Challenging Hamilton Crossings team for better facades….

Hamilton Crossings is being sold to us as a “Promenade esque” walkable “town center concept”. For the record I am in favor of this type of walkable/towncenter lifestyle scale development on the Hamilton Corridor. My concerns are two-fold 1. the TIF (although I am listening to some good arguments in favor and my stance has softened) and 2. That we are getting what we are being sold.

Below is the Costco rendering that was posted on the Hamilton Crossings Facebook page. I have major concerns with this. We were sold a “Lower Macungie Specific” design. Something unique and “high end”. This appears to be a variation of the cookie cutter Costco box. Nothing special at all. In fact it reminds me of the front of a pep boys or some other auto repair shop.

To contrast here are some innovative designs I have found for Costco’s recently built. The point is, we can do better and as a community we should demand better. Are you willing to settle for above when we were promised a “Lower Macungie Specific” design comparable to the promenade?

Why is this important?
First, it’s ok to be choosy. We have to come to terms with the fact we’re an attractive place for development. We should not be ok with every mediocre proposal that comes down the pike. Since we are an attractive place for developers we should and can demand a higher standard. The quality of our commercial spaces affect all our property values which in turn affects our school district and community as a whole.

Second, think about the Promenade for a second. The developer and current township commissioners make comparisons to the Promenade. When you walk around it does it feel like your walking around a parking lot next to a giant soul-less box? Or when you walk down the middle does it feel like your walking down “Main St. USA”?  A pleasant place to hang out. Next, think about why the promenade works and why people travel to get shop there. Yes, good design is about making a place attractive, but it’s more then that. It’s also scale so you truly have walkability. Scale is what makes walkability work. Auto scale vs. people scale. Auto scale using highway geometry (parking lots) creates a place dangerous for people. Every decision should be geared towards creating an an environment that is safe, comfortable, and attractive to pedestrians.

And just for good measure here is a really nicely designed Target IMO. Note: 3 of these pictures are actual stores. Remember, everything looks beautiful in artists watercolors. If the Costco rendering looks drab in a water color it is 10x worse in real life.

Even Wal-Mart is slowly “getting it”

To TIF or not to TIF……

Trying to put together a comprehensive list of information regarding Hamilton Crossings from the last month. I’ve also included some opinion pieces outlining various positions on TIF’s in general. I hope this is a good starting spot for folks getting caught up on the issue.

Remember, all 3 taxing bodies EPSD, County and LMT must approve for a TIF to happen. The bulk of discussion this week has been on the county vote which will take place next week June 12th.

Contents:
TIF Guidelines
Opinions
Media
LVPC opposition
LMT rebuttal
Business opposition letters 

 

Development Watch: Costco/Target dealt blow by LVPC

Hamilton Crossings plan. Target and Costco could be anchors

The proposed Hamilton Crossings Plan

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) voted 24-7 against the proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center project in Lower Macungie Township. (LMT)

What is the LVPC?

These recommendations have no teeth and have been ignored in the past by LMT officials. In the past 3 years the LVPC has come out against aspects of the Jaindl warehousing project and aspects of the Allen Organ supermarket project.

With Hamilton Crossings however, the situation is different since the project is seeking TIF financing to pay for infrastructure costs. To approve the TIF mechanism the developer needs approval by all three taxing bodies. This includes the County, School District (already approved) and Lower Macungie Township (Hearing scheduled June 20).

Many feel eventhough it isn’t binding that the LVPC recommendation will carry weight with the County Commissioners when they vote on TIF financing on June 12th.

With the vote last night the LVPC board approved a draft letter. This letter will be sent to the County and Township indicating “strong reservations and objections to the proposal”.

A summary of some of the concerns outlined in the draft are:

1. The project is inconsistent with regional planning. The project represents strip style commercial. The LVPC opposes new strip commercial projects because strip commercial projects require additional traffic control mechanisms and increase the probability of accidents.

2. Effects on the Bypass. The bypass was designed as a limited access road to mitigate congestion on Rt. 222.  The road was not designed to provide direct access to new development. The LVPC feels as though the project will cause a “level of service” drop on the by-pass resulting in delays. The by-pass was built at a cost of 140 million.

