain viable in 50 years.

When you build neighborhood commercial the focus isn’t on buffering because the building fits into the fabric of the community. Strip malls must be buffered because they are inherently abrasive environments.

This corner development frames the public domain. Walkable. Pleasant. Comfortable. Plenty of parking. (It's just in the rear so we don't have to look at it!)

This corner development frames the public domain. Walkable. Pleasant. Comfortable. Plenty of parking. (It’s just in the rear so we don’t have to look at it!) You see residential homes in the background. And that’s ok. No need for buffers when development fits with the fabric of a neighborhood!

This example is just off a driveway to a shopping center. This is a bank. Just like we have many here. Except it’s clearly very different. (New construction Lancaster PA)

Screen-Shot-2013-08-09-at-12.56.20-PM

 

Just across the street from that bank in the same shopping center is this cafe with apartments above.

Square

 

Example 4: Follow the private investments
Really, we don’t even have to look that far at all.
As a local government unfortunately the focus recently has been on subsidizing a low value mega strip mall, (even though it’s a “nice” strip mall it’s still a strip mall)  in other parts of the Village of Wescosville today we have private investments in high value neighborhood friendly commercial design in the form of adaptive reuse projects.

BEFORE

AFTER!

Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses.

Adaptive reuse of classic old Village of Wescosville home stock. This is today after a very nice remodel. Now the home of two local businesses including Thrive Media.

Fantastic reuse of an old Church building. Now the home of Werner & Co. CPA's

Fantastic reuse of an old Church building. Now the home of Werner & Co. CPA’s and another small business Express sign outlet.

 Strategy: Let’s focus township efforts on triage and sprawl repair!
Sadly, just across from the two really wonderful projects above we have the result of a very poorly thought out zoning ordinance and decisions made years ago. Unfortunately, folks working in these unique buildings look out their windows everyday at this…

This WaWa represents really awful design.  It's the boilerplate generic WaWa. But making it worse is what everyone drives past is the side of the building. Recently the township had to make the store enclose dumpsters with that vinyl fence.

From inside Werner & Co beautiful re-purposed building their view is this…. Unfortunately our zoning code at the time allowed this replace an entire block of old home stock. Across the street the old home stock and block is now the home to 8 small businesses. This WaWa represents really awful neighborhood killing design. Not only is it the boilerplate generic WaWa. But making it worse is that everyone drives past the side of the building. There is no framing the public realm. No sidewalks. Up until very recently the view included dumpsters.

Important to note. The problem here isn’t that this is a convenience store. It’s the context, form and function. You can build almost any use save for the most auto dependent in a more community friendly way. Yet our zoning codes continue to fixate on separation of uses, when really we should concentrate more on the built form.

Our WAWA is what it is…. BUT what about a Private/Public partnership to improve it? How about erecting a new street wall that would welcome people to Lower Macungie like this? The township has already talked about a gateway. This would address some of the issues with the barren side wall and also make the whole more attractive and safer. We could if we had the wherewithal force WAWA to install sidewalks using the first class code. But I prefer a partnership.

We could work together with WaWa to install sidewalks (if we had to we could require them using the 1st class code) But wouldn't it better to work together and create a great township gateway like this?

We could work together with WaWa to install sidewalks (if we had to we could require them using the 1st class code) But wouldn’t it better to work together and create a great township gateway like this?

 

An then there is this: It’s not just aesthetics, walkability, adjacent property values, quality of life and character. Above all else it boils down to dollars & Cents!
The financial argument for neighborhood commercial development is equally if not more powerful then any other argument.

The Smart Math of Smart Growth. The building on the right is probably a little too tall for Hamilton Boulevard. But even a 3 story building (like the one currently being built at the old Pizza Hut) presents much better value and return for the community.

The Smart Math of Smart Growth. The building on the right is probably just a little too tall for Hamilton Boulevard by 1 story. But even a 3 story building (like the one currently being built at the old Pizza Hut) presents a drastically better value and return long term for the community.

Already today we are seeing the folly of giving away 50% of incremental revenue for a strip mall. Last week there was a joint meeting between Upper Mac and Lower Mac focusing on the Rt. 222 corridor. The exercise took into account all the new development along Rt. 222 including Hamilton Crossings and created traffic models. Article: Computer predicts traffic woes in Lower Macungie.

