Brief agenda tonight – Just a few action items.

Not going to do a full agenda preview in the same format as usual. There just aren’t that many action items tonight. Here is a link to the agenda.

Just a couple notes:
1.) We got word that a brake retarder prohibition was approved by PennDOT on Trexlertown Rd. and Spring Creek. Now the question I’m sure we’ll get is: “Well, aren’t those roads now restricted to trucks anyway?” Good question. The answer is yes, but only to trucks greater than 28 ft long. (I have to check to make sure that’s the length) That means other small trucks that still might be equipped with brake retarders (like say a dump truck) could still use the roads. And therefore the restriction would apply. So this is good news. We will post this restriction in the next few weeks and let the PSP know so they can enforce. 

2.) There is a land development hearing for a Mack Trucks expansion. Very happy to work with one of our biggest employers. Even though Mack is on a cyclical downturn now we’re helping them prepare for the next up-turn. The operation will be much more efficient because of these plant upgrades. This is a good plan. I support it. 

That’s really all there is that’s either new or action item for tonight. Since this is an abbreviated preview then what I normally do just let me know if you have any questions on anything not mentioned. Ronbeitler@gmail.com

-RB

Developers – Bring your ‘A’ game.

I like to say Lower Macungie Twp. is open for business. But with two caveats. 
1.) Developers bring your ‘A’ game. 
2.) Look to build your projects in the appropriate places as identified by our comprehensive plans and voluntarily buy into our vision for high quality development. 

Yes, Lower Macungie is interested in preserving farmland. And to that end we’ve outlined an aggressive strategy over the last 3 years. We’ve successfully preserved nearly 300 acres of farmland and open space. Other targets are outlined on our official map. The map gives us the ability to make offers (at appraised value) on land before it’s developed. It’s our intention to do that on many of our large remaining greenfield properties. Voters stated loud and clear last 2 elections this was the priority.

So where does that leave us to build out? The answer is the Hamilton Blvd. corridor. Primarily this means redevelopment and infill projects. This is a corridor where taxpayers have already made key investments in infrastructure and now seek to cash in on them. The corridor is already well positioned close to shopping options, near existing access to major regional roadways and job centers. This is where additional traffic can be handled with good planning and the impacts managed.

What does this mean? Developers, landowners and builders – come to us with your high quality and unique ideas. We’re done with cookie cutter slop. Come to us with high quality purpose built structures. Not spec designs. Innovative plans. And high quality design.

Hamilton is going to be the townships bread-basket. A high quality and value, walkable, bike-able pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing Boulevard. (Not Macarthur Rd.) I think we’re close to done with the major shopping centers. Our township has our fill.

Ready to build on the Boulevard? Here are 5 rules of thumb. 

Rule number 1. First and foremost respect the Historic Hamilton Tree Colonnade. Embrace it as the asset that it is. Work within it, not against it. Where gaps exist plan on replanting.

We will fight to preserve our historic Sycamore trees. They are the defining feature of the Boulevard and a local heritage treasure.

 

Rule number 2. Come with unique proposals. High quality purpose built ideas and plans. Let’s innovate to create unique people oriented places. 

Let’s get creative. Think outside the box. Something like this? Let’s talk. Our zoning code is in place to protect us from bad projects. Have a cool idea? We will work with you. Most important of all make your projects unique.

OR THIS:

This commercial building is built on a human scale. Aesthetically pleasing with lots of lush landscaping.

NOT THIS:

No. Just no. Generic, monoculture, bland. Low value. Non-existent landscaping. Even if this was “dolled up” with some say stone veneers or some other lipstick, this pig is exactly the built form we want to avoid. (and why we recently reduced our front yard setback requirements) Put the parking to the side and rear. Our Boulevard will not be defined by parking lots.

 

Rule number 3 – Exceed our ordinance with landscaping. The ordinance represents the bare minimum. We want to attract developers willing to exceed the bare minimum.
DO THIS:

Planting strips and shade trees reduce heat, improve stormwater quality, and beautify retail areas, especially when designed as naturalized infiltration areas. The ordinance is the bear minimum required. Do you want to just meet the bare minimum? Or do you want to help us build a special place.

