A Place for People

My friend Michael who I had the pleasure of meeting at this years RenewLV Smart Growth summit has a blog call ‘A Place for People‘. (love the name!) He is a College student at Penn State. On it he writes about his hometown of Hellertown and how he thinks leaders and residents can improve the Borough incrementally with a focus on value capture and walkability.

Here you can check out his thoughts on how to improve Hellertown



Long Term Value – Neighborhood Mixed Use vs. Strip Commercial

In the Lehigh Valley where land is an ever increasingly valuable commodity, it’s time to stop ignoring the property tax implications of different land development patterns.

Neighborhood mixed use developments and re-developments produce more value/acre and less long term liabilities than strip commercial development. The comparison below breaks down one block in the Village of Wescosville located in Lower Macungie. It demonstrates that traditional mixed use development produces significantly more revenue, more jobs, more businesses and less liabilities – for example traffic than the strip development that occurred on the other side of the street.

An additional major benefit one that is the icing on the cake is aesthetic. The traditional side of the street maintains the historic character and form of the Village.

Here in Lower Mac we need to integrate this into our thinking. High value/high quality mixed use development can be used to balance low value high liability strip commercial development. My fear is we’re becoming increasingly saturated with the latter. Restoring balance is a win for EPSD but moreso for the twp. since we’re the ones who have to maintain roads and provide services. The major issue today is that our ordinances actually encourage (and in some cases require)  strip commercial development.

The more value we capture from small infill properties near East Texas and the Hamilton Boulevard Corridor with community friendly development while also maintaining a certain “Main St.” character the more financially resilient Lower Macungie will be moving forward.

EXAMPLE 1: 2 Acre Mixed Use Neighborhood Commercial Block in Photos.
Higher revenue vs. lower liabilities

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 4.08.12 PM

The 9 businesses on this block include: Landscape Designs, Carrols Hair Salon, Designer Re-runs (consignment apparel), Ritters upholstery, Tom Bates Construction, Werner CPA, Express sign outlet, Thrive media, Pathstones Phoebe Ministries. All together the block employes almost 50 people in addition to 6 residents.  Parking is hidden in the rear making a more pleasant interaction with the street.




Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses.

Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses. The entire block consists of very pleasant context sensitive buildings. Next store is an awesome reuse project of an old Church which now houses a CPA and a sign business.

Mixed Use Neighborhood Commercial Block by the numbers:

Land consumed: 2 acres
Businesses: 9
Employees total: 50 
*Projected EIT revenue for LMT: 984.00
School District Revenue per acre: 15,332.00 (16/Mil)
LMT LST revenue: **2,080
LMT property revenue per acre: 300/acre (.33 Mil)
Total LMT revenue: 3664.00
Traffic generation: LOW
*based on total 2015 / population. I understand not everyone contributes but thought this was the best way to get an estimate. Some of the 6 residents could be retirees. And this is assuming they all have average incomes. Anyone know a better way? I think this represents a fair projection without knowing that info.

**Adjusted to account for estimated number of 48 employees who pay LMT LST. Not all do.

2.25 acre strip commercial block in Photos

Lower revenue vs. higher liabilities



2.0 acre Strip Commercial block in Wescosville by the numbers:

Land Consumed: *2.25 Acres
Businesses: 1
Employees total: 30 (increases seasonally up to 35) 15.5/acre
Residents: 0
Projected EIT revenue for LMT: 0.00
School District Revenue per acre: 14,862.66 / acre @16.6 Mil
LMT LST revenue: **1,690  
LMT property tax revenue per acre:  294/acre @.33 Mil
Total LMT revenue: 2,351.50
Traffic liability: HIGH (according to ITE standards, convenience stores with gas pumps are one of the highest traffic generating uses.)

*I counted the remnant township parcel since the WaWa precludes any future development but it really would not have changed the numbers since it’s only .25 acre

** since employment figures are seasonal I split the high and low and used 32.5

Even more untapped potential on the traditional side…. Just get the sprawl zoning code and regulations out of the way!

As mentioned above the strip commercial block will likely never produce additional value. The single use has gobbled up all the useable land on that side of the street. On the traditional neighborhood side however there remains much un-tapped potential. For ex: 2 buildings experienced major renovations which likely resulted in increased assessments. Check out those projects here. 1 or 2 of the other buildings could get the same TLC resulting in higher value.

