written comments sent to PA DEP – Lower Milford Quarry application

Colleen Connolly – Community relations coordinator DEP, NE regional,

This correspondence is in regard to a recent public hearing on 127 acres in Lower MilfordTownship that was the subject of a DEP hearing last week relating to a quarry application. Please consider this a formal submittal of comments related to the Geryville materials quarry application hearing.

My name is Ron Beitler and I am a Township Commissioner in Lower Macungie Township. I am speaking from my position but not for the entire board. While others share my viewpoint, our board as a whole did not take formal action.

As you may know, Lower Macungie is a regional planning partner of Lower Milford. As a community we are well aware and sensitive to the fact that air and water quality matter across municipal boundaries. Therefore the DEP ruling – pending the outcome of the local proceedings – will impact Lower Macungie in addition to all our municipal planning partners.

First it’s important to note that the courts have upheld time and time again the notion that a community has a right to protect its natural features. Not only is it a local responsibility, but an obligation outlined in the state constitution. Therefore the issue of Lower Milford being permitted to protect it’s natural resources is, I believe, a matter of regional concern.

Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution states: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Here are two of the most important points to consider:

  • The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has listed the Mill Hill area as a high priority preservation site in the regional Comprehensive Plan as well as in the Natural Features/Greenway plans. Mill Hill has over 600 acres of contiguous woodlands with deep woods and wetlands.
  • Bog Turtles as well as several types of breeding trout have been found on or directly adjacent to the site.
In addition to very clear regional implications a quarry at this location would also adversely affect our neighbors to the south of us in terms of compatibility with Montgomery Counties comprehensive plan.
 
For these reasons and others to numerous to list I urge the DEP to reject Geryville materials quarry application. 

Furthermore, Geryville materials should be ordered to cease any activity on the land with the potential to disrupt the regionally significant natural features located on the site.

Thank you for your time,
Ron Beitler – Lower Macungie Township Commissioner

CC:
State Rep. Hon. Ryan Mackenzie 134th district
State Rep. Hon. Justin Simmons 131st district
State Sen. Hon. Pat Browne 16th District

Considering TIF at Lehigh Dairy site – use the “but for” test

Lehigh County Commissioners heard a presentation by the Whitehall Township director of Industrial and Commercial Development outlining a proposal to consider utilizing a TIF on the long vacant Lehigh Dairy site.

Without a TIF would we see desirable economic development on this site?

Without a TIF would we see desirable economic development on this site?

I don’t know much about this site other then it’s the potential centerpiece for redevelopment of a long declining section of Whitehall corridor that serves as a gateway to the City of Allentown with immediate highway access.

As for TIF’s I’ve outlined in detail here over the last year what fundamental criteria for their application should be. That is the “but for” test. The name comes from the expression, “economic development would not occur but for the use of TIF.” In other words do you get desired development in a municipality, or a more specific corridor unless support is available from TIF.  (or insert whatever ‘ABC’ tax tool)

If desired economic development (justified by dollar and cent calculations *not to be confused with a specific proposed development) will happen without TIF, then TIF should not be considered or used because it would cost taxpayers over the long run.

As an example, in Lower Macungie the TIF for Hamilton Crossings was very clearly not at all necessary to induce desired economic growth in our community. Certainly not at all along the Hamilton Corridor. *Note, that today without any TIFs we have sketch plans floating for 2 more new large strip malls. One that could rival Hamilton Crossings in size. Both without using government assistance. Furthermore, after the County refused the Hamilton Crossings TIF and the project still moved forward it became crystal clear – at least for Lower Macungie whose portion was less significant then the county – that our fractional portion of the TIF would never have stopped the project had we not agreed.

Using this as a lesson, the first question County Commissioners need to ask is “but for” this assistance do we get desired economic RE-DEVELOPMENT of this gateway corridor? With Hamilton Crossings, the County got it right. They need to ask the same questions here. I don’t know what the answer to that is. But if the answer is yes, we stop right there. Reserve TIF’s (and other economic development tools) for where they are needed as a last resort. To use them otherwise is picking winners and losers. Not a business the government should involve itself in.

LVPC Jaindl nomination

The nomination of David Jaindl by the County administration for a seat on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is a bad idea. The benefits of developers serving on the LVPC make sense, but with all due respect to Mr Jaindl he is not the right choice. Lots of others would be better suited.

County Commissioner Percy Dougherty who represents Lower Macungie outlines some good arguments why the nomination isn’t a good idea. Some I agree with more than others but we come to the same conclusion.