AND THIS.

Soften your buildings with four season landscaping.

OR THIS

Rule number 4 – Right size your signage.
WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO AVOID IN ONE PICTURE.

This picture represents what I like to call a “sign arms race”.  A total planning failure. In this picture it’s all about who can be gaudiest, highest and brightest. Our boulevard will be property scaled. Because of this visibility will be very high. You do not need to build the biggest signs.

MAKE YOUR MONUMENT SIGN VERY ATTRACTIVE. After all, why wouldn’t you? This is your chance to show off your business. 

Our ordinance now requires monument signs. (which really it’s silly to build a pylon anyhow since required street trees will block your sign eventually). Monument signs offer maximum visibility and reduce sign clutter and pollution.

Get creative. This sign is perfectly scaled, attractive and context sensitive. This is a high end salon and their sign reinforces that. This business is on the Boulevard today. A fantastic partner. And the benchmark for quality.

 

Rule number 5 – Keep your parking to the side or the rear. High quality architecture should be the defining feature. Not a sea of asphalt.

With this bank the attractive building is the defining feature. Not the asphalt of a parking lot. Plenty of parking. (and a drive through!) But it’s located in the rear. Keep the drive thru’s hidden.

DON’T DO THIS

NO. Just no.

If you must have parking in front of buildings, be prepared to screen the headlights.

Street trees, screened parking. Great orientation. This is a Main Street feel. Not a commercial strip feel.

Over the last 5 years we’ve had some good projects and some not so good projects built. Without really calling out the dogs, I’d rather focus on the good stuff. Here is an example of a nice infill project that fits the vision.
-Infill & redevelopment project (as opposed to greenfield)
-Walkability
-Context sensitive
-Attractive high quality design
-Low impact

Aside from the pole sign which is far too tall and will someday be obscured by street trees (a monument would have been much more visible and attractive) This project was an excellent addition to the Boulevard. Attractive design, bulk of the parking in the rear, walkability, a second story adds appraised value and increases ROI. Overall a great project.

Though not built in Lower Mac, this is the blueprint for the Boulevard. It was project built on Main Street in Hellertown recently.

These are some baselines. Our township ordinances represent bare min requirements for health, safety and design. But why would you want to just simply meet the bare minimum? We’re not so much interested in regulating quality as we our encouraging it. In fact we’ve worked hard to reduce un-necessary regulations that acted as barriers to good projects. We’ve right sized parking requirements by reducing excessive parking requirements, reduced front yard setbacks, created an expedited review process for small projects. All these moves were made to encourage excellent projects.

End the day to do that we need developers/builders who buy into what we want the Boulevard to become. If you share our vision take a look at what our township has to offer.

What are our guiding documents and where can you find them? 
Township official map – Where we want to preserve.
The Hamilton Corridor Study – Where and how we want to build out.

Whitehall weighs cap on campaign contributions.

Whitehall weighs cap on campaign contributions.

Good policy. Due to the smaller scale, local elections can easily be bought and paid for by special interests. Case in point. If you recall this was attempted when I first ran in 2013. An out of town special interest PAC pumped a ton of money into the 3 incumbents campaigns. So much so that as a group those incumbents actually ran television commercials. Unprecedented in a local township race. At one point, it got so ridiculous that residents were bombarded with numerous robo calls bought and paid for by that same PAC. You could tell immediately the PAC had no actual ties to the area since the recording actually mispronounced “Macungie”. End of the day it didn’t matter as we prevailed with our much lower budget because we focused on an issues based  campaign centered around hitting doors.

These limits make good sense. While we don’t have them in Lower Mac, I’d support a similar initiative. Absent of having limits in place, candidates can always self limit. And I’ve done just that. For this cycle no person, PAC, organization or entity can contribute more than $75.00 to my campaign. 

The first year I ran, I did receive a number of donations well above that amoun. Those folks got no special influence. Still, I want to completely eliminate even the perception that any single person or entity ever could. Certainly not due to disproportionately large contributions. The simple solution is a contribution cap. One self imposed if need be. Does that mean leaving money on the table? Yes. But it’s the right thing to do.