Additionally there is 1 vacant lot that can be developed with a mixed use building. The problem? Our zoning code makes it hard due to our ‘sprawly’ setback and parking requirements.

Another potential is the small residential building next to the re-purposed Church. The owner of the parcel was approached by a business owner who wanted to open an organic menu planning consultant. Would be an excellent fit for the space and neighborhood. However, regulations currently make it too expensive renovate the building up to code. Here is another opportunity I hope someday someone figures out how to take advantage of. These two projects plus some additional updating of 1 or 2 other buildings on the block could result in another 20% increase in value resulting in even more revenue, more jobs and more business generated by one block.

Lastly, below is a snapshot of one of the buildings demolished to make room for the WaWa. If the WaWa side were re-developed via adaptive reuse projects in the same fashion as the traditional side we’d likely see the same 50%+ increase in value returned to the township with much less traffic.

This is one building that was torn down in 2000 to make room for the WaWa

This is one building that was torn down in 2000 to make room for the WaWa

We can do better in Lower Macungie.

Every once and awhile I like to do a post primarily of photos demonstrating visually what I think represents more community serving and friendly development for Lower Mac. The type of development that we need more of. Alternatives to sprawling strip commercial. Specifically in the Villages of East Texas & Wescosville and along the Hamilton Corridor. I’m often critical of development projects and our current zoning ordinances that allow them. It’s only fair that I present what I think the alternative looks like.

We are making progress. We really are.
(For ex. our Planning Commission is now serious about walkability!)
But we can always do better. We have to.

Example 1: Alternatives to the strip
Here is an article about a neat neighborhood commercial project that might be built in Hellertown. 
Right out the gates this proposal is oriented in a more friendly fashion with parking to the side and rear. More attractive and in line with the desired character of Hellertown (Main St. in tone vs. STROAD in tone). This encourages walkability by framing the street, calming traffic by visually narrowing the roadway and since it’s an infill project it takes advantage of existing infrastructure representing great value. Today, our zoning code doesn’t allow this type of form.

The way this building is oriented to the street encourages a more cozy and attractive character.

The way this building is oriented to the street encourages a more cozy and attractive character. This would be a great alternative to buildng more strip malls on Hamilton Blvd.

Example 2: Even the big dogs are slowly getting it.
Here is a photo of a new prototype store built by Wal-Mart. Even the vaunted and much maligned big box behemoth is slowly but surely creating more community friendly store designs.
They are doing this because they know that’s what the market will dictate moving forward. Most of the big box players now have better prototypes. As a community  you just have to insist on quality! No excuses in a community so highly sought by retailers like East Penn is. Due to our highly coveted demographics. 

An attractive alternative to the typical Wal-Mart superstore "box".

An attractive alternative to the typical Wal-Mart superstore “box”.

Example 3: You can build beautiful new construction!

When artists draw idyllic classic representations of American Communities how come they never draw strip malls or STROAD commercial corridors?

When artists draw idyllic classic representations of American Communities how come they never draw strip malls or STROAD commercial corridors?                   Key elements here include: PEOPLE centric design, multi modal, attractive and warm. This represents simplicity and timelessness. Something in this tone will remain viable in 50 years.

When you build neighborhood commercial the focus isn’t on buffering because the building fits into the fabric of the community. Strip malls must be buffered because they are inherently abrasive environments.

This corner development frames the public domain. Walkable. Pleasant. Comfortable. Plenty of parking. (It's just in the rear so we don't have to look at it!)

This corner development frames the public domain. Walkable. Pleasant. Comfortable. Plenty of parking. (It’s just in the rear so we don’t have to look at it!) You see residential homes in the background. And that’s ok. No need for buffers when development fits with the fabric of a neighborhood!

This example is just off a driveway to a shopping center. This is a bank. Just like we have many here. Except it’s clearly very different. (New construction Lancaster PA)



Just across the street from that bank in the same shopping center is this cafe with apartments above.



Example 4: Follow the private investments
Really, we don’t even have to look that far at all.
As a local government unfortunately the focus recently has been on subsidizing a low value mega strip mall, (even though it’s a “nice” strip mall it’s still a strip mall)  in other parts of the Village of Wescosville today we have private investments in high value neighborhood friendly commercial design in the form of adaptive reuse projects.



