Macungie moves forward Main Street plans

I was one of a dozen business owners who presented a petition last year to Macungie Borough Council urging an update of the proposed traffic calming & walkability improvement plan. The ambitious street scape plan was first proposed as part of the 2010 Main St. revitalization report.

As a Main St. business owner, this very exciting. It’s an important statement for Macungie to retake it’s fate into our own hands. The statement is that Macungie remains a Main St. community open for business. It’s leaders are willing to proactively deal with increased traffic resulting from the reckless deviation from regional planning happening in Lower Macungie.

Small business and entrepreneurs seek traditional town centers. My business partners and I made a decision to locate our business on a traditional Main St. as opposed to a cookie cutter office building or bland strip. We wanted character & walkability. This is the strength and competitive advantage of Macungie. Many strip malls have seen this trend and now seek to emulate town centers with varying levels of success and failure. Macungie is the genuine article.

Our location is walkable to the post office our bank and accountant keeping our dollars hyperlocal “in the neighborhood”. Often when we choose to walk to lunch we have a dozen or so local eateries to choose from. The neighboring community park is a business asset offering a fantastic venue for outdoor meetings.

My next store neighbor on Main is a state farm insurance branch. The owner Tom Bartholomew moved the business from a township strip mall to Main for many of the same reasons. Just behind my new building the new Devine School opened this past year. That’s just my block. There is no denying businesses want to locate and invest in Main St. communities.

For that reason It is fantastic to see the borough also willing to make an investment in itself. This decision makes a bold statement about the Borough and reinforces it’s inherent strengths which will only attract more businesses who seek the same character others have.

Macungie Main Street Macungie Traffic Calming Macungie Streetscape improvements Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.01.58 PM Macungie Main Street Traffic Calming Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.02.05 PM

 

 

 

How we make traditional development illegal.

Interested in stunting the re-development of a traditional Main St.? Do you want to make entrepreneurship prohibitively expensive? How do you ensure your Main St. is a ghost-town during prime business hours?

Set up more barriers! Make sure you institute arbitrary parking requirements and require them of all commercial land uses.

Take 5 minutes to watch this case study of a place called Surrey. (From Stroad to Boulevard blog). This really demonstrates the insanity of arbitrary parking requirements.

At 3:30 mark is it coincidence the devolution of Front street occurred with the institution of arbitrary offstreet parking standards?

Main St. Macungie, the downtown business district – 11am on a Tuesday.

Macungie Borough business district 11am on a Tuesday. Parking issues?

Interested in Smart Growth issues in the East Penn area? Friends “FriendsLMT” on facebook! An online smart growth resident association.

Macungie Borough probably doesn’t have a parking problem….

Continuing the parking theme this week. Moving over to Macungie Borough, the other municipality I spend a lot of time in. It’s where my business is located.

Perception is that Macungie has “parking problems”. As someone who parks in the borough daily I disagree. Rarely if ever do I have issues parking close to any destination I want to get to downtown.

How parking requirements hurt small businesses

To demonstrate my point I took a little walk. 11am on a Tuesday. Prime business time right? (NOTE: I’m am going to followup with the same exercise at night. I suspect we’ll be closer to peak parking since we have a lot of Main St. renters, but we’ll still have excess.)

From Park entrance to railroad tracks (what I’d call the business district):

  • 55 open spaces were completely unused. (this did include a loading zone and 30 minute parking spaces)
  • Only 33 spaces were actually utilized by vehicles.

To illustrate that here is what a 50 car parking lot looks like in the suburban model. Basically at 11am on a Tuesday you have this amount of parking in the downtown borough business district completely unused. If a box retailer had this amount of parking available during prime business hours would anyone call it an issue?

Parking for 50 cars is outlined in this photo. (CVS parking lot) This is basically equal to the amount of open parking in the borough of Macungie on any given weekday over lunch.

 Below are photos of the “Parking problem” Dec. 3rd (yes winter, but a nice winter day) at 11am. Like I said, going to try the same exercise tonight. See what we’re dealing with nighttime.

Macungie Borough 11am on a Tuesday. Parking issues?

Parking problems?

Yes, I do think Macungie has some issues with it’s Main St. business district. Tractor Trailer traffic is the biggest. The condition of the streetscape is next. But for some reason I hear parking most often. You don’t have a parking problem, until you have a parking problem. Parking issues are a symptom of a thriving business district. Excessive parking regulations are a barrier to a thriving business district. If a thriving business district is the goal, remove the barriers. Then deal with the by-products after you have success. Otherwise we’re just a place with a whole lotta parking, but not many places to go.