3. Public Liability. The County Comprehensive plan has policies that state “developers, not the public should pay for the (traffic) improvements” Municipalities should enact appropriate impact fee ordinances to ensure this happens.

4. Intent of TIFs. The County Comprehensive plan has a policy stating public sector efforts to influence growth should give high priority to assisting economically distressed commmunities. They go on to cite the assessment offices assertion that Lower Macungie has the 3rd highest assessed valuation of taxable property in Lehigh County and the 4th highest median household income.

5. Affect on existing neighboring communities. The LVPC feels the shopping center will negatively affect neighboring residential neighborhoods.

Here is the WFMZ Story.

Inexplicable decisions…..

I commented on a proposal to preserve the Kratzer Farm property at the last BOC meeting. I’m going to capture video and post later on this week.

Read my full position here.

The board was asked if they would consider applying the 86 acre Kratzter Farm to a county conservation program that would permanently protect the open space. To sweeten the pot, the program actually pays the township to do it. $5000 /acre. So say 50 acres of farmland on the property gets accepted into the program thats 250,000 dollars directly to the township coffers. I can think of alot of ways this money could be used.

Friends LMT requested a free preliminary review of the property and it ranked very high indicating it is likely funding would be granted.

The response by Commissioners made no sense. Of the two that spoke up, Ron Eichenberg stated “We don’t have time to hold a hearing”. This demonstrates 1. He didnt understand the request, 2. He is clueless or 3. This just happened to the straw he grasped at to make the request go away. First, we only asked for the application to be filled out. It’s no different then any grant application. Second, the board doesn’t ever hold hearings before authorizing staff to apply for a grant.

Another Commissioner went on about the house, driveway and barn. They are earmarked to be sold off. My position is that the house and barn and specifically the driveway should not be sold until the Parks and Rec comprehensive planning committee has a chance to review the big picture. This issue of subdividing this 1.5 acre portion is completely unrelated to applying for permanent preservation mechanisms for the remaining 84.5 or so acres. Again, two separate issues.

Yes, perhaps it would be appropriate for a hearing once it comes time to actually take action. But for now the request was just to keep the door open for further deliberation by applying. To me it’s a no brainer that represents another failure to attempt to protect our remaining open space and farmland.

My position on the Kratzer Farm open space

Position Statement Kratzer Farm
Importance/overview: The Kratzer Farm is centrally located in Lower Macungie Township. It’s strategic centralized location makes it immediately accessible to thousands of township residents easily and safely within walking distance. The park was purchased by a previous Board of Supervisors 15 years ago for the intent of land preservation in a rapidly growing township. The scenic landscape and fertile limestone soil make this a community treasure. The adopted greenway plan will further improve walking access and functionality of the park making it a potential township “Central Park”. The Kratzer Farm should be a destination, centerpiece and focal point of the greenway system preserved permanently as a nature preserve, passive park, community garden and working farm.

The Kratzer Farm – Township Owned Open Space strategically located in the center of the township

1. The house, barn and driveway should not be sold until the results of the Parks and Recreation comprehensive plan is complete. The farm specifically should be the focus of an agenda item at a future parks and recreation comprehensive plan meeting. The committee should be the body that determines whether the house, barn or driveway presents any value in regards to the overall goal of a permanent centralized large passive park.
2. The farm should be permanently preserved as soon as possible. To accomplish this goal:
A. The township should apply to sell agricultural conservation easements to the Lehigh County. The annual deadline for submitting an application is March 31st. According to a representative from the program the parcel would likely be valued a high priority since it contains fertile limestone soil. Currently the program is paying up to 5000/acre for preservation. I am estimating proceeds of selling the rights (the township still owns the property) could net up to 250,000 dollars.
3. Proceeds from sale. If the house/barn and driveway are sold after a comprehensive evaluation of all potential uses of the property and specifically the driveways role in future greenway as either a trail section or entrance to a trailhead, then the proceeds should be earmarked for park improvements on the Kratzer farm.

Question & Answer – TIF Funding/Hamilton Crossings

Rec’d this question today. I thought it was worthy of a blogpost answer.

From Facebook - William DeMauriac - Ron, what is your position on spending tax revenue on any private project like the Hamilton Crossings?