Adaptive reuse of Classic Village of Wescosville home stock. Today after a very nice remodel this is home to two local businesses.

Adaptive reuse of classic old Village of Wescosville home stock. This is today after a very nice remodel. Now the home of two local businesses including Thrive Media.

Fantastic reuse of an old Church building. Now the home of Werner & Co. CPA's

Fantastic reuse of an old Church building. Now the home of Werner & Co. CPA’s and another small business Express sign outlet.

 Strategy: Let’s focus township efforts on triage and sprawl repair!
Sadly, just across from the two really wonderful projects above we have the result of a very poorly thought out zoning ordinance and decisions made years ago. Unfortunately, folks working in these unique buildings look out their windows everyday at this…

This WaWa represents really awful design.  It's the boilerplate generic WaWa. But making it worse is what everyone drives past is the side of the building. Recently the township had to make the store enclose dumpsters with that vinyl fence.

From inside Werner & Co beautiful re-purposed building their view is this…. Unfortunately our zoning code at the time allowed this replace an entire block of old home stock. Across the street the old home stock and block is now the home to 8 small businesses. This WaWa represents really awful neighborhood killing design. Not only is it the boilerplate generic WaWa. But making it worse is that everyone drives past the side of the building. There is no framing the public realm. No sidewalks. Up until very recently the view included dumpsters.

Important to note. The problem here isn’t that this is a convenience store. It’s the context, form and function. You can build almost any use save for the most auto dependent in a more community friendly way. Yet our zoning codes continue to fixate on separation of uses, when really we should concentrate more on the built form.

Our WAWA is what it is…. BUT what about a Private/Public partnership to improve it? How about erecting a new street wall that would welcome people to Lower Macungie like this? The township has already talked about a gateway. This would address some of the issues with the barren side wall and also make the whole more attractive and safer. We could if we had the wherewithal force WAWA to install sidewalks using the first class code. But I prefer a partnership.


Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.47.47 PM

An then there is this: It’s not just aesthetics, walkability, adjacent property values, quality of life and character. Above all else it boils down to dollars & Cents!
The financial argument for neighborhood commercial development is equally if not more powerful then any other argument.

The Smart Math of Smart Growth. The building on the right is probably a little too tall for Hamilton Boulevard. But even a 3 story building (like the one currently being built at the old Pizza Hut) presents much better value and return for the community.

The Smart Math of Smart Growth. The building on the right is probably just a little too tall for Hamilton Boulevard by 1 story. But even a 3 story building (like the one currently being built at the old Pizza Hut) presents a drastically better value and return long term for the community.

Already today we are seeing the folly of giving away 50% of incremental revenue for a strip mall. Last week there was a joint meeting between Upper Mac and Lower Mac focusing on the Rt. 222 corridor. The exercise took into account all the new development along Rt. 222 including Hamilton Crossings and created traffic models. Article: Computer predicts traffic woes in Lower Macungie.

Big picture improvements were outlined so that the townships can go hat in hand to the state in attempt to get on 20-30 year planning budgets. Reality is the township will somehow have to secure easily over *1 million dollars to build what basically amounts to as band-aid improvements to address currently failing levels of service. LOS that will get worse once new development ramps up. Again, this is just for band-aids. The end game of grade separation will cost us over 100 million dollars. So in essence at the same time we desperately need money to address issues caused by development, we’ve let developers off the hook for paying their fair share over the next 20 years.
*no cost estimates were given except 500,000 for one of the lanes. Representing 1 of a half dozen projects. I think my estimate is actually very conservative.

What’s done is done. But moving forward we HAVE TO concentrate on building more financially resilient land development patterns that utilize and capitalize on already existing infrastructure by returning higher value over time. The simple fact is land on the Hamilton Corridor should be looked at as a commodity. The School District moreso then anyone else should understand this. Instead of blindly chasing the band-aid they should be concerned with long term resiliency of the tax base. That’s what smart growth is. Seeking the highest return on our built environment.


The STROAD: A street/road hybrid. Does nothing good. Not quite a street (value capture) not quite a road.  (move cars efficiently) Much like a futon is both a terrible sofa and terrible bed. Besides being a very dangerous environment they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.