For me the biggest problem with Mr. Jaindl is too often his projects directly and substantially conflict with the regional comprehensive plan. Here in Lower Mac we understand this better than most. Residents have and will continue to pay the price for maneuvers he made over the years that circumvented both the regional comprehensive plan and local comprehensive plans.

When appointing someone for the LVPC we have the opportunity to find a developer who consistently builds projects within the framework of the plan as opposed to someone who for years has quite literally run rough-shod over it.

Nominees should at minimum consistently demonstrate a belief in regional comprehensive planning. For developers that means their body of work should reflect key development concepts of the plan. Jaindl’s greenfield projects too often represent quintessential sprawl. Lots of responsible land developers out there. Once a year I get to spend time in DC with members of LOCUS. LOCUS is a smart growth oriented national coalition of conscientious land developers. Business people who recognize pent-up demand for a market shift toward high quality, sustainable, walkable smart growth oriented development.

Check out LOCUS here on twitter.

If Commissioners proceed with consideration of this nomination at minimum Mr. Jaindl should have to publicly defend why his projects so frequently clash with the comprehensive plan. Basically, Commissioners can and should request a public interview. I would have a number of questions I would ask.

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David Jaindl’s 700 Spring Creek properties development directly conflicts with both the LVPC comprehensive plan, the southwest regional comprehensive plan (Alburtis, Macungie, Upper / Lower Milford and LMT) and also Lower Mac local plans. The project is the result of a 2010 rezoning of previously protected farmland. This project represents a blatant disregard for growth boundaries. Aside from the loss of farmland that was protected for 23 years, this will also negatively impact township residents both financially and in terms of quality of life.

Read Mr. Jaindl in 2010 got 700 acres of preserved farmland (over 1 square mile) rezoned.

Disclosure: In the past starting 3 years ago I expressed interest in the LVPC including a formal statement of interest most recently in February. I don’t see this as relating to critique of this nomination. Mainly because for this cycle I do agree seeking a developer and someone from Northwestern Lehigh makes sense for 2 open slots. I just don’t think we have the right developer. Personally, I’ve waited 3 years for consideration. I can wait another. Applying just made sense for me since regional planning issues are an interest of mine. I also think Lower Mac should have an elected official on the board since we are the 3rd largest municipality in the region and so many of our projects are of regional significance.

Mackenzie letter of support for true free flow bypass.

Neighbors,
Quick note of thanks for taking the time out of your schedules to participate in the Rt. 222 petition/letter writing campaign. In one week we got 110 letters! Clearly, the importance of the bypass struck a chord! Didn’t sign and send letter yet? Click here!
Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to long range planning but in this case ensuring we’re on the radar for future funding for a true free flow bypass is critical.The Rt. 222 “bypass” is a safety, traffic and economic development issue all wrapped up into one. And most important one that is of regional importance.

Reducing the number of signals on the bypass will reduce congestion and provide a more efficient flowing Rt. 222.

Below check out this letter of support from State Representative Ryan Mackenzie. (and take a moment to thank him) This is a direct result of letters. You had a positive effect! 

Also since the campaign started I have met with County Executive Tom Muller and Lehigh County Commissioner Chair Brad Osborne. Both have a clear understanding of the issue and it’s importance. I look forward to hearing from State Sen. Browne and will update accordingly. I have had conversations with his staff who indicated the Senator has taken interest.Thanks again for your help,
Ron Beitler – Lower Macungie Township Commissioner

County Commissioners demonstrate good government

I wanted to share a note of compliment I sent to County Commissioners this morning after attending a meeting last night. It is not often I (in fact I never have) given a wholesale compliment like this to a board applauding the way they conduct business. The entire 9 person board and Chair Brad Osborne deserve praise. 

Commissioners,

I wanted to take a moment to give you all a Compliment. I decided to come to last night’s meeting at about 6pm. Hind-site was a good decision. I was interested in the LCA appointments in general but didn’t have strong opinions on the subject. Note: I agree with the decision to retain some members, but replace the chair. I have mixed feelings about LCA’s role in the water lease but have always been and remain concerned about overflows along the L. Lehigh which I live next to. New blood in the case of the LCA board is warranted.

Regarding the LCA topic. First, it was tedious. That being said, it was also great government. It was (painfully) clear Commissioners weren’t prepared to vote until they all understood a complicated maneuver. This demonstrated to me as an observer in the gallery that this issue was not “worked out” beforehand and that last night you conducted the business of County in public. Not behind closed doors as is far too often the case. Discussion was slow, deliberate and purposeful. Didn’t make for great theater, but it makes for great government.