I also believe that more donations of smaller amounts is much more meaningful than just a few large ones. In a week I’ve raised just over 300 dollars. The average donation has been 40 bucks. Some as high as $75 and 1 as low as $10.  Goal is $2,500. Plenty for signs, 1-2 high quality informational mailers, postage, a kickoff event and palm cards.

Will you help me raise $2,500 with a small donation today? A donation of any amount up to $75.00 is very helpful. Even small amounts go a long way. A donation of 5 dollars pays for a sign. 25 dollars is about 75 mailers with postage.


Checks can be mailed to:
5540 Lower Macungie Rd.
Macungie, PA
18062
*Checks should be made payable to “Elect Ron Beitler”
Or you can contribute right now via Paypal by clicking this link.

 

 

 

Last look in Lower Mac Elementary.

Though exceedingly frustrating the East Penn School District did not give the township the opportunity to consider purchasing the property before selling it off to a developer (the value being the land, and opportunity to align Krocks and Spring Creek Rd., which we would have definitely pursued.), it was very nice of them to let the Lower Macungie Twp. Historical Society take one last look around to document. I went with them in the building today.

I attended LMES for 4 years. Kindergarten through 3rd grade (1986-1989.) First time inside the building in a very long time. Lots of memories. The society took many pictures, below are a few I snapped. You will be able to see more at some point the future at the Lower Macungie Township History Museum. It’s currently being built in the newly renovated Camp Olympic barn.

The old school is sold and will be demolished. A memory care center will be built in it’s place. Could start as early as next week.

When I attended LMES the “Main entrance” was in the back of the building up a set of stairs. This sign greeted guests. This might be a new one since I attended.


The Main Entrance in the back of the building. The “front door” you see from Lower Mac Rd. was only used for fire drills when I attended.


At some point after my years this mural was added near the Main entrance in what was the Kindergarten Classrooms when I went here. Does anyone know any information about this mural? Who painted and what time period?


My Kindergarten classroom. “Afternoon Shelly”.


The Main Corridor which was basically the only corridor. The classrooms all have color themes that match the doors.


One of a few plaques in the stairwell to the basement. This one commemorating (I’m guessing) The original playground equipment. A gift from the East Texas Summer School Association.


The Multipurpose space. A center of activity. Gym/stage/cafeteria. My most vivid memory from here was a few times year in gym class there would be setup a giant indoor play structure. I remember it taking up (what seemed like) the whole gym. The teacher was Mr. Seip who was the high school swimming coach I think.


Very small hallway downstairs. The lunch line area was to the left. Beyond that boiler room. Up the stairs and to the right was a school store when I went. You could buy your “wolves” gear. We were wolves, Wescosville was (is?) Owls. They still are right?


The historical society grabbed this mat that was at the (true) front door for the township historical museum they are currently building to be housed at the newly renovated Camp Olympic barn.


Was pretty amazing to think that basically the entire building administration (that I can remember) was in very tiny office suite. I mean really, really small. Basically one room with two carved out areas. I imagine one for the Principal. One for guidance counselor. Anyone remember who was in the offices in the late 80’s? I don’t recall who the principal was.


So everyones favorite teacher when I went was Mr. Kovalovich or “Mr. K”. I had him for third grade. And I’m 90% sure this was the entrance to his room. It was a corner room.


Remember these?


Lockers were all in the individual classrooms.


The “nerve center” in the Main office. An intercom system was to the left I believe.


Years after I left LMES when I was in Jr. high (Eyer) and High School since I lived in nearby in East Texas  I spent many, many days on this basketball court playing roller hockey with friends. This was the home of the “Shepherd Hills Swamp Monkeys. ” We played Ice Hockey on a frozen pond nearby in winter on the Golf Course.


The playground. Updated since I went. What I most remember from elementary school recess was 1.) Boxball, 2) playing Thundercats with a guy who is still today one of my best friends (and business partner) and 3.) obsessing over a large rock under a tree we called the “secret rock”. LOL

 

See more photos of the Elementary School and learn more about all kinds of Lower Macungie Twp. History at the soon to be opened Lower Macungie History Museum at Camp Olympic.


