Development watch: Hamilton Crossings

Two items on tonight’s agenda dealing with Hamilton Crossings. First, it’s been determined that the County will not be participating in TIF. Moving forward the township must now decide if we are. Tonight, the timeline for moving forward to a vote on this issue will be outlined. The specific decision will be whether or not to hold a public hearing. This consists of authorizing staff to advertise so we can conduct a hearing sometime in May. (I will post  relevant dates when set) If approved at the May hearing we would consider two items:

1. The creation of the TIF district.
2. If Lower Macungie is to participate in the TIF district. |

Both items would be considered as proposed ordinances. These ordinances if supported would then be advertised for adoption sometime in June. At the same time the project will continue to move through land development process.

My thoughts: I am heading into the next 2 months with the mindset that the developer and those who support the TIF must make a case for it. The prior BOC which I did not sit on publicly supported TIF. They did this via a resolution asking Lehigh County to participate. (At the time the public narrative was all 3 district, county and township were needed for TIF to move forward. Apparently that is not the current interpretation.) If I were on the board last year I would have voted against the resolution of support.
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Smooth On a great fit for Community

Commissioners unanimously voiced support for Smooth On at our last BOC meeting ahead of tonight’s 7pm Zoning Hearing Board meeting. (What is a Zoning Hearing Board)

Smooth on Logo

Smooth on Logo

Here is why I support Smooth On based on smart growth principles: 

First, by encouraging a company to move into an existing empty building we help to preserve precious open space and farmland. Infill and true mixed use is the alternative to greenfield development. Churning up our open space is costly both in terms of providing new infrastructure but also by hurting our quality of life.

Smooth on projects to have 1/7th the impact (parking, traffic, deliveries) of Daytimers when they were operating at their peak. As an example, the projections are for 20 trucks total daily limited to Mon-friday. These deliveries will also be limited to certain times and will not occur on weekends. Contrast that to distribution warehouses which generate 20-40 trucks an HOUR 24/7 and 365 days a year. Sounds like a pretty neighborhood friendly deal to me compared to other alternatives. Remember, part of Daytimers facility is a huge warehouse. There was a real fear a distribution outfit would have tried to purchase the property. This would have generated up to 10x the truck traffic.

Secondly, Smooth On will bring over 150 good paying jobs. They’ve already stated they would like to hire former Daytimers employees who lost their jobs when the company relocated. This is contrary to distribution warehouses which typically hire alot of seasonal and part time employees at much lower wages.

Lastly, Smooth On has expressed an interest in being a partner in future smart growth visioning projects including taking a look at East Texas. This is wonderful, because without an anchor who buys into community vision it’s hard to move forward with ambitious planning projects. Smooth On encourages a culture where employees live, work and play in the surrounding neighborhood. The folks who work there likely will live here, spend money here and send there kids to school here. This was similar to Daytimers where a large percentage of folks who worked at the facility lived here in Lower Mac.

Yes, with any large manufacturing facility there are concerns. This is no different. But as someone who always looks at new development with a critical eye, personally after 2 meetings with company officials I feel confident issues will be addressed. I have seen residents asking the right questions. That’s important! And great to them engaged. I hope to see many at tonight’s meeting. I am confident our staff, fire and emergency professionals and of course smooth on will be able to address any concerns residents have.

I grew up next to daytimers and today I live in a home in the same neighborhood 2 houses down. So not only do I look at this from the standpoint of a Commissioner, but also as a direct neighbor. Daytimers even at it’s peak was always a fantastic neighbor. It’s important we get another good neighbor in this building. Smooth on will have the same restrictions and 1/7th the impact in most measurable ways. To be honest it kept me up at night worrying the “wrong fit” may have expressed interest in the building. There are still questions to be answered tonight, but overall it’s fantastic that we have what looks to be the right fit.

 

TIFS & Jobs

Organic, Incremental land development is always more desirable then the “magic bullet” project. The same can be said about job creation.

I’ve written alot about the Hamilton Crossings TIF. I’ve tried to keep the land use issues separate from TIF funding issues. At first from a land use perspective I felt it was a good project based on assurances of quality, context, function and form. Then the project slowly started to devolve. Today, it is a very large strip mall. Albeit, one with bells and whistles. Unfortunately, a smattering of bells and whistles doesn’t make a strip mall a town center lifestyle complex. Definitely not one in the mold of the promenade. Which is what we were promised in exchange for the township supporting a more intense/dense project.

