Big Box becoming more of a terrible deal.

From the Institute for local self reliance: About ILSR
For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal.

#DoTheMath – Couple of takeaways from this:

1. We have a potential dark store issue in Lower Macungie. Since.

It’s an established part of the big-box retail model that the boxes themselves be custom-built, cheaply constructed, and disposable. If retailers decide that they need a bigger space, it’s cheaper for them to leave the old one behind and build a new one.

This is happening in Lower Mac right now with Weis. They are currently in the process of abandoning their current store to build a new one – across the street. This opens the possibility for Weis to argue the “dark store” method for calculating tax assessment.

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2. Even without assessment reductions box retail isn’t a fiscal winner for local communities. The reduction strategies happening in some states just make it worse.

When eight communities in central Ohio looked at the fiscal impacts of big-box retail, they found that the stores actually demanded more public services than they generated in revenue, and created a drain on municipal budgets to the tune of a net annual loss of $0.44 per square foot, or about $80,000 for a typical Walmart supercenter. 

Mark my words, our increasingly boxy/strippy Hamilton Corridor will be the driver for local police and a massive unavoidable tax increase: 

“Higher demand for police departments is one example. In Port Richey, Fla., nearly half of the town’s crime emanates from the area Walmart. “The taxes that come from Walmart are not even enough to cover two police officers’ salaries,” Police Chief Robert Lovering told Vice.”

It’s happening in Lower Mac today.

3. With Hamilton Crossings we are beginning from an even bigger hole. Throughout the HC discussion it was parroted that the windfall was worth the tax gimmick. The narrative was: “There is nothing now, when something is built we can tax it”. Problem is what we approved costs us much more then what’s there now – fallow open space. And the new tax revenue won’t cover the long term liabilities. Our problem is the fatally flawed short term way we look at municipal finances.

“Cities and towns continue to buy into myths sold to them by the mega-retailers themselves, that big-box stores spark economic development. In service of this myth, local and state governments across the country have granted at least $2.6 billion in subsidies to just six large retailers, including $160 million to Walmart and $138 million to Lowe’s, according toanother study from Good Jobs First.  That’s without factoring in the cost of services, which as Marquette, Mich., saw, can pile up”

We got to start thinking beyond the windfall and look at lifecycle sustainability. That is: Lifecycle costs (liabilities) vs. revenue (tax base). I am not arguing for a valuable corridor to be vacant. This isn’t about NIMBY. My argument is a financial one. We need to build better. Smarter. Patterns that create positive value. But since at least with Hamilton Crossings that ship has sailed….

4. Living in reality. What’s done is done.  Can’t change the fact 3 members of the current BOC opted to hand out a 20 year tax subsidy. So, moving forward our strategy has to focus on repair and triage. We accomplish that with balance. First by preserving farmland and open space concentrating on places where expensive infrastructure would have to be built and maintained by taxpayers to support greenfield growth.

Second, we encourage better/smarter growth in patterns that creates higher value in locations where infrastructure exists. We get there by fixing our terribly archaic and restrictive zoning code. By instituting aspects of a form based code we allow and even incentivize more “Main Street” oriented walkable neighborhood mixed use devleopment on Hamilton Boulevard.

The land development alternative – What does that mean? Lower Mac is working on a vision.  Here is an outline: Lower Mac’s Hamilton Corridor vision study. If we adopt and follow this plan we will induce more high value growth on Hamilton Boulevard. This is essential to balance the low value. More positive growth will help balance the net negative financial development.

“Locally owned retailers provide value to a community in many ways, but one of them is to the municipal accounting books. In a study that found that big-box retail generates a net deficit for taxpayers in a Massachusetts town, the researchers also discovered that specialty retail, like Main Street businesses, are the ones with a positive impact on public coffers, generating more revenue than they require to service.”

One thing to watch is avoiding falling into the pitfalls of “smart growth light” like we have in the past. #WordsHaveMeanings.