Big picture improvements were outlined so that the townships can go hat in hand to the state in attempt to get on 20-30 year planning budgets. Reality is the township will somehow have to secure easily over *1 million dollars to build what basically amounts to as band-aid improvements to address currently failing levels of service. LOS that will get worse once new development ramps up. Again, this is just for band-aids. The end game of grade separation will cost us over 100 million dollars. So in essence at the same time we desperately need money to address issues caused by development, we’ve let developers off the hook for paying their fair share over the next 20 years.
*no cost estimates were given except 500,000 for one of the lanes. Representing 1 of a half dozen projects. I think my estimate is actually very conservative.

What’s done is done. But moving forward we HAVE TO concentrate on building more financially resilient land development patterns that utilize and capitalize on already existing infrastructure by returning higher value over time. The simple fact is land on the Hamilton Corridor should be looked at as a commodity. The School District moreso then anyone else should understand this. Instead of blindly chasing the band-aid they should be concerned with long term resiliency of the tax base. That’s what smart growth is. Seeking the highest return on our built environment.


Lastly, we need to STOP BUILDING NASTY STROADS!

The STROAD: A street/road hybrid. Does nothing good. Not quite a street (value capture) not quite a road.  (move cars efficiently) Much like a futon is both a terrible sofa and terrible bed. Besides being a very dangerous environment they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.

The nasty, ugly STROAD: A street/road hybrid. Does nothing good. If the purpose of a street is to capture value. And the purpose of a road is to move cars efficiently, then much like a futon is both a terrible sofa and terrible bed a STROAD is a bad street and also a bad road.
Besides being a very dangerous environment they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.

Instead of STROADS build Boulevards!

As opposed to a STROAD a Boulevard is a more walkable, pleasant, attractive and higher value roadway.

As opposed to a STROAD a Boulevard is a more walkable, pleasant, attractive and higher value roadway.

 

Interested in these topics? Strongtowns posted 2 good blog posts this week.

Thank you to Township Volunteers

Thank you to all township volunteers and welcome to our newest. Below is an overview of appointments from last night to various Boards & Commissions.

7235625-ball-pen-on-white-background-showing-thank-you
In a Commonwealth like Pennsylvania local Gov is designed to be hands on. Commissioners aren’t elected to go off to far away places like Harrisburg and DC to make decisions for us. Locally, every resident has the opportunity to get involved directly. Attend meetings, talk to elected officials who are also neighbors, circulate petitions etc. Can’t attend in person? Watch mtg video at YOUR convenience. Prefer to read? Review minutes online. Best of all you can volunteer like the folks below and get involved directly.

In Lower Mac we have a deep bench of qualified applicants. We have wait lists. Great problem to have. Many more qualified applicants than vacancies. Most recently to address this we’ve created additional ad-hoc positions on the Public safety Commission and are considering others. This to ensure that people who want to be involved have the opportunity.

Thank you to everyone who last night we appointed or re-appointed:

•Charles Sabo & Fred Zahradnik appointed to the Environmental Advisory Council. Sabo is an emergency medical technical for St. Luke’s. Zahradnik is owner of NetCrafter Solutions.

David Wieder reappointed to the Building Code Board of Appeals. Wieder is vice president of Burkholder’s HVAC.

•Ann Bartholomew reappointed to the township’s planning commission. Bartholomew is a retired author, writer and book designer and also an active member of the historical society. Ann quite literally wrote the history of the township. Purchase Ann’s history of Lower Macungie Township here.

•Keller Kline is an attorney and former township commissioner reappointed to the Zoning Hearing Board. Richard Ward also reappointed as an alternate. Ward is a senior vice president of Alliance Advisors LLC, also served on the Public Safety Commission.

•Four reappointed to the Public Safety Commission: Scott Forbes, the chairman; Michael Dattilio, vice chairman; Elizabeth Ackerman & Tony Alsleben. Forbes has background in telecommunications and business served on the board for five years. Dattilio is a Hellertown Borough police officer. Ackerman is a corporate sales manager at Bear Creek Mountain Resort. Asleben is an Allentown police officer. In December we also appointed to new members. Mark Spengler is a teacher at Emmaus High School and Dr. Janine Mathesz a fmr. assistant principle at EHS as an Ad-Hoc member.