We’re not getting what we were sold and that remains a problem. Assurances of quality were what made the TIF pill easier to swallow. If I were a County Commissioner looking at the topic my vote would be ‘no’ as the project stands today. First the infrastructure improvements need to include a limited access interchange. That’s the logic for the TIF. That the infrastructure improvements are a benefit to the whole region. We’ve got to get rid of the lights on the by-pass. Penndot at one time recommended a “skinny diamond” interchange. What happened to that recommendation? The Bypass needs to be a road moving cars quickly from point A to B while old Hamilton needs to be allowed to flourish into a Main Street. Streets are value capture mechanisms, roads move cars. We can’t afford to build side by side STROADS. Secondly, the project needs to represent what we were sold. There is a tax abatement in play and the public deserves to get what we were promised when the developer was trying to rally support.

Today, I want to talk TIF a little more. Specifically TIF’s and job creation. On patch this afternoon someone made a comment about the jobs. Fair enough. I hear that often. It’s an interesting conversation. I have some problems with the general argument and I’ll lay them out here.

There have been some good studies done on TIF’s and job creation.  Yes, TIF creates jobs. The problem is no one ever looks at the “but for” factor. What that means is if job creation, and economic development would not happen BUT FOR the existence of a TIF district then yes, proponents of TIF’s have a very good case. Where proponents logic is flawed however is that as soon as you look at the “but for” factor you quickly see that the studies that do take it into account very clearly show that most communities still get the economic development without the TIF. Especially ones with the strengths and desirability of LMT.

So while we might not get the big strip “Costco” mega project at THAT particular location without TIF, we definitely will still get continued job creation and economic development here in Lower Macungie. Why? Because we’re an attractive community for employers at a strategic location. We have developers literally filing litigation to get zoning changes to be able to build here. That’s how desirable our community is to employers. We have 1.5 million square ft of warehouses coming. 100′s of 1000′s of square ft of commercial development coming. Nearly 1000 more homes in the pipeline. Trust me, if Hamilton Crossings doesn’t build someone else will. Even with the mine wash issues. Someone will build. No one in their right mind can say we don’t have a very healthy amount of economic development here in Lower Macungie.  If you take into account the “but if” factor when considering a TIF for LMT the results are very clear. Yes, TIF’s produce jobs. But we’re producing jobs here in LMT without TIF’s. So how isn’t this picking winners and losers?

Exhibit A - I want to wait until this set in stone cause it’s so exciting. But presentations have already been made at public meetings. It’s safe to say there is a large company about to buy the Daytimers building. They want to bring nearly 200 great paying manufacturing jobs. Guess what? NO TIF NEEDED. Job creation will happen because we’re an attractive area. Not because of gov’t tax abatements. 

 

Nice letter about Willow Lane Elementary

Below is a letter written by a resident about WLES. There was another couple weeks ago complimenting the crossing guards. Last BOC meeting was justifiably dominated by tax issues so I wanted to post the letter. It reflects alot of the rationale for building neighborhood schools as opposed to “sprawl campuses” that are disconnected from the neighborhoods they serve.

Yes, rollout was at times complicated to say the least. But when dealing with ensuring safe routes most of the parent safety concerns were warranted. After initial hiccups and the inevitable politicking that came during election season, from my observations the program has been a success. From my standpoint as a smart growth advocate, I agree with many of Scott’s comments below about fostering a connected community with a sense of place.

A community benefits when we build neighborhood schools. I was supportive of WLES’s location for this reason during the planning process. I think it’s a suburban walkable model located appropriately in the middle of 100′s of homes. Hindsight, I  wish the walking routes were discussed during land development so that walking was rolled out when the school first came online. I still to this day have no clue why they weren’t. I know it was late in the game that walking was postponed.

So let’s keep working through the kinks.  I have heard about speeding issues on the interior driveways leading to the school. I also still believe we need to texture the crosswalks and install “stalker boards” (radar boards that tell drivers their speed) on the corridor. Aside from that, I think the township improvements have worked out. I do think the crossing guards have done a fine job.

Anything else on the township end that we should be aware of? What do you think of the letter below? Let me know in the comments. 

Devolving Hamilton Crossings a concern…

Last night did nothing to alleviate concerns I have with the Hamilton Crossings project slowly but surely transforming into a typical run of the mil box project.