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The taxing alternative – Shift the burden off residents and onto warehouses and box stores.

Corporate Welfare

Last night at the township BOC meeting one colleague fellow Commissioner Ryan Conrad asserted that participating in the TIF is not “corporate welfare”.

It’s important residents understand where Commissioners stand on issues. This issue in particular outlines stark philosophical differences and approaches to land development, development subsidies and who should shoulder the costs of impacts both immediate and projected. Therefore it’s crucial residents understand very clearly without semantic interference where each Commissioner stands. Every four years we receive a job review in the form of an election. Therefore, I would be remiss if I didn’t clearly state that I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Conrads assertion in the strongest of terms. 

“Corporate welfare” in this instance has been used as a rallying cry for residents who by and large support the project but without the 20 year tax forfeiture. Some institutional supporters have tried to use semantics and word games to insist this doesn’t qualify as corporate welfare or that the townships decision on participating in the TIF could somehow derail the project. This is a disingenuous game and unfair to residents.

The facts remain:

1. If Lower Macungie participates in the TIF 50% of the developers incremental taxes will be siphoned away from the township.

2. The money instead is siphoned back to the developer and other private interests through LCIDA where it would be used to pay back construction bonds for basic improvements that are required of all developers seeking to do business in the township.

3. With this TIF, tax money is forfeited and instead used to pay for what otherwise would be the responsibility of the developer. In other words the normal costs of doing business. Infrastructure costs every other developer has to pay for themselves. In this case it is the bare minimum infrastructure improvements required by Penndot to build a shopping center of this magnitude.

4. The bottom line is that this mechanism pads the developers bottom line. TIF will increase profits of private business interests and decrease the return received by taxpayers. It is preferential treatment for one chosen business. It is a subsidy of both of the sellers flawed piece of land and of the buyer. It is a distortion of the market that will hurt other local businesses.

5. While you can argue that creating the TIF district could pull the plug on the entire TIF, (including the school district) the townships participation (remember they are 2 separate ordinances and two separate votes) is purely symbolic and will have absolutely zero impact on the developer building the project. In other words, with or without the township participating in the TIF this shopping center is coming. This is a certainty. I can’t be anymore clear about that. There have been attempts to blur this line. 

Lower Macungie’s participation in the TIF is giving one developer receiving special treatment for purely symbolic reasons. We are a relatively affluent township with a healthy and robust economic climate, therefore TIF is unnecessary and borderline egregious to even consider.

A vote for the TIF is a vote to take money out of the pocket of Lower Macungie residents and funnel it to private interests over a 20 year period. This is compounded by the fact some Commissioners seated on this board just recently voted to raise taxes.

If any Commissioner believes this is the right thing to do, then they should stand by that decision and not try to rationalize it by making statements like “The developer still pays 100% of it’s taxes” while ignoring the fact that half those taxes are siphoned away from the township back to the developer by padding their bottom line through the Lehigh County Industrial Authority. The other misleading notion I’ve heard is no “corporation is receiving a direct subsidy. Last time I checked TCH development and The Goldenberg group are in this to make money. They are indeed both private businesses who will benefit from TIF subsidy in terms of increased profits. No, the “nameplates” Costco and Target aren’t the direct beneficiaries but they are indirect beneficiaries. No matter how to slice it private interests are the gov’t sponsored winners in this shell game and taxpayers and other local businesses are the losers.


Got a phone call from owner of a business today….

Got a phone call from a business owner today. He owns a business in the Giant shopping center. I will let them name their business should they choose to if they publicly address the Lower Macungie BOC which I encouraged them to do. If you have been following this issue for awhile they attended a county meeting and spoke out.

They honestly believe their small business will absolutely be hurt by Hamilton Crossings. When you own a small eatery in a shopping center you count on foot traffic to drive customers into your place of business. The “Giant shopping center” is located just blocks away from Hamilton Crossings and is clearly struggling.