Thank you to our veterans

Area veterans memorials. Take a moment to visit one on this beautiful memorial day!

8th of November – Big n Rich

“Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother.”

Below are some photos I took on a walk today visiting the 3 memorials near the office. All iphone instagrams.

Arthur Kern of Allentown. Served in World War II looks at his service brick at Macungie VFW Post 9264

Arthur Kern of Allentown. Served in World War II looks at his service brick at Macungie VFW Post 9264

Eagle Scout Derek Weber helped recruit volunteers and raise funds to construct the LMT memorial dedicated to fallen heroes. Derek and his family continue to help maintain the memorial in pristine condition.

Eagle Scout Derek Weber helped recruit volunteers and raise funds to construct the LMT memorial dedicated to fallen heroes. Derek and his family continue to help maintain the memorial in pristine condition.

Macungie Park Veterans Memorial

Macungie Park Veterans Memorial

Envision LV Public Meeting Tonight 6pm Macungie Institute

Residents concerned with how the East Penn region will grow over the next 20-50 years are invited to express their concerns at a public meeting tonight at 6 p.m at the Macungie Institute on Main Street in the Borough of Macungie.

“Lets determine our future by choice, not by chance,” is the guiding principle of the “Envision” meeting.

The meeting is the second of many to be held this fall throughout the Lehigh Valley to get peoples’ opinions on what kind of quality of life they want to have once the building boom is finished. The population of the Lehigh Valley is expected to keep growing at a rapid pace. Join others who want to make sure we don’t destroy our quality of life with overdevelopment, congestion and loss of our beautiful open space.

RENEW Lehigh Valley, a consortium of local officials and citizens, is sponsoring the meetings. If you care about where we are going and what we are becoming, please attend and give your input.

See you tonight at 6pm at the Institute?

FYI a second local meeting will take place in Lower Macungie on 10/16 from 7-9pm at the community center.

Envision is a partnership of the:
Wildlands Conservancy
LVEDC
LVPC
RenewLV 

DEVELOPMENT WATCH: Productive discussion last night on Lumber St. new daycare closer to reality.

    

Last night Borough council approved plans to relocate Lumber St. clearing the way for the construction of a daycare center on the Lumber Street property.

This is a great plan for a couple reasons aside from obviously developing a gaping whole in the middle of the downtown streetscape.

1. Upgraded Lumber St. at reduced cost to taxpayer. Lumber St. now is pretty much a gravel road that sees a fairly high volume of traffic. It’s a shortcut for anyone coming into town from Brookside who turn onto Lehigh St. Someday regardless of what happens with the lumber yard the Borough was going to have to address the situation. The potential new owners of the property, Christine and Joseph Devineare essentially contributing 1 dollar for taxpayer dollar to upgrade the street.

This is a winner for the Borough. Instead of the taxpayer coming in and having to pay the lions share of 400,000+ dollars the borough is only on the hook for roughly half. Excellent example of a private/public partnership. Win/Win.

2. The Recreation component. With a land development plan the developer must either contribute land or pay a fee. The Devines have offered to dedicate the bank of the mountain creek as open space and a pathway to the Borough in lieu of paying. This potential dedication will make an excellent addition to the borough path system. Better yet, the borough can wait and decide on whether to accept the dedication after seeing the pathway, gauging usage and value to the community. Again it’s Win/Win.

3. Business people working together. If I have one fault with this plan it’s losing 3-4 spaces on Main due to un-avoidable site line restrictions. However, I’m very happy to see all the players involved working to build more off-street parking behind Main. If there is one commodity that is absolutely invaluable to a suburban Main St. it’s parking spaces adjacent to the downtown. My one comment is I would love to see the Devines or a combination of landowners involved in the deal replace the 3 public spaces being lost with dedication of 3 public spaces on the Main St. end of the project so there isn’t a net loss of public parking.

Macungie Farmers Market should collaborate with LMT

The Macungie Farmers Market is closed tomorrow for another car show. On Thursdays I usually try to take a walk over (my work is across the street) in the evening. Even if I don’t buy anything if it’s nice out I still enjoy the stroll and usually bump into someone I know. (though I usually can’t resist and end up buying something… I never regret it.)

I was thinking this morning. Lower Macungie Township currently does not have a farmers market. Other local communities do. Emmaus for one has a great one. No doubt its a great local asset.

I’m guessing but off the top of my head there are 4-5 weeks during the summer when there is no market due to car shows or other events in the park.