Volunteer boards & Commissions include: (visit www.lowermac.com for more info)
The Audit Advisory Board
The Environmental Advisory Board
Emergency Management
Historical Society
Library Board
Planning Commission
Public Safety Commission
Vacancy Board
Parks and Recreation
Building Code Board
Zoning Hearing Board – What is a Zoning Hearing Board?
And of course everyone has the opportunity to RUN FOR OFFICE!

 

 

Lower Macungie BOC Agenda Preview Jan 8th 2014

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: NONE

Communication/Letters The agenda has 4 letters concerning Quarry Park. All expressing opposition or concern for various reasons. I have a feeling er are going to keep getting them.

One is from former Commissioner Roger Reis who I didn’t always agree with but I do on this issue. Former Commissioner Reis writes:

Bruce,

I know it’s late in the game but I would appreciate you informing the BOC that I am against spending over three million dollars for artificial turf. A property tax was enacted last year, which I did not support, because it seems there wherever more money becomes available, politicians immediately want to spend it. Three million dollars is almost 20% od the annual LMT budget. It is not a good investment.

Roger C. Reis

More letters again express the common theme that most residents aren’t against spending money on improving our parks. They are against spending money on synthetic turf. This is what I am hearing from most residents.

Here is a collection of research and answers to FAQ’s I’ve collected on a blog post.

Appointments to Boards & Commissions Lots of appointments on the agenda tonight. 1. Appoint Alan Fornwalt of Keystone Engineering as Township Engineer for 1 year.
I support this. Alan has big shoes to fill replacing Bill Erdman who was with the township for nearly 4 decades. While I do support further exploration of an *in-house township engineer and will continue to do so as long as we have Keystone I am very happy our man is Alan Fornwalt moving forward.

Overview of in house vs. outsourced engineer issue:
*Lower Macungie puts plan for in-house engineer on hold

We will also be appointing volunteers to the Building Code Appeal Board and the Public Safety Commission.(PSC) For the PSC I support re-appointing the incumbents and will recommend this as the committee chair.

For the Planning Commission in addition to supporting re-appointment for Ann Bartholomew I will be making a motion to also appoint an Ad-Hoc member from our list of applicants. Here is a memo I wrote to fellow Commissioners last night outlining my justification:

Commissioners,

I wanted to formally voice my support for Ann Bartholomew to be re-appointed to the Planning Commission. I will bring a copy of this memo tonight. 

Ann has for a long time been a very strong member and consistently brings up unique historical context to discussions. But her contributions are not limited to this alone. Jim’s original recommendation was a different direction but he has since decided to recommend Ann. I agree.

In addition to Ann I will also be recommending an Ad-Hoc member and suggesting Hillary Smith to full the role. Hillary has interviewed twice now for the position. She has a technical engineering background and brings a perspective missing on the board as the mother of school age children in the EPSD. Hillary is also in her mid 30′s. Current projects in township are and will continue to target “young professionals”. (East Texas mixed use, Grandview etc)

Currently that is a perspective missing on a board that has an increasingly high average age. Reality is often we have a senior dominated planning commission reviewing communities geared towards young professionals. This of course is a strength as we continue to review and look at policies relating to our current and future over 55 developments, but a weakness in terms of perspective relating to “young professionals”. This being a demographic we are actively seeking to attract and are competing with other municipalities who seek the same.

Based on a conversation with Chairman Keister I also worry about the possibility of losing multiple senior and experienced members of the Commission within a short time period. Since the Planning Commission is such a detail oriented and technical board I think this could hurt the dynamic. 

While it is true that our staff members very capably guide the planners in terms of carefully considering  the technical aspects of land developments and long term planning questions it’s my opinion that nothing compares to “time at the table”. Especially on such a technical board that tackles long term planning projects.

After conferring with Irv and others it is for these reasons and the fact that I also dislike turning away well qualified volunteers who have applied more than once that I believe a non-voting ad-hoc seat is very appropriate. This would be very similar to the Zoning Hearing Board and the Public Safety Commission. Both of which have alternates or Ad-Hoc members who sit at the table.

Facing the potential of losing multiple veteran members at once we have to ensure we foster a deep bench.

While of course this wouldn’t guarantee that the Ad-hoc member would be “in line” to be elevated to the board should a vacancy present itself it would be logical choice to consider. 

Ron Beitler

We will also be appointing members to the building code board of appeals, the EAC and the Zoning Hearing Board.