Now please understand one thing. And this is my opinion but I think the business owner shares it. Competition is one thing. Business owners accept this. As a township Commissioner I encourage it. It’s survival of the fittest thing. The problem is when the playing field is skewed. Plain and simply TIF’s when abused and utilized in a community that isn’t distressed disrupts the free market. Utilizing this TIF in this area where an existing inventory of businesses have not benefitted from the same treatment will hurt other business owners. Many small businesses in the “Giant” shopping center will now have to compete with potential new business in a government chosen shopping center on an uneven playing field. At least one owner is certain this will hurt him and his employees.

Does anyone out there believe that this is fair? If so I’d love to hear why.

Competition is a fact of life for small business. It leads to more options and better pricing/service. When this happens the consumer wins. My problem is it’s fundamentally unfair to choose the winners with this kind of government intervention in a community that isn’t distressed. Hardworking people will be hurt by this TIF. Does anyone out there believe Lower Macungie is a distressed economy?

Above is a picture of 5 empty storefronts in the Giant shopping center. This is just one corner. In total there is over a dozen vacancies.

Above is a picture of 5 empty storefronts in the Giant shopping center. This is just one corner. In total there is over a dozen vacancies.

*Additional note: Some have said “well this shopping center is run down” “That’s why no one wants to shop there”. I don’t disagree. The “Giant/Redners” shopping center is one of the worse “Strip Malls” in the whole Lehigh Valley. It’s dated. Ugly. Terrible. Traffic flows poorly. Some locations the parking lots are downright dangerous.

To that point, note that the same company owns the “Kohls” side. And they did acknowledge this. At least in terms of spending some major money on recent renovations of. This included new landscaping and a facade renovation (Kohls). From what I understand more improvements are coming and they are slowly making there way to the “other” side where giant is.

the point is, this is the natural order. Your shopping center is crummy and because of that you can’t attract good tenants? Then invest money and fix it. Or fail in the open and free market. What isn’t natural is when a gov’t chooses a winner. Then that new shopping center which “needed” the special treatment succeeds because it’s allowed to divert 50% of it’s taxes to repay bonds for 20 years. 

Public Comment from TIF Hearing

Here is the youtube video of the meeting. Public Comment on TIF happens from 1:12 to 2:18. My comments are 2:20-2:31

There were different reported tallys of speakers and positions in the papers. This is understandable as trying to keep track as your processing the comments is tough. Here is my best shot at an accurate tally after re-watching the comment this AM. This includes very brief synoposis of each speakers content. *Updated this AM adding two more in the FOR TIF column. They were very quick comments that I initially missed when fast forwarding through the comment portion.

29 TOTAL 26 residents 3 non-residents
7 *For TIF
8 Neutral regarding TIF
5 Other project comments unrelated to TIF
1 Cemetery concern
1 For Project no comment TIF
1 On the fence
2 Special interest

*5 organized Labor in favor of TIF

1. Charles Rhoads – Resident, “Picking favorites” “Retail Crime”
2. Natalie Kravitz – Resident, “What is TIF?” Never defined. “Costco over 100/share, Why do they need TIF”
3. Ira Lehrich – Resident, developer – “I’m for No TIF” Costco stockholder. “Costco claims TIF is developer business Costco has no input” “welfare” “support project, not TIF”
4. Arlene Dabrow – Resident, “Other centers have vacant space” “fairness – justify giving money to one developer over others” “EIT may leave township” Word games by developer unfair –  “Average income to median income”
5. Chris Donatelli – Resident, “Project state of flux last 5 years.” “Current school board split” “Realtors voted out of office” “I am for development, but taxpayers not bank” “I disagree with tax program”
6. Dave Greff – Resident, “definitely against breaks” “Concerned traffic”
7. Donald Richards – Resident, “100% in favor of project 110% against creating TIF district” “Financing concerns” Equity vs. private debt ratio’s changing”
8. John Donches – NON RESIDENT EMMAUS, “Stiffthetif” “ok with land development” “no ok using tax money” “Contingency fund”
9. Richard Perry – Resident, “Traffic” “No objections to growth” “against TIF” “Traffic beyond project. Feeder Rds”
10. Charles Patrel – Resident, “Shepherd Hills” “Project going to go through either way” “Traffic impact instead of granting TIF use money to address traffic” “remember the citizens”
11. Mike Catcher – Resident, Roads “Beitler hit nail hit” “feeder roads” “Used to live in whitehall and that’s what he sees” “how pay for future impacts”
12. Mike Scalanti – Resident, Organized Labor – For the project “but not at the reduced rate”.