Here WFMZ’s Randy Kraft does an excellent job summarizing: Lower Mac planning commissioner not happy with how Hamilton Crossings is evolving

I hope any County Commissioners on the fence take the time to examine concerns planning Commission has regarding this project. There is real concern about quality. County Commissioners need to take this into account when re-considering TIF. I want this project to move forward. It makes sense from a planning perspective. This represents “smarter growth” even only in terms of getting more return on investment building where significant infrastructure improvements have already been made. This is the appropriate location for retail. Yes, I prefer more neighborhood centric. More “Main Street” in character, but fundamentally this makes sense here as opposed to building a shopping center in some cornfield out on the fringe ala the typical “Jaindly” blueprint. But I want the project we were sold. I did have issues with TIF financing, but  moving past that if it is to move forward it absolutely must be what we were promised. County Commissioners have a duty to do their due diligence we’re getting what we were promised if they choose to move forward funding. I trust they are.

Pictures say a thousand words:

Tone we were promised: This represents a “Promenade esque” walkable town center. Looking down the streetscape you see shops and attractive facades. You see a place where people can mingle, shop and relax. We were sold on the new “Gateway to the township” that we could all be proud of as a community. This is what we were promised when the developers were “selling” the project for TIF financing.

This is the rendering used to win the “hearts and minds” of residents when the developer was making a pitch for public financing.

Here is the current Costco rendering….. It’s a box. One that has been described as “cheap looking”, bland, boxy, generic.

Proposed Costco rendering for Lower Macungie Township

There are MUCH MUCH nicer Costcos as I’ve outlined in previous posts. For some reason we’re getting a “cheapo” one. We shouldn’t accept that based on what we were promised when the developer was seeking funding.

Police services study preliminary report

Below is the preliminary memo for the police services study. The full forum unveiling the results of the study will be presented in a public forum Nov. 12th at 7pm in the Community Center.

My detailed thoughts on this issue will be outlined in an upcoming Morning Call point counterpoint.

Pennsylvania State Police in Lower Macungie Townships primary provider for police protection.

Here is the memo:

TO: Lower Macungie Township
FROM: Gary Cordner, Consultant DATE: October 31, 2013
RE: Police Services Study

This memo is intended to serve as a preview of the police services report that will be completed by December 31, 2013. The consultant is still collecting data for the report and will participate in a public forum on November 12. Public comment at and following the forum will be incorporated into the final report.

The following “facts” and findings seem unlikely to change between now and the final report:

 

1. Lower Macungie Township (LMT) is unusual in not having its own police department. The township’s 2013 estimated population is 31,000, a 60% increase since 2000. LMT is the 22nd largest township (by population) in Pennsylvania. It is the 2nd largest township in the commonwealth that relies solely upon the state police for its police service.

 

2. LMT has a low crime rate. The 2012 estimated Part 1 crime rate of 1083.8 per 100,000 residents is about 1/3 the rate for Lehigh County and is 7th lowest among Pennsylvania’s 35 largest townships.

 

3. Over 80% of the Part 1 crimes in LMT in 2012 were thefts. Thefts increased 15% from 2010 to 2012.

 

4. The state police clearance rate in Lehigh County in 2012 (the percent of Part 1 crimes that were solved) was 32.9%. This exceeds the national clearance rate by a substantial margin.

 

5. State police activity in LMT increased from 2010 to 2012. DUI arrests more than doubled and traffic citations increased by almost 50%.

 

6. The state police do not routinely respond to a variety of types of incidents, such as parking complaints, animal complaints, lockouts, ambulance calls, and township ordinance violations.

 

7. LMT saves $4-5 million per year (about $150 per resident) by not having its own police department.

 

The “bottom line” is largely unchanged from previous police services studies. Lower Macungie Township has a low crime rate and a relatively low demand for police service, in spite of significant population growth and proximity to Pennsylvania’s third largest city. The police services currently provided are highly professional, albeit at a relatively low level.

A drawback of the current arrangement is that the residents and elected leaders of the township have little or no influence over the police services that are provided, since it is a state agency that provides those services. The benefit is that the township is not burdened with the cost of policing or the substantial administrative responsibility that accompanies a separate local police department. The final report will discuss additional options, such as a part-time police department, contracting for police services from another municipality, participation in a regional police department, and other hybrid models. All of these other options would entail some financial cost, of course. The report will not offer any recommendations, only options with associated costs and benefits. Fundamentally, the situation is one in which the township needs to decide (as it has in the past) what level of police service it wants in conjunction with how much it wishes to spend for that service. page1image20840

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

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Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

(Submitted as LTE to LMT Patch and an abbreviated version to EPP)

By preserving open space via a well thought out smart growth plan we reduce costs for infrastructure and services, thereby reducing the need for tax increases. Farmland and open space generate no traffic, create no crime, needs little fire protection and places no new students into our school system.