I just wanted to wear my boyscout uniform for this LMES picture day. 🙂

Re-election notes

I recently filed the paperwork to establish a re-election committee. Later this week I’ll take care of the formality of an announcement. I would like the opportunity to serve one more term. If I get one (voters will determine that) I’ll say that’s probably it. The reason is because I believe very strongly in term limits for paid elected officials. Serving shouldn’t be looked to as a career. My job is my small business. Now, local municipal government is not a full time paid position but in general many of the same rationale for limits still apply. 

Related, I’ve decided to cap donations at 75 dollars for any single person, entity or PAC. There was quite a bit of PAC money infused into the first election I ran. The incumbents were flush with out of town special interest money that actually funded television commercials. Un-precedented in a local election. I often write in this space that money in politics is one of the biggest issues we face as a Democracy. My opponents had they won at worse would have been totally beholden to those interests. At best the perception would have still existed. So again, I’ll put my money (or rather access to money) where my mouth is. No person, entity or PAC can donate more than 75 dollars this cycle to my campaign. This is a self imposed limit. Had I done this last time I would have left a few large donations on the table. Nonetheless, right thing to do. For ethical folks money does not equal influence. Problem is often even the perception that it does is damaging.

Additionally, I am eliminating robo calls from any campaign strategy. Frankly, they are annoying. Also, again I’ll limit the amount of signs I place in public domains. A few key high visibility spots sure, but probably no more than 12 in public locations across the entire township. Instead I’ll focus on getting the majority of my signs out on private property if people are willing to host one. When you see my sign, it means that person or business is a supporter. A sign on private property or a business is alot more meaningful I think to voters than littering the landscape.

Will you be willing to host a sign in your yard in April? Email me at Ronbeitler@gmail.com

As with last time I will hit doors. Hard. As many as time allows.

Final quick note when I ran and hit doors the first time I told folks I wouldn’t be a stranger in the years between elections. I was thinking about that today as I read a couple old blog posts.  I think I accomplished that. I tried to be extremely accessible. I conducted 6 town hall meetings in individual neighborhoods over the last year alone. (Graymoor, Shepherd Hills, Hills at Lockridge, Wild Cherry Knoll, Lamplighter Village and Harvest Fields.) They were well attended by about 200 people in total.  Before that I periodically walked neighborhoods just for the heck of it. To chat and see what was going on and what people thought about certain issues. This is also why I maintain this blog and try to consistently make meaningful posts on my social media.

Will you consider making a donation of any amount up to $75.00 max? If so, you can via Paypal here. Any amount is appreciated.
Or you can mail checks to:
Elect Ron Beitler
5540 Lower Macungie Rd.
Macungie, PA 18062

Thank you.

Two major spending votes. Gym Expansion and line of credit.

Last night I voted in favor of establishing a 7 million dollar line of credit. (PASSED 5-0) But AGAINST hiring various civil, mechanical and structural engineers to move forward a 5 million dollar gym expansion project. (PASSED 4-1) I was the lone dissenting vote.

With the first issue, the majority of new debt is envisioned to expand the community center. ($5.5 million) This is my primary concern. While I initially supported a relatively affordable and much needed expansion of the library, one that would have been in large part funded with grants and aggressive fundraising campaign by the library (skin in the game), the conversation very quickly escalated. It ended up a 5.5 million dollar gym expansion funded primarily with debt. I have concerns with both the cost and pace at which the project expanded once debt was identified as a funding component. I am uncomfortable with the price tag. In the two links above you see how the conversation rapidly changed from summer to November during the budget process.

I still voted in favor of establishing the line of credit after it was agreed the debt would be in that form as opposed to a bond. A line of credit means we will vote individually on each and every “withdrawal”. Only paying interest on what we actually use. Establishing the line of credit in and of itself doesn’t mean we have to spend 7 million dollars. It’s my hope the township does not. Had this been a bond I would have voted no since that would have obligated us to spend that entire amount. Since we were only establishing a line of credit I voted in favor. It was a prudent move locking in historically low interest rates. 

