Interesting discussion today at the Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC) meeting. The committee convened to update our traffic impact fee ordinance. Impact fees are a mechanism that Lower Mac utilizes to assess fees on new development in proportion to new impacts created. Funds collected are used to improve roadways impacted by developments. Some conversation today centered around the Lower Mac and Cedar Crest Intersection pictured below. Cedar Crest is a PennDOT identified congested corridor. And for good reason. It’s one of the most problematic in the area. Unfortunate reality is that even with impact fees there is little the township can do to improve it. The intersection is constrained by space, topography and a bridge. To address the intersection with these issues would be massively expensive.
The way we address this and similar intersections around the township, or at least prevent them from becoming worse is to avoid additional development nearby. Here is where the old sports adage applies. The best offense is a good defense. In this case aggressive land preservation.
Lower Mac accomplished this on the Farr Tract (adjacent to this intersection) in part by working with a developer on an alternative plan with only 17 estate lot units as opposed to an initial concept of 90+ shoe horned homes. The township took a proactive role and did 3 things here:
- First, we pushed back against the much more intensive and impactful plan by expressing our concerns. When the developer asked us to change the zoning to allow more units. We rejected the request.
- Next, we tried to purchase the property in partnership with the Wildlands. Unfortunately, this didn’t come to fruition. But we put our skin in the game. We took a swing.
- And finally, when a much less impactful development scenario was presented as an alternative we supported it. And will continue to.
Our proactive role helped result in a better project. The nearby “Dorney” tracts on Lower Mac Rd. (all the signs you see up recently) is another example. The properties have been placed on the townships official map. This telegraphs our interest in preservation and gives us the chance to make an offer if development scenarios are presented.
Related as we try to better manage development along Cedar Crest unfortunately, Emmaus Borough has recently made decisions contrary. Despite opposition in letter form from both Lower Mac and Upper Milford, last year Emmaus approved an overlay district on the Indian Creek golf course that resulted in it’s current development. The project being built (I voted against it) is severely access constrained. Shoe horned. And it makes the corridor issues more complicated. Over the last month things have gotten worse. We now have a question on the table of whether or not the property will only have one access on Indian Creek Rd. PennDOT has ( and correct to do so) concerns about how another proposed access point would impact Chestnut Street. Because of the Emmaus decision to enact this overlay, Upper Milford and Lower Macungie must now deal with additional problems. The Borough was entirely in the drivers seat to change the zoning. But they didn’t have to deal with any of the problems. We do, along with Upper Milford. What’s done is done. But I hope moving forward we avoid this sort of mistake.
In conclusion, the impact fee is a much needed tool. But we’re to the point we can no longer rely on building our way out of problems with new tuning lanes and signals. In many locations the best strategy is to avoid the need entirely. That means preservation and encouraging less intense development. The impact fee study as a warning not a roadmap. It outlines worse case scenarios. Through better land use planning we can avoid those scenarios. It’s better to spend our dollars on preservation than endless traffic upgrades which end of the day only represent band-aids. Upper Milford has been proactive as well recently instituting a funding mechanism solely for the preservation of open space. We are both doing our part. We all need to get on the same page.