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

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.
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.


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.

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. 

It’s OK to grow! Contrasting 2 development plans

‘Friends LMT’ is not anti growth. We recently got some press in a couple outlets for our support of the Hamilton Crossings Development.

Even Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie, which has been critical of some of the township’s planned development, has voiced its support for the project. Mcall

We don’t arbitrarily decide what we support and don’t. We take potential projects and apply the 10 principles of smart growth. Here is an example of 5 of the ten smart growth principles contrasting the Jaindl Development with the Hamilton Crossings Development.

(Note we look at this plan purely from a land use standpoint, we don’t take a stance on the funding mechanisms specifically the grants or TIF’s)

1. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities: Perhaps the most important criteria for our support of Hamilton Crossings. (HC) The project is being built in the designated commercial corridor of the township. This both according to county and local planning. The lions share of the infrastructure is already in place with the bypass.  It’s now all about prioritizing by seeking a return on investment to maximize taxpayer dollars. HC accomplishes this big time.

Contrast this with Jaindl. Costly new infrastructure must be built to accommodate this development on the fringe of the twp. The Jaindl development is an example of the suburban sprawl ponzi scheme.

‘No large up-front bet’
“The smart growth approach requires no oversizing, no large up-front bet with public money, no stifling congestion if the system doesn’t respond as predicted, no more building multimillion-dollar industrial parks to gamble on attracting jobs.

And remember first and foremost a fundamental principle that outlying greenfield development is NEVER smart growth. Which leads us to….

2. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas: It’s not just quality of life. Although that is a huge part. It’s a building in a  sustainable way thing.  And yes, that means both environmentally but equally important fiscally. Smart Growth dictates that you build according to a transect.

Smart Growth Transect

Smart Growth Transect – From the Urban Core to rural

What leadership did in the 80’s was correctly re-zone the area’s west of Rt. 100 to agriculture protected. This remained for 20 years without challenge (until Jaindl saw his opportunity with the current BOC) The ag zoning would have ensured that the fringes of our township remained protected. Allowing development to concentrate in the appropriate core. Jaindl will essentially blow the whole transect out of proportion. Putting an extremely high concentration of high density housing, strip malls and warehousing in the most inefficient place away from services, away from infrastructure. Who pays the price to subsidize this? The taxpayers. In contrast HC maximizes investments already made. Over the course of a lifecycle cost benefit analysis it’s highly likely that HC will pay dividends to the taxpayer for decades. (The real winner being the school district)

Of course you can also make the case that the headwaters of Creeks that provide drinking water to Allentown are environmentally sensitive areas. But the environmental argument against Jaindl development is obvious. Here we’ll concentrate on dollars and cents. Greenfield development NEVER balances out in terms of cost vs. benefit. It simply doesn’t. 

3. Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices: The Hamilton bypass corridor is currently the focus of a transportation study the results of which will be applied to the corridor to even further assure it will be able to handle the traffic generated.

The hope is to eventually provide fast, efficient public transportation options for workers who can take a bus to get to their jobs along Hamilton and industrial parks in Upper Macungie and make a pit stop at one of the various shopping centers on their way to and from work. Township officials hope it will also contribute to the revitalization of the villages of Wescosville and Trexlertown.  

Again, the Jaindl development is creating traffic where currently there is nothing but cornfields. This will most assuredly lead to tractor trailer traffic bleeding onto residential streets and gridlock on Rt. 100.

 4. Mix Land Uses: The Hamilton corridor will be a shining example of mixing uses when it offers expanded transportation choices, by creating a setting that better serves a range of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and automobiles. Residents will have be given a choice on whether or not they choose to use their cars and if they do, traffic will flow efficiently because the area was designed to handle it. This is all due to the proximity of COMPATIBLE land uses. This is a fundamental flaw with Jaindl development. Warehouses are naturally incompatible with residential development. The Jaindl development is slamming a square peg in a circle hole to maximize profit at all costs. By locating services away from the core on the fringe even if you do provide say public transportation the cost to the taxpayer is more expensive then the Hamilton corridor which is closer to the core. Also by mixing land uses as the corridor does, fire and police protection are more

5. Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair, and Cost Effective: Perhaps the biggest knock on the Jaindl development. It’s well documented the flaws in the process. A confidentially negotiated MOU, changing a 20 year zoning precedent without proper notification and without meaningful public input, a developer whose lawyer says basically ‘this development is happening regardless of the the community thinks’. This is perhaps the perfect example of predatory development.

Vs. HC and a developer that goes out of his way to work with the community. A process (perhaps amplified by the TIF application) that is clearly in the public realm. Every resident knows exactly whats on the table for this property. Perhaps no other project in the history of the township has the public been better informed on the issues surrounding it. It’s clear the developer wants to build an interesting, unique place which reflect the values of the people who reside here. They are definitely heading in the right direction. We challenge them to take it even further.


Work to be done…

The Hamilton Crossings Project is not perfect. But it does have promise. Right now the project is seeking funding. Some have issues with the public funding portion. Additionally the developer is seeking dozens of variance requests. Including one serious red flag regarding maximum impervious coverage. Residents will need to monitor this carefully.

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.

How we’ve grown.

Think about this for a second.

Over the past ten years LMT has grown at an amazing 40% clip.  That’s 12,000 new residents in one decade. Along with major commercial and industrial development.

For many projects in and around the township the first life cycle of growth created positive cash flowWhy? Developers often pay for INITIAL improvements in order to get support for projects. This includes one time traffic impact fees, upgrades to intersections, roadways, water and sewer lines, building of stormwater management facilties ect. ect.

The fundamental question is: What happens down the line when all of the above mentioned needs ongoing maintenance, improvements, we need more fire protection, a police force ect. and the developers have long since moved on to the next greenfield and all this becomes the responsibility of the taxpayer?