For example, another component of the debt is 1.7 million for a new aerial firetruck for the Lower Macungie Fire Department. I support this. It’s something I think is appropriate to use the line of credit for. The 3rd component is for farmland preservation. As an advocate for preservation I want to make it clear I did not ask for that component to be included. I believe we should pay for preservation initiatives with cash reserves as the opportunities present themselves. And debt only if absolutely necessary. The township has a responsible fund balance policy that requires we keep a rainy day fund. Anything above and beyond that set % is unencumbered money. Essentially, savings. When the township wants to make a major discretionary purchase we should save the money instead of borrow the money.

The biggest goal I have moving forward is to avoid our debt service payments from increasing. Right now with our 2009 and 2012 debt our payments (both retire in 2019) we pay approximately 500,000 a year. If we end up borrowing the full 7 million dollars those debt payments will increase to 732,000 a year beginning in 2018. This is in large part why I oppose funding the gym expansion with debt. I will make this an issue during the upcoming election since I am currently in the minority. The gym expansion would have been a excellent candidate for a referendum item.

I feel very strongly that we should not be increasing our yearly debt payments. 

The second vote tonight related to formally beginning the process for the expansion. Again, I voted NO. And was disappointed I was the lone dissenting vote.

The gym expansion is similar to but also in some ways different from the Quarry park turf park proposal which was defeated a few years ago. (I voted NO on that) The gym expansion (and certainly library expansion) is probably more of an immediate need and certainly more justified. The concept has been talked about for years. However, that doesn’t change the fact it’s being funded with debt and I believe that debt funded led to the project to rapidly expand in scope. On the gym side of things there is no skin in the game from any other entities.  And most importantly no mandate from voters. An item of this scale should have been a referendum item. Or a centerpiece of a campaign. Where voters could voice an opinion.

It’s been brought up that I support and have voted for major expenditures for preservation initiatives. This is true. The difference in my opinion is that I ran on that platform. I won convincingly (with a strong mandate) on those issues. I very clearly campaigned on it. Not a single person on the board campaigned on spending 5 million dollars for a gym expansion. In fact one Commissioner campaigned on and won a race on his opposition to the turf fields. So I find it a bit hypocritical that he support this project.

I also worry that reducing our cash reserves (the 7 million capital plan calls for using 2 million of reserves above and beyond the amount required by the fund balance policy) is actually weakening our position to pursue preservation. As evidenced by the golf course preservation, the township needs the ability to react quickly to opportunities as they arise. And as they say in the private sector, cash is King. Savings is always preferable to debt. Offers the most flexibility and also best bang for buck.

The amount of interest payments the township will make over the next 13 years on this loan should we take out the entire amount? 1.5 million dollars.

So let me know. What questions do you have?

BOC AGENDA PREVIEW 1/19/2017

HERE IS A LINK TO THE AGENDA WITH DETAIL
All township BOC meetings are available on video online.
You can also always watch all our board meetings live on Channel 66 RCN cable.

Here is your agenda preview for the Thursday Jan. 19th township meeting. The BOC meetings are the formal business meetings of the elected Board of Commissioners.

Announcements and Presentations:
Proclamation Presentation to Timmer Family:

Dennis Timmer was a long time former parks and recreation volunteer and former chairperson who sadly passed away far too early… The new trailway connecting Hamilton Blvd., Shepherd Hills Park and Harvest Fields will be dedicated the Dennis Timmer Trail in his honor.

New signage honoring longtime township Parks and Recreation volunteer Dennis Timmer.

Dave Nosal – Fire Department Year in Review
Chief Nosal will make the presentation.

HEARINGS & APPROVALS

Resolution 2017-03 – Plan Approval for Michael Kline Minor Subdivision Plan – This is the first of two approvals tonight. This is a minor subdivision on Sweetwood drive. A family would like to subdivide a large property to make additional lots for family members. There were no major planning issues.

Approval of Letter of Agreement Final Draft Regarding Shepherd Hills Golf Course Conservation Easement. This decision was made in large part last week. Information here. This is a formality where the board will authorize signatures of the final agreement. This will preserve the golf course from any future development.

Planning
Zoning and SALDO updates
We have two ordinances dealing with updates to the zoning and SALDO codes. (these are essentially the local rules and regulations relating to development.) SALDO stands for Subdivision and land development ordinance. The term “subdivision” refers to the act of dividing land and making new lot lines; “land development” is improving the land for some purpose. The updates can be put into the following general categories.