The nasty, ugly STROAD: A street/road hybrid. Does nothing good. If the purpose of a street is to capture value. And the purpose of a road is to move cars efficiently, then much like a futon is both a terrible sofa and terrible bed a STROAD is a bad street and also a bad road.
Besides being a very dangerous environment they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.

Instead of STROADS build Boulevards!

As opposed to a STROAD a Boulevard is a more walkable, pleasant, attractive and higher value roadway.

As opposed to a STROAD a Boulevard is a more walkable, pleasant, attractive and higher value roadway.


Interested in these topics? Strongtowns posted 2 good blog posts this week.

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.


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)


Hayden Phillips ridiculous comment

I had to find a minute to write about this quick today. Northampton County Commissioners are considering an amendment that would use gaming money the county gets from the Sands to put another $750,000 into the county’s farmland preservation program and $400,000 into preserving open space and environmentally sensitive lands. 

farmland development

It looks like the board has the votes to pass this. Great news. UPDATE: 10:00pm Thur – The Amendment successfully passed.

But another part of this story is the Commissioner who dissented and a statement he made that is one of the most ridiculous I have ever heard a public official mutter.

“As we buy up farmland and take it out as a development option, we’re denying people a dream in suburbia.” – Hayden Phillips Northampton County Council

As if by preserving some farmland we are somehow going to take single family homes off the market en masse. Or somehow force people to move into densely packed cities. Anyone who drives around any suburban neighborhood in the Valley can plainly see that this isn’t the case by the number of units available in Surburbia. For those who prefer a suburban lifestyle it is by far and away the most abundant choice in the Valley. I also instinctively dislike anyone trying to force a narrowly defined worldview on me. I live in suburbia and like it but not everyone does. I have no right to define the American Dream.

Everybody has the fundamental right to live wherever they choose. What they don’t have is the right to have that choice be subsidized by others. Single family home subdivisions cost more in services than revenue generated. Always. Commercial development is how we fix that problem. Farmland however, is the most effective way. It’s about balancing revenue & liabilities. That is the most fundamental accounting task local governments are charged with. Balanced budgets. 

Farmland generates no crime. No traffic. Increases quality of life. (matter of opinion) Increases property values. (matter of fact) Doesn’t add new kids into school districts. Definite and clear long term ROI. ect. Even with Act 4 programs Farmland generates far more in property tax revenue than liabilities in services/infrastructure.

Letting opportunities pass to aggressively invest in preservation now will certainly lead to higher taxes down the road. Smart growth is not just about consumer demand for more livable communities, and not just about supporting congestion-mitigating transportation options such as complete streets it’s also about seeking growth that pays for itself and isn’t dependent on ether *constant growth (where you eventually run out of land) or direct/indirect subsidies.

*The Growth Ponzi Scheme

Bottom line is farmland preservation doesn’t somehow magically force people to live in cities. In fact it achieves the opposite. By creating a balanced mix of residential, commercial (preferably together as traditional neighborhoods) and most importantly farmland we keep the suburbs affordable. This enables those who choose that lifestyle (as I do) to be able to afford it.



The 2014 RenewLV Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities

RenewLV will be hosting the Lehigh Valley’s second annual Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities on Friday Dec. 5th. This will be a one day conference from 8am-2:25 at the Hotel Bethlehem. Last years conference had over 150 local leaders in attendance.

Topics include: Smart Growth, sustainability and more efficient and responsible local government.

Here are some of the main questions that will be tackled:

  • How can we preserve open space while supporting job creation and economic development?
  • How can we prevent costly sprawl as an unintended consequence of regionalized water service?
  • How do we strengthen our cities and suburbs?
  • How can we promote regional cooperation between neighboring municipalities?

I’m very excited to be moderating one of the two main summit panels titled: Land use, open space, farmland and water. Panelists will include members of private sector business, developers, professional planners and representative from county ag and LCA board.

The cost of the summit which includes two meals is $65 dollars per person. For more information and to register visit renewlv.org.

Conference sponsors include: PPL, Just Born, Sam Adams, HDR, Embassy Bank, Brown Daub, Lehigh Valley Health Network, St. Lukes, Spillman Farmer Architects, Morris Black Designs, Norris, Mclaughlin and Marcus, Hanover Engineering and the Sustainable Energy Fund.