Other project related issue. No TIF opinion (5)
1. Tom Hess – Resident, “500 yds from N. Krocks” “sees Boulevard pictures, but fears Mcarther Rd.” No mention of TIF
2. Mike Siegal – Resident, “Increased grants” “money coming in is fluid””New grants yet we cannot get second opinion on traffic impact fees” “Concerned with how money being spent”
3. Joe ? – Resident, Engineer – “history of bypass” Nuetral on TIF “signal concerns”
4. Peter Ryan – Resident, “no evidence the bypass can handle the traffic associated with development”. “let everyone else argue about TIF or no TIF”
5. Mike Frazier – Resident, “Talking about Traffic”

1. Ken Guldin – Resident – “People dying to have a place in cemetary”

1. Scott Forbes – Resident “Urge board to accept TIF” “Tax revenue is worth the investment”
2. Mark Spengler – Resident “for the TIF”
3. Kevin Lewis – Resident Organized Labor “Jobs””For TIF” “For Project”
4. William Mcghee – NON RESIDENT Organized Labor – Jobs
5. Eichenberg – Resident former Commissioner Economic Development
6. John Iobst – Resident Organized Labor “For the construction jobs”
7. Sharon ??? – Resident “Keep money local” “It’s an eyesore why not beautify the area.

For Project (1)
1. Jim Reilly – President LV Building Trades – Organized Labor  No Address”Not here to talk about TIF” “Jobs”

1. Jane Bachman – Resident – “not as bad” “wants to see ice skating rink” Comment related to something else on property..

Special Interest (2)
1. Jeremy Hugg – Lawyer Cedar Realty
2. Lucious LCIDA

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Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 5/1 Hamilton Crossings Hearing

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

3 hearings tonight. 2 Conditional use hearings and the big one. Hearing on Hamilton Crossings TIF district. NOTE: The TIF district hearing will begin no earlier then 8pm since we have two conditional use hearings before.

The two conditional use hearings are for:

1.) Billboard application for Schantz Rd: This billboard would be fronting the turnpike. While I do have concerns with billboards on Hamilton Boulevard, I see no issues with this. It is appropriate location for a billboard facing a highway. 

2.) Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine: The second application deals with a potential new restaurant to be opened at the shopping center at Krocks and Hamilton. This is the location formerly occupied by a tanning salon nearby the Enterprise rent-a-car. I see no potential issues with this application. Will be great see another independently owned restaurant option locally.

HAMILTON CROSSINGS HEARINGMore information on Hamilton Crossings issue here.

Here is a link to my thoughts on the TIF I wrote in an op-ed in the Morning Call

Public Comment:

In public comment there are 4 letters opposing the TIF and 1 supporting.

A resident writes in support of a Jake Brake Prohibition on Hamilton Boulevard. I support this Jake Brake Prohibition as long as the prohibition meets Penndot safety requirements. 

Communication from the library of new vacancies. Interested in serving the community? Do you support our community library? Submit an application on the township website. We thank the two members Mr. Bob Wendt and Mr. Bill Cho who are leaving the board for there service.