1. My position is two fold. First. The development itself is a good project, but more importantly it’s in the right location. Aside from making development pay it’s own way with elected officials ensuring projects that receive waivers and exceptions provide the community an return on investment, smart growth is guiding growth to appropriate locations. Location is everything for this massive shopping complex. Costco will attract regional shoppers, the location is ideal since our interior residential roads will not be affected by non-local traffic.

Further, the developer Tim Harrison is community conscientious. And trust me, I’ve heard the song and dance developers give in front of our BOC and Pcom many times over the last 3 years. After personally sitting down with Tim last week I am confident he is genuine in his desire to build a project not only himself but the community can be proud of. He has shown a willingness to go above and beyond.

2. Secondly we have the funding mechanism. There are questions to be answered still. What will the terms be? As you know, the TIF committee meetings which consist of reps from the Twp, EPSD and County are occuring now an ongoing. I appreciate those including Percy Dougherty and others from the EPSD who requested these meetings be public. Unfortunately, that request was denied. The argument made was that developer finances will be discussed. I’m of the mindset that when seeking public funding, your finances become the business of the public.

Moving beyond that however, one of my personal goals is to encourage growth that does not rely on the taxpayer to shoulder burden. Elected officials should be questioning the terms and conditions of the TIF every step of the way and be willing to let the developer walk if the terms and conditions do not benefit the community from a lifecycle cost benefit analysis perspective.

Too often our elected officials in LMT are all too willing to give away something (waivers, exceptions, density, intensity) for nothing. This is a fundamental focus of my campaign. I’m not anti growth I’m pro smart growth. The fact that officials argue we still need economic development after 2 decades of robust growth is proof we’ve grown in an inefficient way. After two decades we should be in pretty good shape. To indicate we aren’t by claiming we need growth is fundamentally telling. It’s time to stop and evaluate the status quo. Win or lose I hope my candidacy will force that conversation.

Thanks for your question William.

Ron

 

Development Watch: Allen Organ Rezoning on agenda this Thursday.

The controversial Allen Organ rezoning is on the agenda for this Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. The ordinance was advertised in January and will likely be voted on at the meeting.

Currently the 36 acre parcel is zoned commercial but has multiple unique constraints that make it difficult to develop without a special new zoning district. These include floodplain, location adjacent to a railroad and a dog-leg shape. To make the project economically feasible the developer has proposed a zoning ordinance that will allow up to 200+ apartments along with a 75,000 square foot supermarket with gas pumps.

Given past statements by current commissioners including board president Ron Eichenberg (who also happens to be the Realtor of the project) the ordinance is likely to be passed. I continue to have major concerns with the traffic impact on Rt. 100 and Willow Lane.  I do not believe we should be considering zoning change requests to expedite development in the western corridor of the township. We should instead concentrate on infilling the appropriate corridors such as areas surrounding Hamilton Boulevard and the By-pass. These areas can handle the traffic impacts of largescale development without the need for costly improvements and avoiding negative impact on the residential portions of our township.

What I would have advocated for differently:

One alternative is targeting tracts for preservation west of Rt. 100 using mechanisms such as a transferable development rights program. Here landowners can be fairly compensated for their property by selling development “rights” to other developers seeking enhanced, new or special uses, greater density or intensity, or other regulatory flexibility.

The Allen Organ parcel may have been a perfect candidate for such a program. We could have allowed this development to occur but only in exchange for preservation elsewhere. These programs are in place throughout the state. Everyone wins. The developer seeking more intense uses has options to acquire them, landowners who should be fairly compensated for their development rights are, and the community at large seeking to protect our quality of life has a mechanism to ensure it.

The key ingredients for a successful TDR program are all here; a strong real estate market; community consensus for conservation, and a community willingness to accommodate smart growth. All we need are leaders willing to explore these alternative options.