Budget Analysis:
Of interest in the year 2013 we collected:
660,000 in real estate transfer taxes (82.5% of forecasted)
4,951,713 in Earned Income Tax (99.0% of forecasted)
415,483 in Local Services Tax (118% of forecasted)
Totaling just over 6 million dollars. It looks like the deficiency in real estate Transfers was made up in LST. This translates to more workers in the township than anticipated and less real estate sales. But it looks like they were a wash.

Dept. Matters

Engineering
Planning
Manager
Year end report:
2014 Lower Macungie Managers Reportphoto
Solicitor
Cable Franchise Agreement

Committees

Public Safety
Budget & Finance (Conrad/Lancsek)
EAC recommendation for EIT referendum to fund open space:
The first of two proposed funding mechanisms for open space preservation remains on the Budget and Finance agenda. I am unsure where this stands. It’s been in committee for a long time. The EAC has answered all proposed questions including drafting a lengthy white paper on the issue. Considering a referendum was one recommendation of the parks and recreation comprehensive plan.

Planning & Zoning (Lancsek/Beitler)
EAC recommendation for open space funding:
This committee still has the EAC recommendation for Real Estate Transfer taxes associated with the Jaindl rezoning to be earmarked for Open Space preservation. I 100% support this and look forward to a vote by the full board on this. This is another open space preservation funding mechanism that has been brought forth.

I outline my support of this initiative here: Open Space funding proposal use Jaindl real estate transfer money

Public Safety (Beitler/Brown)

General Administration (Higgins/Brown)
Review of LMYA land use agreement.
I suggest anyone with interest in this take review the attached draft and responses from LMYA regarding the current draft of the agreement. You can find it here in the agenda detail.

Public Works (Brown/Higgins)
Authorize study for Brookside Rd. signalization project. I have alot of thoughts on this.
And I am hoping to be able to do a second blog post just on it. Basically we are choosing between moving forward a traffic signal on Indian Creek and Brookside (relatively inexpensive and already warranted and on Act 209 plan) or making improvements to the existing signal at East Texas & Brookside. (Very high price tag) If this recommendation is putting a “train on the tracks” so to speak or making this a decision to move forward one or the other I do not support it. If it just to gather more information before making a decision at a later point then I am in favor. I would like to see numbers and more information/suggestions from our engineer but at this time I favor moving forward Indian Creek signal before East Texas and Brookside. But am interested to hear rationalization for emphasis on Brookside and East Texas. They both need to be addressed but as a matter of priority I place emphasis on Indian Creek at this time since it’s closer to “shovel ready” and can be funded from additional sources. (Development)

Authorize KCE to perform survey/plan for Hamilton Boulevard bike paths: I support this. Study will allow us to “piggy back” off a future penndot resurfacing project therefore saving substantial amounts of money. The bike lanes are a recommendation of the Hamilton Boulevard corridor study. It’s one of many but represents an incremental step forward to carrying out the general theme of making our commercial corridor less like Macarther Rd. and more like a traditional Main St.

Recommendation for a Dog Park location – Basically the Parks and Recreation board has identified it’s preference for the townships first dog park. A dog park has been eluded to but is not on the official 2015 budget. I agree with the Parks board recommendation that the priority should be Camp Olympic as the location of the townships first dog park. They indicate they feel Camp Olympic should be the location of a second someday. I also agree with that.

 

Don’t forget you can put your Christmas trees out curbside

discarding-treesUPDATE 1/12

 

***Due to unforeseen circumstances there are delays in curbside Christmas tree collection this year. We appreciate your patience and expect final collection the week of January 19th. If you have any questions regarding collection of trash, recycling or Christmas trees, you are urged to call Waste Management at 800-869-5566 – be sure to mention that you are part of Lower Macungie’s Municipal collection. You can also drop off your trees at the township Yard Waste Recycling Center at 5536 Indian Creek Road. See winter hours below.

 

Christmas trees will be picked up by Waste Management on your normal trash collection day (by separate truck) during the weeks of January 5th and January 16th, 2015. Trees will not be accepted if they are in plastic bags, bound with twine and/or have any ornamentation on them, including lights. If you wish to remove your tree earlier, it can be taken to the Yard Waste Recycling Center at 5536 Indian Creek Road. The same rules regarding ornamentation apply.

YARD WASTE CENTER WINTER HOURS