RenewLV was launched in 2005 by community leaders in response to a Brookings report that highlighted concerns with: 1.) Sprawling Development and 2.) an antiquated and fragmented system of local government. RenewLV addresses these challenges — a declining urban core, disappearing open space, fragmented local governance — by bringing together a broad range of perspectives and expertise.

Smart Growth is about long term financial strength

Over on www.smartgrowthforconservatives.com the conversation continues about how to build stronger communities that remain fiscally solvent over the long term. This conversation has been spearheaded by folks such as Joe Minicozzi and Charles Marohn of urban3 and Strongtowns.

I’ve said often that if you want to address smart growth issues in your community you have to first be willing to STOP what you are currently doing. Then you have to proactively evaluate your status quo. It begins with asking the right questions:

These questions center around simple accounting concepts.

1. What are your communities total assets. What is the value of the tax base. How does a community pay it’s bills? An accounting of the money coming (revenue) in vs. the money going out. (liabilities)

2. What are the long term obligations for infrastructure maintenance associated with sustaining those assets? What’s the money going out.

Next, communities need to ask the more complex questions. These should be used to frame a smart growth strategy.

1. In terms of geography, what parts and land uses of your community have a positive Net Present Value. (Positive ROI – Cash from long term assets minus the cost of long term liabilities) and which have a negative Net Present Value? This is largely determined by the types of land uses present. This process looks something like this: Here is a look at the efficiency of some Lower Macungie projects. 

2. How does the tax base change in response to certain policy decisions? Is your community considering a rezoning? If so what are the LONG TERM fiscal impacts? It’s critical to look beyond the windfall which often skews the longterm picture. Is a project greenfield or infill? Will it require new infrastructure? What are the jobs/acre being generated vs. land lost? Have you quantified this? How much will it cost down the line to “improve” roads to handle new traffic if traffic forecasts are incorrect? (As they often are) What’s the cost to pay for new students in the classroom? To provide increased services? Police, Fire, amenities?

Positive vs. negative ROI is one of the main factors differentiating smart growth and dumb growth. 

2. What types of land use patterns create the most wealth for the community? Are decisions creating high value land uses that create wealth or low value land uses that suck up more resources than revenue it generates? Remember, elected officials have a responsibility to taxpayers to show that zoning changes make financial sense.

3. With a goal being a stable predictable income stream, what types of land use patterns experience the greatest degree of volatility?

4. How do items that increase property value such as parks impact net present value? How far from the park does that effect extend?

5. How do items that hurt property values such as STROADS impact Net Present Value? How far from the STROAD does that effect extend?

Lastly and most importantly where can you best deploy limited resources to have the greatest overall impact? 

The Taco John’s of Lower Macungie – Distribution warehouses.

One of the rally cries for fiscal conservatives seeking to look at growth using “smart math” via ROI analysis has been Strongtowns “Taco John” case study.

Recently bloggers from around the country who have been inspired by Strongtowns have been conducting their own “taco john” analyses.

These analyses demonstrate in measurable terms that we have two types of land uses. On one hand land uses that generate positive cash flow and on the other hand ones that gobble up land and fiscal resources at rates that outpace revenue generated. The worse types of land uses do this at alarming clips. When you have too much of the latter as I think Lower Macungie now does leaders will inevitably only have one recourse. Raise taxes…. That is unless we stop and re-think the way we are building out.

An increasing body of evidence very clearly demonstrates sprawl is bankrupting communities that can’t keep up with new liabilities. (The 5 stages of municipal distress)

It boils down to this: There are always two items to consider. 1. New Revenue and 2. New Liabilities. It’s a very basic exercise that is unfortunately rarely conducted on the planning level and one that should be done over multiple life cycles. Well beyond the initial build cycle where rosy forecasting and one time windfalls often paint a misleading picture.

Land owners have property rights. But so do neighbors. Communities are should NOT be obligated to re-zone for uses that will inevitably lead to tax increases. This is the smart math of smart growth. And it MUST be be taken into account when considering zoning.