Review of minutes: I will ask for an amendment of one item. I need to review the meeting video. Item 3.2 it reviews the solicitors report on Hamilton Crossings traffic impact fee. I expressed disappointment that the traffic impact fee was not going to be assessed on Hamilton Crossings. The minutes read “there was disappointment that the impact fee could not be used to demonstrate to the county township skin in the game”. My disappointment is based on the fact the fee won’t be assessed. I never saw it as a “chip in the game”. That was a policy of the previous board. Because of this I will ask for clarification. This seems like a nit-picky thing and yes the minutes are just a very general overview. But end of the day we answer to voters. And the minutes are one record of our positions that the public can review to gauge the effectiveness of elected Commissioners. So I want to make sure the record is clear. I never thought of the traffic impact fee as a chip. It was always something very seriously in play. And my disappointment was in the fact that this opinion came so late in the game. 


Public Safety: We have correspondence from the public safety commission regarding their support of exploring brake retarder prohibitions on state roads. Specifically this is in request for consideration on Brookside Rd near residential developments. I support a brake retarder prohibition for Brookside Rd. pending an evaluation by Penndot on the feasibility based on defined safety criteria. 

Just how loud are jake brakes? The answer is very loud. – “Anecdotally, it sounds similar to a jackhammer, however the loudness is between 10 and 20 times the sound pressure level of a jackhammer (10 to 13 dB).”

Here is a sample of a local ordinance in West Allen Township:

A. Section 209-46.1, Engine Brake Retarder Prohibition, shall be added as follows:209-46.1 Engine Brake Retarder Prohibition. No gasoline-powered or diesel-powered motor vehicle shall be operated using, as part of theoperation, an engine brake retarder without exhaust mufflers or with defective or modified exhaust mufflers, upon any street or portion thereof where such operation is restricted or prohibited upon any street or portion thereof designated as such in Schedule XIX: Engine Brake Retarder Prohibition (Section 209-68).

 Planning and Zoning Committee

At the last meeting the committee approved the East Texas Zoning Task Force participants:
Jim Lancsek, Ron Beitler, Tom Beil (Planning Commission), Trey Bianco (owner Smooth on), Ray Leibensberger (property owner), Irini Kousalis (small business owner in East Texas), Holly Hinkle (resident), Percy Dougherty (County Commissioner and LVPC member) and Jim Palmquist (chair of East Texas walkways committee)


Thoughts on East Penn School District and Hamilton Crossings TIF

I attended the School Board meeting last night as an interested taxpayer and watched the debate about TIF. The decision was disappointing but I felt the debate was moreso. Important points were completely missed. The board by and large failed to look at the situation from a big picture standpoint. Some compartmentalized the decision and limited the thought process to a single parcel instead of evaluating the economics of the decision regionally. End of the day the board voted 5-4 to remain a part of the Hamilton Crossings TIF. Earnshaw, Bacher, Ballard, Fuller and Rhoads voted for the TIF. Vinovskis, Munson, Donches and Heid voted against it. (for the motion which was a vote against the TIF)

The bottom line is Lower Macungie isn’t just growing an industrial and commercial base our base is pretty much about to explode. At the same time single family home construction the primary driver for school age kids has ground to a halt. Certain school directors seemed oblivious to that. I found it a bit alarming. How do you make a decision about the application of an economic development tool meant for distressed communities without considering the bigger economic picture? How can you make an economic development calculation when compartmentalizing the districts forecast to one parcel seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around it? This decision shouldn’t have been made considering one parcel in isolation. It should have been made considering the whole picture.

I’ve written here before about the objective criteria I apply when considering a TIF. For me it centers around the ‘but for’ test. The name comes from the expression, “Development in a community would not occur but for the use of TIF.”

To evaluate this criteria you have to look at the big picture of Lower Mac and ask without TIF do we have economic development in the East Penn School District? The answer is absolutely. Therefore by using a TIF when it’s not necessary we skew the market. By applying TIF in a healthy growing local economy we’ve hurt the development potential of other commercial sites. This matters for the school district because these other sites would have paid 100% of there tax burden. The mistake is compounded by the fact that millions of dollars in new assessed value is coming to the districts coffers from industrial projects immediately in the next 5 years. This isn’t speculation. We’re talking approved or nearly approved projects.