These are all questions of not if but when. When maintenance costs are more than initial gain? Not if but when long term cash flow turns negative?

Where we are at now: According to our leadership the solution is more and more growth. If this is truly case, something has gone wrong. We’ve seen 40% growth last decade. The most in the state of Pennsylvania. If growth is the solution why is there still a problem? This is the general rationale for Jaindl land development from our commissioners. They see the project as wonderful.

Friends for Protection of LMT asks this fundamental question: How can we possibly need more growth after we’ve seen a 40% increase over past 4 years? How can this is sustainable?

One thing is clear. If we NEED growth after a decade of 40% growth, then we’ve have grown in an unsustainable fashion. The current board continues this trend. What we REALLY need right now is a more PRODUCTIVE development pattern.

This is why “Friends” supports the following:
1. Mixed use – Walkable neighborhoods, interconnected, public space.
2. Emphasis on infill instead of greenfield. Utilizing our existing infrastructure to increase our Return on Investment
3. Diversification of our tax base. – Diversified, stable revenue stream. We have more then fulfilled our need for light industrial (warehouses) it’s time to attract other forms of high end commercial.

Storm water is treated at new Penns Meadow Basin


Map of the Stormwater Basin at Saurkraut and Willow!

Ever wonder what’s going on with the stormwater area at Willow and Saurkraut lanes where the trees were planted and ponds created? Most recently some final touches have been added with the installation of mulch paths.

This project represents a complete conversion of previous ‘dry’ detention basin into a ‘wet’treatment basin. Wet basins are artificial ponds with vegetation around the perimeter.

Dry basins do not do a very good job of treating stormwater. They only  temporarily store the water after it rains and eventually discharge the bulk of the flow into the Little Lehigh.

‘Wet ponds’ have two main benefits.

They are much more effective at slowing flow (decreasing flooding) and filtering pollutants. In addition, there are also long term savings in maintenance. The basin is only mowed once a year to prevent trees and shrubs from establishing in the areas intended to be meadows. The upper portion of the project has been planted with 150 native trees to create two woodland areas.

The whole project has a path system where students from Willow Lane Elementary School can learn about ecology in a living classroom. The retrofitted basin becomes a park-like setting and woodland for habitat and passive recreation whereas dry basins are large sterile areas often fenced off needing mowing throughout the summer and often treated with herbicides.

Here is a brief description of the system that was installed at Penns Meadow: (see picture)

There are three points where stormwater from Penns Meadow flows into the basin. Through various systems this water is filtered and the flow rate slowed.

For example, from the second input water flows into a forebay and then through a constructed wetland area and finally to the wet pond. The entire basin is fitted with an impermeable liner so unless there is a major storm event, all water that enters the basin is either is used by vegetation or evaporates. Only in extreme rain events does water flow to the Little Lehigh and even in these cases it is better filtered and slowed then in dry basins.

This is a fantastic and much needed project in our township. The Environmental Action Council would like to see more retrofits of sterile dry basins. In the upcoming review of our comprehensive plan the BOC and planning commission need to incorporate more best management practices for future developments instead of large sterile basins that require mowing and herbicides.

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.

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Development Watch: Allen Organ Tract/Mixed Use update


 Tuesday night at the bi-monthly Planning Commission meeting, Remington properties presented an updated version of the ordinance they are proposing to accommodate a mixed use development on the Allen Organ property.

Progress was made toward submitting an ordinance that can be applied at other locations that would be township serving. I appreciated Maury Roberts asking the developer “Why is this project good for Lower Macungie?” This is the fundamental question that should be asked of all proposals submitted to the township.

While progress was made, I was disappointed that much of the meeting was spent on items such as the size and number of parking spaces. While these items are important, my major concern with the original proposal was that it was simply an apartment complex and grocery store ‘smushed’ together on a commercial parcel. I’m still unsure if the ordinance goes far enough to aggressively promote the positive outcomes of mixed use, but progress was certainly made. Some of these outcomes are:

  • Pedestrian scale on the residential side – And if not truly centered on the commercial side then far more pedestrian friendly then any shopping center currently in the township.
  • Attractive design – Including significant architectural quality and site design amenities
  • Connectivity – Integration in a meaningful & functional way of the commercial and residential portions

PC member Tom Beil asked an important question about compatible uses. If the ordinance allows for auto-centric uses such as gas stations, drive-throughs and garages ect., then it completely defeats the purpose and undermines the goals and represents more of the same.

The target market for this project is the 20-35 year old professional. That was made clear. Ok goodand very important considering the current enrollment in EPSD.  You have to go all-in to attract this demographic when competing against trendy projects closer to urban cores. (Riverport for ex.) If this is truly targeting the 20-35 market then the priorities are markedly different and the thinking has to reflect that. There are subtle differences in thinking for say an over 55 or mass market community that are different then this particular niche.

I think trade offs over number of parking spaces in exchange for design standards, open space and surface parking lots  that are shielded or behind residential buildings are worthwhile. I was also happy to see the commission stick to it’s guns regarding density. 6-8 units per acre is appropriate for our suburban township. Also a common sense proposal was made to allow for future parking considerations on an ‘as needed basis’ instead of requiring more up-front impermeable surface lots. Once land is paved, it’s paved. This was a good compromise.

I mentioned in my last blogpost about this site… Lip service is no longer good enough. If we’re going the smart growth route we need a complete buy-in. Anything less is just more of the same and won’t generate the outcomes we need.

Other news:

The board voted to move forward with reviewing the comprehensive plan. This will include possible inclusion of smart growth concepts across the board as outlined in the townships 20/20 visioning document. This is great news! They made a point to encourage public participation in this review.