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Sign Standards are important

Recently the township has asked 2 businesses on Rt. 100 to address signage issues. Wawa and Weis both utilize or have been utilizing temporary “yard signs” and banners on or adjacent to their buildings. Both types of temporary signage are not allowed under our current sign standards.

Why is this important?

When outdoor advertising is improperly placed in our commercial landscape, made too large, gaudy, too many in numbers, or illuminated late into the night, it infringes on our scenic and aesthetic values hurting adjacent property values. The impact is felt not only by the residents in the immediate neighborhood of the signage but also the community at large.

WaWA Lower Macungie Rt. 100

Temporary cigarette signage at WaWa. Enforcement notices have been sent to WaWa to remove.

Temporary Banners at Weis on Rt. 100. Enforcement notices were sent out reminding Weis these temporary banners are not allowed.

When speaking about negative outcomes of growth I hear many residents ask about “not allowing our commercial areas to turn into Macarthur Rd.” I completely agree with this notion and I also use this example often. 

Tacky and gaudy outdoor signage is one of the leading indicators of a community in decline. I truly believe that. Lower Macungie is not a community in decline, but this is one of those issues people need to pay close attention to so we can avoid becoming that!

The photograph below is what happens when businesses engage in “one up syndrome” by making signs bigger and bigger. Heading “one up syndrome” off at the pass with consistent attractive sign standards is the only way to stop gaudy signs from dominating the streetscape.

Photo from Morning Call – MacArthor Rd. strip. SIGNAGE GONE WILD!!

In PA  it is very common for the local outdoor advertising control laws to be more restrictive than the state law. This is something I am supportive of. I’ve heard that Weis may seek a variance to make their banner signage permanent. This is something I will speak out against if they do so. Both Weis and Wawa already have massive signs indicating the store is located at the location. Additional signage is certainly not a hardship and the variance and precedent should not be granted. Sign variances should only be given when there is a significant topographical issue involved. And then only on rare occasions.  There are no such issues on Rt. 100. In fact I can think of no commercial area in the township that would qualify.

Commissioners are on record that they have a desire to build “World Class” commercial zones. I agree with that. Granting exceptions to our signage regulations would be a step in the wrong direction and another step toward the photograph above.

All over the country businesses conform to community standards and do just fine. Below is a local example where a Wawa was made to utilize better looking lower lying signage at their Main Entrance. This particular Wawa is on Lehigh St. is across from the airport and that is the reason for the low sign, but I’ve seen similar signs at other WaWa’s where the limits are imposed because of aesthetic commercial standards. Despite the height restriction I guarantee no one has ever had trouble finding this WaWa or couldn’t figure out exactly what it is and what they sell!!

Here a WaWa conformed to a local restriction with a low lying sign. Somehow people still know it’s a WaWa!

We have to remember. Businesses WANT to be here. We are an attractive location. To remain that way we must be cautious with growth. It is OK for us to take pride in our community! Since businesses want to be here, they will conform to our standards. Same as they do in nice communities all over the country.

If they refuse? Well then another business who will conform will be waiting to take their location.

More examples of franchises that conform to local design standards.

It is also no secret am not a fan of the recent “LED Billboards” that have been springing up across the Valley. One in particular here in the township is shockingly bright at night. It’s a distraction and a public safety issue on top of being gaudy. You can imagine what a whole strip of that kind of signage would look like.

Words have meanings….

Last week I posted a blog after visiting my favorite mixed use project. The project is a great comparison for LMT since we’ll have more greenfield pressure here in LMT at in-fill locations. The post outlined critical ingredients that a mixed use project must have.