Wouldnt it be great if either LMT or Macungie stepped up and proposed a partnership to co-sponsor the market and for LMT to host it on weekends when Macungie Park is not available? The LMT community center is a stones throw away from Memorial Park.  I have no idea if this is feasible or if it’s something the farmers market association/borough/township would entertain. But if you’ve read my blog you know I’m a huge supporter of cooperation/sharing of resources between the boroughs of Alburtis, Macungie and LMT. (Regional police dept.) It simply geographically makes a ton of sense.

You could very easily split up the contributions made by each municipality by taking the number of weeks in the summer and dividing by the number of weeks LMT would host the market. LMT could contribute that amount for the weeks it hosts. The amount would be very very small. The market could then have a home during the weeks the park is unavailable and it would benefit from co-marketing. LMT would benefit from the co-branding. FYI Macungie borough’s contribution to the market currently is 5,000 dollars a year. A cost of less then 2 bucks per borough resident. The market also accepts donations in the form of sponsorships by local businesses. Well worth it in my opinion.

Just a thought….

 The Macungie Farmers’ Market is a producer/grower market committed to providing locally grown, fresh food; to preserving our agricultural heritage; and to building community.  The Market helps support local agriculture by connecting farmers with consumers.  This means that you buy directly from the farmers and artisans themselves, not from third parties or re-sellers. Since all vendors are producing these products for you, they can often explain best handling and preparation methods and are always willing to offer FREE advice.

Development Watch: Latest on the Macungie Lumber Yard Property

Two weeks ago at Macungie council, a couple came before the board to discuss their vision for the future of the Shelley Lumber Yard. Christine Devine and her husband would like to place adaycare center on a one-acre portion of the parcel closest to Lehigh Street.

The lumber yard property is bounded by Lehigh and Main. Lumber Street runs through the middle. Lumber Street is a public borough road. 

The tract has been vacant since the Lumber facility was demolished years ago. The 2010 downtown revitalization plan identified this tract as high priority for re-development due to it’s centralized location. (URDC facilitated the plan. Note: same firm that is going to tackle the LMT smart growth implementation plan)

Council was receptive to the plan, but had a few concerns. It’s important to note the plan on the table calls for development of only 1 acre of a total 5.5 acres. The reason the applicant is submitting this in steps is because the Devines would like to have the daycare open by August of next year. Questions regarding Lumber Street may be avoided temporarily by only developing 1 acre now.

Concerns centered around Lumber Street and bus access. If you’ve been on Lumber Street, (I am couple times a week) to say it needs some attention is an understatement. It’s basically a loosely defined gravel road. Lumber is the only way trucks can access businesses on Lehigh Street. (for ex. Lehigh Surfaces)

There was discussion on who would be responsible for future upgrades to the street. The 2010 plan suggested relocating Lumber Street to the edge of the property opening up more space and possibilities for the rest of the parcel.

The other concern was bus access to ensure school vehicles do not enter Lehigh St. from Brookside Road. This intersection is dangerous due to poor sitelines.

My take: This could be a great start to re-developing this brownfield.

The couple currently operates two Daycares in the area. Members of the public had nothing but nice things to say about the business and the Devines. If the concerns noted by council can be addressed, then this could be a great start to the re-development of this area.

I do agree that the intersection of Brookside and Lehigh is a concern and that Lumber Street is important to the success of this property as a whole. Council has to be sure they get it’s re-routing right. Meanwhile they must remember it is a public Rd. I think people would be surprised how hard it gets used, even in it’s current condition.

What do you think about the vacant lumber yard and this possible plan submission?

Development Watch: Indian Creek Subdivision and Macungie Lumber Yard

The proposed development at old Indian Creek Golf course

Monthly column (or whenever I learn about new proposals) outlining LMT and local projects in various stages and my thoughts on them. This month, 127-129 Main St. a great adaptive reuse of a historic building in Macungie, and an update on the potential Indian Creek Rd. subdivision that has major red flags at this early stage.

127-129 Main St. Macungie – Macungie Borough

Borough Council issued approval for a plan to convert 127-128 Main St. (currently a stone twin) into a mixed use building. The new owner, Tom Bartholomew plans to renovate the old twin which used to be a part of the lumber yard, to accomodate his state farm insurance office on the first floor and 2 small apartments on the 2nd floor. Also planned for the lot are six parking spaces and a rain garden that will mitigate the impervious cover of the blacktop. The environmental component of the plan has been approved by Lehigh Conservation District.