1.) Tightening controls on warehousing by making them Conditional uses (as opposed to by right uses) in all zones that we are able. And then adding a number of specific conditions that must be met. This gives us significantly more control.
2.) We significantly tightened up our sign design standards for commercial projects. This included additional regulations on LED signs.
3.) Tightened up landscaping standards for commercial projects.
4.) Required a minimum lot size of 1 acre for an on lot sewer system.
5.) Tightened up the language in our administrative review procedure. A process meant to reduce red tape for small scale, low impact projects.
6.) Increased our required recreation land contributions in liu of fees.

I support all these updates to zoning and SALDO

Managers Report
BOND
Under the Managers report we will vote on the approval of a bond as part of 2017 budget. I have major concerns with the bond issue. Both in terms of increasing our debt payments and also the amount of overall debt we are assuming related to discretionary projects. I will be voting against this.

My thoughts on the bond and budget issues were outlined in detail here on this post.

Hiring civil, structural and mechanical engineers for Community Center expansion.
As I mentioned in prior blogs I do not support this project. While I support library expansion, the problems remains that the project quickly grew beyond the initial proposed scope. While a library expansion of some sort since it is a demonstrated need – as with all bond funded projects the conversation experienced a very rapid “vision creep”. It very quickly expanded from a discussion of matching library funds (for let’s say 250,000 dollars) to secure a grant opportunity for funding a major 5 million dollar community center expansion. I was not ok with the speed this discussion morphed. We had some long term planning activities exploring full gym expansion, but never did I think it was going to become a debt serviced item in the 2017 budget. The amount of money we are considering to spend now should be put to referendum.

Comments on recent article.

I wanted to comment further on this article and issue. Lower Macungie commissioners oust zoning board chairman, citing philosophical differences.

First, Bill Royer is a man I greatly respect. This was neither political nor personal. It was a hard decision for me. One of the toughest I had to make last 3 years.

But bottom line is this. Because of a recent Zoning Hearing Board decision yet another very large and very impactful shopping center is one major step closer to reality.

That development is proposed on a severely constrained and dangerous section of the bypass. A road already strained from recent development. The special exceptions and variances granted by the zoning hearing board to the developer without any acceptable justification were substantial.

Fairness is important but the scale and impacts of a project have got to be taken into account.

Again, Mr. Royer is a gentlemen. Someone I respect. But I need to make decisions based on what I think is in the best interests of the township. Not anything else. We’re at a crossroads because of poor land development decisions made by prior boards over the last decade. The zoning hearing board has to be on the same page as the rest of the township. When there are philosophical disagreements the only recourse we have is in appointments. The zoning hearing board is a totally independent body.

Municipal exemption ordinance

I wanted to highlight a letter we rec’d in our agenda packet this week. It’s from my friend Bob Rust. Bob was the attorney representing residents when together we fought the ill-advised spring creek Jaindl rezoning before I was on the board back in 2010. I first got to know Mr. Rust then. I rely on him today for advise and council.

Below is his letter. First, some background. The issue is a proposal to exempt the township from municipal ordinances on a limited basis. Here is a copy of the text. 

This is a very common ordinance that many (most?) municipalities have already have in place. There was an argument made by staff and our solicitor to adopt it as a way to streamline certain municipal projects. The recent catalyst was the township having to go in front of our own zoning hearing board to exceed the allowed light standard height for new ball field lights that will be installed at Wescosville park this spring. Having to do this slowed down the process and took staff time and resources.

That being said, given the strong objection by our planning commission, outlined best by Mr. Rust’s letter below I think our recommendation to approve this was a mistake. And perhaps even a little bit shortsighted. Like many things in life “everyone else is doing it” is not always a good enough justification. Yes, this would make things alot easier for staff and the board.  I don’t believe the move would have impacted transparency directly (since there is still always very public process) but the main problem is it creates a perception issue.

My goal is to hold this township to higher standards. There isn’t anything more I would add then what was outlined by Rust below. He is correct. This was a needed reminder. I will not be supporting the exemption ordinance Thursday. 