1/4 Allen Organ LVPC comments letter

1/4/13
Board of Commissioners,
I would like to encourage you to address the recent comments by the LVPC regarding the proposed Allen Organ Ordinance. I believe this is an example of building an ordinance to accomodate a sketch plan vs.  the best interests of the township. We must not compromise on interconnectivity simply because a site has unique constraints. (the creek, dogleg shape and the railroad) Sara and the Planning Commission have done a good job but this one issue still remains. I’ve commented on this in the past.
Here is why this particular comment is so important. It’s outlined nicely by the LVPCThe County Comprehensive plan has a policy of preserving arterial capacity by reducing local trips. When we force short local trips onto our arterial roads we create congestion. This leads an endless cycle of expensive “improvements” in attempting to increase capacity. This is nothing more then a perpetual band-aid.
I would encourage the board to read carefully the LVPC street connectivity guide. As well as other connectivity formulas that are out there as examples of how to address this issue. We must stop developing in isolated pods that dump the majority of traffic directly into single large arterial intersections. This issue needs to be addressed before passing this ordinance. The negative impact on Rt. 100 and Willow lane could be a major issue moving forward with the Remington Plan. Please remember, the carrying capacity of Rt. 100 also directly affects Macungie Borough where my business is located.
Respectfully,
Ron Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd

My letter to Commissioners re: Walkability Willow Lane Elementary Corridor.

A Stalker Board in conjunction with 15 MPH speed limit school zone. Stalker boards tell residents their speed and alert them to slow down if they are over 15MPH when the light is flashing.

Commissioners,

I’ve recently written about some suggestions for “enhanced” safety features for the Willow Lane Elementary Corridor. Specifically:
  • Considering stalker boards in conjunction with all 15mph lights and the long overdue school zone designation on roads where students will be entering the campus with priority on Willow Lane since it is a 35 MPH road.
  • Considering raised crosswalks on the interior of the school campus (This would be a EPSD responsibility)
  • Consider Lighted LED crosswalks similar to the borough of Macungie with a priority on Willow and Saurkraut.
  • Considering pedestrian refuge medians at appropriate crosswalks not located at intersections. (I believe there is one suggested by the district study on Saurkraut)

This is an opportunity to not only ensure students and parents safety but to support walkers and walkability in general. This board has on many occasions expressed support for walkable communities. There is no doubt that this corridor is very popular for bikers, walkers and runners of all types. Please consider these options when developing a safety plan for this corridor. These enhancements support the idea of our connector roads not just being mechanisms for shuttling cars but being complete streets (a tool of smart growth) that truly link our neighborhoods.

Respectfully,
Ron Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd.

Dec 7th BOC will vote on Allen Organ Ordinance

A few months ago ‘Friends LMT‘ submitted a position statement to the planning and zoning committee (Doug Brown and Ron Eichenberg). We felt that further action on the Allen Organ property should be postponed until the results of the Smart Growth Implementation plan are adopted.

 

Remember, the purpose of spending 20,000 dollars in taxypayer money is to completely review our outdated zoning ordinance. As a part of this process residents should be given a forum to voice our thoughts on the way we should continue to grow our township. Currently a draft of the plan is being prepared with input from our planning commission.

With Allen Organ we have a developer who is requesting a special exception to our current ordinance. They’ve submitted their own rules allowing residential units in a commercial zone. Previously our planning commission was working on a “mixed use” concept. We were supportive of the effort to create a truly integrated walkable concept. It seemed we were headed in the right direction, rolling up our sleeves and working out a township serving ordinance. At some point for some reason the process was abandoned. A few months later the “mixed use” language was scrapped and we were presented with a new “duel use” ordinance with some window dressing but overall much less smart growth principle.

I suspect the board killed the previous attampt due to density concerns. With a true smart growth ordinance density should not be an issue. In fact it can be a good thing. We need density in APPROPRIATE locations with appropriate integration to the surrounding community. The market is changing, demographics are changing. Our township needs more multifamily units to balance our tax base. That being said the previous iteration of the ordinance was heading the right direction. Then it stopped…

‘Friends’ believes we should work towards TOWNSHIP serving ordinances. Here we have a developer holding up their square peg. It’s very clear they need a certain number of units, certain configuration, certain requirements to make money of the project. When we as a township consistently allow developers to write our ordinances for us then of course they are going to create a square holes for their square pegs. But what if the best interests of the township are round holes? Why are we spending money on a consultant if we’re just plowing ahead with development before the results are adopted? (we only have a few precious greenfields left, this is one of the larger.)

All too often we present rubber stamps to developers. On December 7th this board will have another chance to show it works for the residents who elected it and not the developers.

Note: Ron Eichenberg board president is the realtor on this property standing to gain a substantial windfall from it’s sale.