I actually left the meeting with a little bit of a headache, but as we know sometimes good government does that. Our representative republic has a tradition of separation of powers, checks and balances and conducting meetings in the public eye. Local boards mirror that American tradition. Far too often bodies I am very familiar with simply do not operate in this fashion. Issues aren’t explained in detail, officials don’t explain their positions, deals are worked out beforehand instead of hashed out in the public, chairs keep one eye on the clock as if meetings have an expiration time. Public input is only lip service. None of this appeared to be the case last night. 
It was very clear that County Commissioners conducted the business of the County in the sunshine. Good Government does not operate at light speed. And yes, sometimes it can be tedious. I appreciate that. All 9 members of the board impressed me last night.  Thank you.
Ron Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd. 
Macungie, PA

Let local officials know the bypass needs to be upgraded

Let officials know you think the Rt. 222 "bypass" needs upgrading to full grade separation! (on off ramps and raised speed limit)

Let officials know you think the Rt. 222 “bypass” needs upgrading to full grade separation! (on off ramps and raised speed limit)

STEP 1: THE ISSUE Municipalities in Lehigh and Northampton counties are competing to be included in the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range transportation plan. Recently, communities had the opportunity to present long range planning proposals.

Lower Mac presented 8 proposals for funding but one in particular rises to the top of the list in terms of regional significance. That is full grade separation of the Rt. 222 “bypass”. In everyday terms this means replacing signals with full ramp interchanges allowing for traffic to flow non-stop with increased speed limits from Rt. 100 to I-78.

I’ve written over the last year my belief that today the bypass is a STROAD.
What is a STROAD? 

Today the bypass isn’t safe, it doesn’t move cars quickly or efficiently. This is demonstrated by accidents and the fact that less than a decade into it’s existence the bypass is already receiving twice the volume of traffic originally anticipated. According to a recent joint UMT/LMT study, traffic on the bypass will hit critical levels within the next decade. The end game to address the cumulative impact of corridor wide development is full grade separation. *(similar the Kutztown bypass)

Hamilton Crossings design was completed in a way that the layout can accommodate grade separation.

Hamilton Crossings design was completed in a way that the layout can accommodate grade separation.


STEP 2 YOUR OPINION MATTERS:
If you agree please consider sending a message to local officials. Below is a form letter that can be sent exactly as written or can be edited by clicking “view the petition” and customizing the theme into your own words. 

Here is the form Letter:

Lehigh Valley Decision Makers,

This message requests that public officials who receive this email consider joining Senator Pat Browne, State Representative Ryan Mackenzie, Lower Macungie and Upper Macungie Townships in urging PennDOT, in concert with the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission prioritize full grade separation of Rt. 222 in western Lehigh County. Over the years as land developments have been considered both intersections have been configured in a layout that accommodates future on/off ramps. Doing so would eliminate signal phases and allow for a free flowing and more efficient bypass. This is critical for continued economic development and for public safety. Efficient freight routes so that trucks have clear routes to and from highways are critical.

According to Lower Macungie’s 2015 Lehigh Valley Transportation Study proposal “for safety and congestion, the ultimate configuration of the bypass requires grade separation to handle increases in regional volume from Berks/Lancaster Counties.”

Thank you in advance for your efforts. With freight traffic scheduled to double by 2040, a growing Lehigh Valley economy requires modern transportation routes. The southwest Lehigh region will see it’s warehouse capacity continue to increase therefore we must be able to efficiently get freight in and out of the Rt. 100 and Rt. 222 corridors quickly, efficiently and safely.

*read full letter by clicking “read the petition on the form below”. You can also customize your letter.

STEP 3 SEND THE ABOVE LETTER TO OFFICIALS USING THIS QUICK FORM

SEND ABOVE LETTER TO STATE OFFICIALS BY FILLING OUT FORM BELOW.
*NOTE: If you aren’t a resident of Western Lehigh Valley (Emmaus, Upper Milford, Upper Macungie, Lower Macungie, Macungie, Alburtis, Trexletown etc) Your still welcome to send the form, but please amend the letter to state that while your outside the immediate area of the Lehigh County section of Rt. 222 bypass why you think it’s important to upgrade. Maybe you use the route for work. Or you own a business that depends on delivery of goods. You can amend the letter by clicking “Read the petition” in the form below. Just add what you want before clicking send. 