 

Related: Mr. Rust is currently on our planning commission. He was a few years ago on the zoning hearing board but was unceremoniously not re-appointed by the Eichenberg/Conrad board. I believe till this day it had less to do with Rust’s qualifications or performance and more to do with the fact he opposed the township during the Jaindl issue. When I got on the board it was a priority for me to find a position for Rust. We did that last year by putting him on the Planning Commission. This reconfirms the reasons I felt it was so important. We need to fill volunteer positions with moral compasses like Bob.

 

 

 

Shepherd hills – Background info.

I wrote about my current thoughts on the Shepherd Hills Golf Course here. This still represents my thinking.

But the conversation really started when the township considered adopting an official map. Which we did spring last year. At it’s most basic – this is a transparency tool that lets the community know where the township has interest in preservation. Here is a link to a good FAQ the morning call did. After the area loss the Indian Creek Golf course to development we felt it was important to put all the courses on the official map as preservation targets.

Remember though, simply putting the properties on the map does not mean they are preserved it’s just letting landowners know the township has an interest. It can’t stop development but it can ensure a conversation. You can view a larger version of the official map here on the township website.

Adopted Lower Mac Official Map

And this is exactly what happened with Shepherd Hills. We started that conversation a few months ago. Every property owner identified by the official map was contacted. I personally reached out to some of what I felt were the most important targets. Shepherd Hills included.

With all these conversations, the most important factor was establishing a fair market price. I believe that when you want to preserve land you pay fair market value. Otherwise it represents a government taking which is both unfair and in the case of downzoning not permanent. We must respect private property rights. You do that by entering the market. Here is an overview on why I think preservation makes sense. And why I believe it’s definitely worth the cost. Certainly in a township like Lower Macungie where open space is becoming more sparse.

In this case to establish the correct fair market value we needed to know exactly what could actually be built. The developer first proposed a sketch plan that included 148 units. It was deemed by the township that this wasn’t possible without waivers and/or variances. Of which the township would certainly not grant them. Turns out a more accurate “by right” (meaning could be built with no waivers/variances) number was closer to 115 units. Depending on an interpretation of the zoning code the number could even be as low as 82. Meaning without question 82 homes could be built with no way for the township to stop it if a formal plan was submitted.

Here is an example of how this process works. We look at the zoning rules and vet plans for compliance. Here was a very straightforward example where one unit was removed. The actual letter is very long and contains many sections like this where units were deemed not viable. This is just one section of an engineer review letter. Again, they look at the plan and apply the zoning code to find the actual number of units that could be built.


The other step in determining cost was to conduct an appraisal. This determined the value of each unit to be 6400.00. 

So end of the day, the math is pretty simple.  Number of homes that could be built x appraised price = X

Right now, X = 620,000 which corresponds to conceding 96 units. So basically the narrative is we both threw out the 148 number as unrealistic, they then believed they could build 115, we felt they that number is actually closer to 82. So roughly splitting the difference (acknowledging it would be a contentious land development probably involving litigation) we arrive at the current number. Which I think is very fair. Again, this would permanently put this question to rest.

Below was the original sketch plan. You can see how the thin fairways precluded the highest number. But how some of the larger wider ones made fitting units much easier. 

This was the sketch plan that was reviewed.

The calculation also contained other considerations which we felt represented public value. They include at this point:

1.) If the golf course ever ceases to operate as a course, the township would get first right of refusal to acquire as a gift for no additional considerations. If the township declines ownership can then be conveyed to a formed Shepherd Hills Homeowner association or deeded to adjacent properties. This means that in effect if the course is ever not a course the township will have purchased the course for the above price.

2.) Development right acquisition monies would be put in escrow and debited as improvements are made to the course.

3.) The course will provide the township with an easement for a new public playground. This will replace the playground lost when the school district decided to sell Lower Macungie Elementary School. This playground will be located somewhere west of Krocks Rd. in or near Shepherd Hills.

4.) Various trail connection easements would be granted.

5.) A 10% permanent discount for township residents will be offered for golfing. Also acknowledging the public private partnership the course will be renamed Shepherd Hills Golf Club at Lower Macungie.

Please let me know any questions you have. You can reach me at:
Ronbeitler@gmail.com or 6107622684