Below are some Lower Mac cost and benefit examples. I’m preparing a followup post with more local examples and also others from different places including mixed use. Since at this point we really don’t have much mixed use at all. This way we can take a look at some alternatives to status quo we can proactively encourage to better “balance the books”. Years ago Lower Mac once had a commercial problem in that we didn’t have any at all. Problem was and remains that the commercial we’ve built mainly consisting of warehouses and strip malls are some of the lowest ROI land uses. And unfortunately that’s about all we’ve built. And we’ve built it entirely on our most precious resource. Our last few parcels of open space and farmland.

All examples show revenue/acre at Lower Macungie’s .33 millage rate. The same ratios in terms of ROI apply across the taxing spectrum. School, County & Local. School District activists often support “chasing ratables” at all costs. But the flaw of that is the municipal gov’t is left carrying the bag paying the price of sprawl. We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. The district also need to be a partner focusing efforts on higher value ROI uses. Land is inevitably a finite resource and given we’ve wasted so much on low value uses as we approach build out this becomes more critical.

The Good – Smart Growth PAYS

Commercial land use in the traditional format generates the highest returns, jobs per acre and has the least impacts.

Commercial land use in the village of East Texas. Converted office building reuse of old home stock. Set in the traditional context this land use generates the highest returns in dollars, the highest jobs per acre and has the least negative impacts and was funded with 0 public dollars. It’s located on shared infrastructure with the rest of the village.

In traditional neighborhood commercial car trips are drastically reduced. Infrastructure is shared and costs therefore drastically reduced. Not only is this the best “bang for our buck” but the investment by the community is relatively small comparable to other less productive land uses. If the township would spend a fraction of what it spends to support less financially productive land uses on our village and neighborhood commercial zones the return in dollars and cents for the township, school and county would be doubled or more.

The Bad

Hamilton Crossings a strip mall consumes 60 acres of land will produce about 14 jobs per acre. (based on TIF narrative.) With the TIF in place for 20 years, the development per acre generates half the revenue as Traditional Neighborhood development. As usually is the case with strip developments Hamilton Crossings will be highly subsidized with state funds.

Hamilton Crossings is a strip mall that consumes 60 acres of land. It will produce about 14 jobs per acre upon buildout. (based on TIF narrative.) With the TIF in place for 20 years, the development per acre generates half the revenue as  neighborhood Commercial development on a much smaller footprint. As usually is the case with strip developments Hamilton Crossings is also very highly subsidized with state funds to the tune of millions of dollars.

Hamilton Crossings is interesting. Since it’s more dense (due to many dozens of intensity variances granted by Lower Mac) than a typical strip center it’s ROI numbers in terms of dollars aren’t terrible (compared to warehouses which are the worse) except for the fact we granted the project a TIF for 20 years.

So we’re only capturing half that value for a very long time. (I voted in the minority against it) But buyer beware, that density is very much a double edge sword. That density equals supersized traffic. Since it’s not at all walkable most all workers and shoppers will drive. Let’s not kid ourselves about the “sidewalks through parking lots.” This is no promenade. It’s not a walkable destination. Since this project is entirely auto dependent it needs mega-sized infrastructure. To the tune of 13 million dollars.

Supersized traffic + Supersized infrastructure = Supersized bill for taxpayers.

This completely negates the value it creates and the TIF doubles down on that mistake. On top of that it’s a terrible use of land in terms of 14 jobs created per acre. Yes, “900 jobs” sounds wonderful in a projected (likely inflated) TIF narrative. But at what cost?

The Downright UGLY

Distribution warehouses. The absolute lowest ROI in all measurable forms. Paired with the highest amount of public resources to maintain. (police, fire, roads ect.) This is the the worse type of land use to commit 1000's of acres to in Lower Macungie.

Distribution warehouses built on former farmland. The absolute lowest ROI in all measurable forms. When paired with the highest amount of public resources to maintain (police, fire, supersized infrastructure ect.) this is the the worse type of land use in terms of community benefit. These structures gobble up open space at alarming clips and generate very little benefit per acre. Unless we figure out a way to *assess their impacts, this type of development will cost the township money in the long term.

There is simply no way to around it. Warehouses are our “mega-sized” Taco Johns. They gobble up valuable open space at alarming clips. They produce or make nothing. They employ very few people at very low wages. (and those numbers will continue to dip with new automation techniques until these 50 acre facilities are run by skeleton crews. A dozen people on a shift maybe?) They contribute very little back financially apples to apples compared to what they cost to maintain. They require services such as police and fire. I could go on and on.