[emailpetition id=”1″]

An email will be sent on your behalf to the following:
State Sen. Pat Browne 610-821-8468
pmbrowne@pasen.gov

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie 610-965-9933
rmackenzie@pahousegop.com

State Rep. Gary Day 610-760-7082
Gday@pahousegop.com

Penndot District 5: 610-871-4100
ra-penndot5@pa.gov

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission: 610-264-4544
LVPC@LVPC.org

Lower Macungie Township: 610-966-4343
rflexer@lowermac.com

Upper Macungie Township: 610-395-9355
Dolpere@uppermac.org

County Executive Tom Muller: 610-782-3000
tommuller@lehighcounty.org

Lehigh County Commissioners: 610-782-3000

Gov. Tom Wolf: 717-787-2500
governor@pa.gov

State Rep. John Taylor, chair of the PA House Transportation Committee 717-787-317
jtaylor@pahousegop.com

State Sen. John Rafferty, chair of the PA Senate Transportation Committee 717-787-1398
jrafferty@pasen.gov

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation: 610-266-6775
LVEDC@lehighvalley.org

Lehigh County at-large race shaping up.

3 Democrat challengers announced today for at large Commissioner seats in Lehigh County via what appears to be a flyer produced by a PAC called Citizens for a better Lehigh County. The website at this point simply says “coming soon”. With the exception of Hillary Smith I don’t know much about them at all but I am looking forward to learning. 

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Hillary is a Lower Mac resident and very active in Democratic politics. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the LCDC. But she has in the past supported bi-partisan slates in local races. Personally, I tend to support Republicans but I always keep an open mind. Bi-partisanship is something I appreciate. And a quality Hillary exhibits. Elections should be about the quality of the candidate, not just the letter behind someones name. I am interested to learn about her platform. I know Hillary to be a good person and wish her the best of luck. Running for an at-large position is a huge undertaking if done right. To do it seriously takes a major time commitment. The rest of the slate I look forward to learning more about.

The Incumbents: Lisa Sheller Fmr. Chair, Vic Mazziotti, Amanda Holt and Brad Osborne Current Chair. Of them I have heard Lisa Sheller will not be running for re-election. This is not confirmed. *Update confirmed via Express times Sheller is out. 

Amanda Holt was appointed last year to fill a vacancy left by Scott Ott when he moved to Texas. She was one of 15 who applied. As an activist before her appointment Holt legally challenged the way redistricting was occurring in PA. She felt as though there were too many municipal and county splits as a result of gerrymandering. According to the letter of the law this was unconstitutional. Her work on the issue is really interesting to read about. End of the day courts agreed with her assessment and forced the legislature to re-do the maps. When Holt was appointed she said she wouldn’t run when her term was up but didn’t totally rule it out. *updated Amanda Holt announced she is running.

Vic Mazziotti ran together with the very conservative block of Sheller and Ott. Ott has since moved to Texas. Schware very narrowly defeated challenger Wes Barrett last year. Have heard from couple people he may be 1 term. *Updated Vic Mazziotti has announced he is running. *Correction: I had indicated Schware ran with the so called reform team. That is incorrect. Schware was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Glenn Eckhart in 2012. Schware does however vote often with the block on major issues. 

Osborne was recently elected Chair. His second go around in the leadership position. He has not officially announced his intention for re-election but I imagine he will. If so I will support him. Brad is consistently one of the most informed members of the board and the voice of reason. For example, after much deliberation and reflection he correctly voted against the Hamilton Crossings TIF. This was the right decision then but even more clearly so in hind-site. Because of his vote Lehigh County will receive 100% of the incremental tax increases instead of giving 50% away. I know Brad struggled with the decision. But that struggle reflects how he thinks through an issue from all sides. Too often politicians locally come out the gate with an inflexible position and refuse to reconsider. Brad isn’t that kind of ideologue. Prior to serving as County Commissioner Brad served 6 years in South Whitehall Township. *update Osborne is officially in. 

Rest of the field: It’s likely former Commissioner Chair Dean Browning might take another stab. I like Browning. He’s another voice of reason. Very intelligent. Great guy. But is he still viable after two unsuccessful races? Does he have enough political capital left in the tank for another run? If he runs I’d consider supporting Dean, but if the field gets crowded on the Republican side he needs to be realistic about his chances. During his last two campaigns he was hammered pretty hard in primaries. Some of the criticism fair but most was not.

Marty Nothstein announced he’s running as a Repbulican. Yes, for those of us in western Lehigh Valley that’s EHS grad and Olympic Gold Medalist Nothstein. At this point he’s a neat and interesting name. But we know little about his politics. Looking forward to learning more.

Bernie has some thoughts over here.

Why do we overlook a golden opportunity?