Why great: This is a great project for Main Street. Refurbished/Re-purposed Mixed use buildings with retail/restaurant or office on the 1st level and apartments on the second are what makes a Main St. community thrive. Excellent adaptive use of existing home stock. This will be a welcome addition to the community with the important blessing of the Lehigh Conservation district for handling of the storm water runoff associated with the parking spaces.

I would love to see more retail and restaurant activity on Main St., but this is a good project on the street-side of the old lumber site. Hopefully more good news comes down the line on the remaining portion of the property next to the park which will be a key component of Main St. revitalization in Macungie Borough.

Potential Subdivision of Indian Creek Rd. – Lower Macungie Township, Emmaus Borough and Upper Milford (Former Indian Creek Golf Course)

This is a unique proposal in that it has 2 acres in LMT, 10 acres in the Emmaus and the bulk in Upper Milford for a total of 78 acres. This is the old Indian Creek Golf course. The property is bounded by Chestnut Street, Allen Street, Indian Creek Rd and Cedar Crest. This plan would include 215 homes in a 55+ community. The plan would preserve 9 holes (off Cedar Crest) of the Golf course to continue as a public course.

Why the Jury is still out: While there are some ok elements of this plan for example the 55+ aspect (no impact on school district) and land preservation of 33-48 acres acres, at this point there are major red flags for LMT. Planning commission chair Irv Keister said “while only a few acres (2) of this project are in LMT, it appears we’ll get 100 percent of the traffic”. Basically the constraints of this property force all the traffic either onto Allen St. or Indian Creek Rd. Indian Creek either funnels traffic right into the heart of the township or exits onto the terribly dangerous intersection of Indian Creek and Cedar Crest. (The roller coaster hill) It’s basically one giant cul-de-sac that funnels traffic onto our township roads. Exiting Allen St. onto Chestnut is already a nightmare. This project should absolutely not proceed without installing a light on Allen and Chestnut. This could also possibly trigger another expensive traffic light at Indian Creek and Brookside (across from Dries) in the township. One positive at this early stage is it’s clear the developer is trying to work with the townships/borough to develop this tricky parcel. But there are many hurdles to cross for this iteration of the plan that has little benefit to the township and a ton of negatives.

Next month: Updates on two very different potential developments. 1. Stone Hill Station (potentially good conservation development off Gehman Rd) and 2. The latest on 700 acre Jaindl warehouse/residential/commercial monster currently in litigation with potential gamechanging consequences for the entire township.

Want to join our mailing list highlighting smart growth/development issues in the township? Click Here

Macungie Borough Explores Historic Preservation Ordinance

Singmaster Home, Macungie PA
Now the Liberty Savings Bank, excellent example of rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings

A zoning amendment limiting the demolition of historical buildings built prior to 1940 is being proposed in the borough.

This is policy I believe is necessary to foster a revitalized downtown area. Historical preservation is proven to make boroughs more attractive to local businesses. Preservation should be a focus to enable a community to remain attractive, compact and walkable.

By fostering these characteristics rather then mimicking suburbia, the town’s uniqueness and charm is preserved allowing it to compete with sprawling suburban retail/commercial.

Macungie’s density, character, walkability and charm are assets that differentiate it from the sprawling void of strip malls in the township.

I get nervous when elected officials cite landowner rights as a catch-all in opposition to useful progressive policies as I heard at the Feb. 6 council meeting.

I’m a fairly conservative guy politically, however, I think the benefits of encouraging a revitalized downtown by protecting historical assets is clear.

It’s common practice to use zoning ordinances to regulate development in the best interest of the community. This amendment does not put an uneccesary burden on property owners and does not limit necessary maintenance and repair. The amendment also accounts for the Zoning Hearing Board to grant special exceptions for extenuating circumstances.

This simply prohibits demolition. Furthermore, it’s meant to “encourage continued use, appropriate rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.”

A perfect example is the Singmaster home now occupied by Liberty Savings Bank. Certainly if someone were to come in and propose demolition of this building, it would be a tragic loss to the community. The plan is to preserve the home while expanding the back of the property to create a full service bank. This is excellent use of an existing property of historic value focusing on maintaining it’s character. It is my understanding that at one time a developer inquired about the land with the intent to demolish the building. This would have been a tragic loss of a valuable asset and landmark.

I am a resident of LMT. I am also a business owner on Main St. in the borough. I believe in regional planning and consider Macungie the Main Street of the broader community including the township. As a business owner looking to find a permanent home for our studio (we currently rent our space on Main) this is exactly the kind of policy I look for when considering locations, and communities to invest in.

If a borough isn’t interested in investing in itself, why would a business owner invest in it?