Now in our new reality we have to realize we have market forces at work. That yes, we’re strategically located in a place warehouses want to be. And that’s fine. And our zoning ordinance in the 80’s allowed for a limited number of warehouses. But what happened over the years is we’ve overturned our growth boundaries. We’ve doubled and tripled down on warehouses. What was planned to be a limited liability as the township fulfilled it’s legal obligation to provide for it as a land use (A municipality must allow every use somewhere in it’s borders..) now has the potential to cripple us financially.

*Homestead Exclusion one possible way to right size revenue to mitigate the impacts of distribution warehouses.

The only argument

Afternoon in Allentown

Spent the afternoon Downtown. Catalyst a trip to the Social Security office.  Need replacement card so I can get married 🙂 Unfortunately, (and also inexplicably) the office closes (the only day a week it does..) on Wednesdays at noon. But hey, my fault for not checking.

So not having ate yet, I decided I wasn’t going to let the trip go to waste. Belly growling I parked the car and walked up Hamilton.

No secret I’m a cheerleader for the Cities revitalization efforts. Even for a suburbanite like myself I recognize the importance of the city regionally. Healthy Allentown is good for Lower Mac.

I’ve come around to the NIZ. Generally skeptical of “ABC” tax gimmicks I recognize some are better than others. We got the good (CRIZ = keeping money local) and the bad (TIF diverting local money away for future maintenance obligations). And then we have our unique NIZ courtesy of Sen. Browne. Even for the biggest of naysayers it’s now becoming hard not to acknowledge what’s happening. From 7th St. to Hamilton to the Waterfront, NIZ has been a positive catalyst.

Downtown was bursting with action all over. Success can only be measured by walking through the city and feeling it organically in terms of one critical criteria which is people. It’s not measured in millions of dollars spent or brick and mortar laid. It’s people living, working & playing. That’s the measure of success for a downtown. Today it definitely felt like Allentown is well on it’s way.

Here are just a few of the photos I got. The measure of success. People living, working and playing.

Live-work-play: Dining

On my walk from 4th street to Billy's I passed 3 restaurants with packed fill with al fresco dining.

On my walk from 4th street to Billy’s I passed 3 restaurants with packed full with al fresco dining. Pictured here is Billy’s downtown diner.

Live-work-play: Recreation

At least a dozen kids playing in the PPL plaza spray park.

At least a dozen kids with parents playing in the PPL plaza spray park. Others stop and watch.

Live work play: Work

Folks on lunch break enjoying the sunny day taking advantage of the great pedestrian facilities all over Hamilton. Fantastic urban design.

Folks on lunch break enjoying the sunny day taking advantage of the great pedestrian facilities all over Hamilton. Fantastic urban design.

Live-work-play: Shopping downtown!

Shopping once again on Hamilton? Yup. I bet many thought window shopping would never return.

Shopping once again on Hamilton? Yup. I bet many thought window shopping would never return.

Live-work-play working: Small businesses investment to go with the big business investment

And of course a shout out to my friend Josh Macgown and his Mobile Genius store front. Josh, a Lower Mac resident chose to locate one of his storefronts downtown. Mainly because of clutzes like me he is always very busy repairing iphone screens!

And of course a shout out to my friend Josh Macgown and his Mobile Genius store front. Josh, a Lower Mac resident chose to locate one of his storefronts downtown. Mainly because of clutzes like me he is always very busy repairing iphone screens!

Live-work-play: Here come the Phantoms!

The Phantoms are coming! New storefront selling all your phantom gear.

The Phantoms are coming! New storefront selling all your phantom gear.

Live-work-play: Tradition!

Ended my afternoon downtown with an Allentown original Yoccos dog. (make that 3 everything with pickles)

Ended my afternoon downtown with an Allentown original Yoccos dog. (make that 3 everything with pickles)

I wish I had more time to take more pictures today. Speaking of living, working and playing I should have got a pic of my friend Tara who I ran into. Originally from the burbs she’s now literally Miss Allentown. Any demographer will tell you “young professionals” now prefer more walkable urban environments. She represents that. She’s just one of many friends who feel that way, but she’s the poster child. Homeowner in Allentown (West End), works downtown, raising her kid with her b/f there. Committed to downtown.