According to the One Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy Report – The biggest barrier to fostering a more robust local food economy is continued loss of farmland.

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130+ acre working farm in Lower Macungie. If the township doesn’t get proactive in preservation this will be 300 units someday.

Important to note since often overlooked: Agriculture IS a form of industrial infrastructure. Yet communities continue to pave over this invaluable asset only to replace it with uses that require additional infrastructure and strain local resources to sustain. Farmland is fiscally one of the highest value land uses in terms of liabilities vs. revenue.

  • Since 1930 the LV has lost 80% of it’s farms. Based on average diets Lehigh Valley farmers can only produce about 20% of the Valley’s food demands. With a market shift towards locally grown foods there is clearly money to be made in both local and regional economies.

All it takes are strategic investments in “food infrastructure” needed to support a local food economy. For ex: Aggregators, distributors, food business incubators, grain mills, and more food hubs. Even underserved and undervalued we already today have a local food economy that contributes 17 million annually to the LV economy.

900,000 residents with 145,000 more on the way. We have restaurants today who seek local sourced food. We have a network of municipal farmers markets. Eight Lehigh Valley areas today have limited access to fresh foods. *Super-majorities of residents value preserving farmland. Yet as a matter of mis-guided policy localities encourage the loss of the agriculture infrastructure. We have the will, there is demand, our economies will benefit. The economics make sense. What exactly is the holdup? Let’s acknowledge this as a regional opportunity!

What I can’t help but think is which forward thinking local municipality is going to recognize this and jump on it? A tenet of smart growth is utilizing existing infrastructure. Remaining farmland in our outer ring suburbs is just that. Who will make these connections and reconcile it with a communities desire to protect farmland and the corollary quality of life benefits. Which community will take the ball and run with it? Yes, it’ll take some time and a little more work vs. turning over a greenfield to a developer. And the benefits won’t be as immediate as one time cash infusions of a major real estate transfer. But over time it’s a move to set a community up for the long term. It’s the long play. The smart play.

For a community like Lower Macungie despite the continued loss of much of our land including 700 acres in 2010 the opportunity is still not lost. A local food economy thrives on small farms > 40 acres. These are the operations that grow the food we eat and we still have many parcels that fit that criteria. It’s incorrect to assume that only large contiguous acreage is worth preserving. The alternative is to pave them. If we choose that route we should be prepared to pay the long term price.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 1.20.25 PM* Lower Macungie Parks and Recreation Comprehensive plan: 60% of respondents to public survey component rank acquiring and protection of open space as “extremely important” in a ranking of priorities. (the highest ranking)

 

Lehigh County gets proactive by moving new hires to new tier in 2015

A couple weeks ago I wrote a quick primer post on the role of the County Controller.

I wanted to do a followup. Even though the controllers primary role (when it’s done correctly imo) is that of a non-partisan fiscal watchdog, occasionally the Controller has a hand in policy decisions. As I mentioned in my previous post in Lehigh County oftentimes this occurs in matters relating to county employee retirement policy. This because the Controller serves as voting member and secretary of the retirement board.

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Recently the board made a decision to change the 1/60th tier retirement plan for current employees.  The tiers are described in Act 96 relating to the County Pension Law of 1971.

Early last year County Retirement Board chose to change the tier for new employees starting next year for those hired after December 31st 2015. The Retirement Board voted unanimously to adopt a second retirement tier of 1/70. The board includes current Controller Glenn Eckhart.

What this change does is reduce the county portion of the a retiree benefit by 14% which in turn will save millions of dollars for county tax payers moving forward. Note: The change will only effect new employees hired after December 31st 2014 and current employees by law will continue to have the benefits of the 1/60 plan.

The difference between 1/60 and 1/70 is basically at 1/60 a person one would have to work 30 years to get half of their final three year average salary a year. 1/70 means they would have to work 35 years. 

Two reasons for the change:

First it takes into account that since the lifetime medical benefit was stopped in 1988 Lehigh County employees now work longer for the County. This is mainly because of medical benefits. Additionally based on the latest mortality table change county employees are living much longer (common problem in many retirement systems) This of course means they work longer. So basically a county employee will end up with somewhere near the current level of benefits but at a significantly reduced cost to the County moving forward.

Again and very important this does not affect current employees. Tiering benefits is an important reform that institutions can enact to make sure we play fair with current employees but to address fundamental fiscal issues moving forward. In the end this change is important since it reduce the County obligations while still  continuing to provide a very fair benefit to our invaluable County retirees who are our backbone. This represented great leadership from Controller Eckhart.