Throughout the last year I’ve taken issue with board members and developers giving projects certain labels that do not apply. Words have meanings. You cannot just call something ‘mixed use’ when it isn’t. Just because it ‘smushes’ two incompatible uses together on the same project or two seperate projects are built the same time doesn’t make it or them a mixed use project. To label a project as something it isn’t is misleading. More harm then good is done cause your leading the public to believe you have something when you actually don’t.  The local media reinforces this when they  regurgitate developers mis-use of terms in articles. The Jaindl project is NOT a mixed use project. Not even close. Tonight the township has a resolution to apply for a grant on behalf of Hamilton Crossings. In the grant resolution they label the project as mixed use. It is not. Again, not even close. I think the Hamilton Crossings project has potential, I like the developer. I think he’s community friendly. But it isn’t a mixed use project. It’s a suburban strip shopping center. Yes, it’s the Cadillac of a suburban strips, but a strip nonetheless. You can maybe get away with calling it a commercial town center. But not mixed use. Mixed use means something.

Yesterday strongtowns posted this great new SID TV video. This reinforces what is and is not a mixed use project.

Modern zoning regulations are concerned primarily with how a property is being used. What is overlooked is how the buildings and other improvements interact with the public realm and each other.

The neighborhood in this video represents the opposite of mixed use. It is what we have in many locations here in Lower Macungie albeit ours are shinier and newer with some superficial bells and whistles. You could make this same video about Caramoor Village. Or the Trexlertown Mall and apartments. Or even Hamilton Crossings. If neighbors ask for buffers you have a Euclidean segregated project. You buffer incompatible uses. If your dealing with buffers you do not have a mixed use project.

Look at the neighborhood in the video then take another look at the Lancaster post. Go beyond the fact that Lancaster is ‘shiny and new’ and Brainard isn’t. Really look to form and function. How the neighborhood ‘works’. The differences are obvious.

Words have meanings and their meanings are important. Stop throwing around terms when the meaning doesn’t apply.

This is mixed use

Mixed use – Retail 1st floor, apartments 2nd floor. Intregrated design. Emphasis on pedestrians. Strong neighborhood character. Compact design. Compatability. NO buffers needed here cause everything works together.

This is NOT mixed use. 

Strip Commercial next to residential. Segregated, not compact, no neighborhood integration. Residents see backs of stores. Emphasis on buffers.

This IS Mixed use:

This mixed use development has distinct qualities. Residential and Commercial are integrated. Plenty of parking, but cars do not dominate here. No buffers needed here!

This is a warehouse adjacent to a housing development. This is NOT mixed use.

This is a warehouse development next to a housing development. Just because they were built around the same time doesn’t make it a mixed use project. This is two incompatible uses built (Smushed) next to each other requiring buffering. That is the opposite of mixed use. Emphasis on large supersized buffers.

Letter to Planning Commission 8/13 – Jaindl

Below is the letter I wrote to Sara Pandl our township planner and the Chair of the Planning Commission yesterday. The Spring Creek Subdivision is on tonight’s agenda. The meeting is 7pm in the township building. There are unresolved issues with the project and plenty of opportunities for the public to weigh in. Tonight is one of those opportunities. My letter focuses on defining the form/function of the landscaped berms which were a part of “Plan B

It’s critical “watchdogs” continue to monitor this project as it progresses through the planning process. I strongly encourage anyone interested to attend tonight’s meeting. I’m guessing Jaindl will be discussed no earlier then 730pm.

Here is my letter:

Planning Commission,
Some thoughts on Jaindl prelim/final subdivision on tomorrows agenda. I really wanted to be at this meeting but I’ll be away at a conference.
Sara indicated a note about the bermed buffer areas in her letter. I believe it’s critical to define the size/scale/context/look of these berms very early in the process. We should really be pushing every step of the way for above and beyond buffering.

Below is a side by side comparison I made of two examples of landscape banking on warehouse projects. The “beefy” example is located in Quakertown. The other LMT. Our goal should be to exceed both.

Side by side warehouse landscaping

Defining the tone of this early in the process is important. Mr. Jaindl promised the community the cadillac of warehouse projects and planners have an obligation to push him to deliver. He remains and has been open to constructive criticism.
In addition to physical form, I think it’s also important to define what these berms are supposed to accomplish. In my opinion that goes above and beyond the obvious visual screening but also containing noise pollution. I’ve read multiple studies that conclude berms reduce noise by approximately 3 dB more than vertical walls of the same height. Most quarries have extensive earthen buffering. It’s my opinion distribution warehouses should be treated the same way since their impact on a community is comparable.

Those who live near warehouses in the Alburtis area cite the noise of tractor trailers backing up (beeping) as the one of the negative by-products of warehousing. 
Thank you
Ron Beitler

 

Mr. Jaindl explains plan ‘B’ at a public meeting.