Bad decision. Plain and simple. I always felt this was a bad deal for the township but at first I actually thought it was at least an understandable decision for the school board. The more I thought about it my opinion changed over the last 6 months. Why? Because I started looking at the big picture.

Where I sit today as a taxpayer of 2 school district properties (my home and my business) I’m going to resent last night’s decision to leave money on the table the day directors vote to raise my taxes. This will unfortunately happen sooner rather then later. Big picture we never address underlying issues. We just chase development and bury our heads in the sand.

GET INVOLVED: Do you live in Lower Macungie? Township Commissioners will consider TIF next. The public hearing is this Thursday. Consideration of this topic will start no later then 8pm at the township building. More information here.

Time to weigh in on Hamilton Crossings is now.

When I ran for office a promise I made was that I would do everything I could to let residents know important decisions were being made before they were made.

There is no doubt Hamilton Crossings is a huge issue. The township is being asked to defer 50% of future revenue over a 20 year period. The developer is seeking this money to pay back bonds needed to build the property.

On March 29th I outlined my thoughts as they stood on the issue. Here is a link to the op-ed. This was an effort by me to ensure residents were aware that no decision was made. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve gotten dozens of emails and phone calls. It’s my hope in the next week and a half we get many more.

Now is the time to weigh in. Whether you are for or against the project. for or against the TIF financing, for or against creation of the TIF district let us know!

How to voice your opinion?

  1. Write a letter to the LMT Board of Commissioners. This is the easiest way is through the township website contact form: NOTE: letters must be rec’d by Monday the 28th at noon to be printed on the formal township agenda. 
  1. The second option is to attend the May 1st hearing which will start at 7pm. (The Hamilton Crossings portion of the meeting will begin at 8pm)

My suggestion is to write and letter and also if possible attend the meeting. This way you will hear the discussion and be able to listen to your elected officials debate the issue. I hope to hear from more of you over the next week and a half.

Traffic impact fee suddenly does not apply to Hamilton Crossings.

This is extremely disappointing. First, here is an article the Morning Call posted tonight. And here is the WFMZ article which delves just a little deeper. We have two issues:

1. The fact that this just came out now. These fees have been discussed as part of the township narrative regarding Hamilton Crossings for almost 3 years. How on earth can we just be discovering now that the fees don’t apply? I am having trouble wrapping my head around that.

Was all the talk about waiving the fees purely theater by the former BOC? Was this always just a bullet point to try to convince County Commissioners LMT had ‘skin in the game’? Was this always just posturing by township officials on behalf of the developer?

2. The ramifications of the township traffic impact fee ordinance. (TIFO)  The 2009 TIFO was enacted by the first appointed BOC so that the township could address traffic issues associated with hyper growth on a global scale. The alternative is to piece-meal improvements together one development at a time. Credit should be given to Commissioner Doug Brown who was one of the drivers of the impact fee.

Traffic Impact Fees: Here is a great 101

What the impact fee theoretically should have allowed us to do was collect a dedicated fee that could be used in various township wide (the study breaks the township into two zones) to address big picture traffic problems on a township wide scale. The problem is the 2010 board never seemed to have buy-in. It should never have been waived for the Jaindl rezoning and the Hamilton Crossings deal should never have been struck without accounting for it’s collection.

As an example to how the fee works. Hamilton Crossings has to (no matter what) mitigate the traffic caused by the center to get certain required PENNDOT approvals. This is the baseline for any project. It has to happen. But these improvements rarely address the regional issues or the cumulative impacts of multiple projects.

If we would collect the full 2.7 million dollar fee from Hamilton Crossings we could use that money to address the half dozen or so “pinch points” identified in the 2009 impact study. This allows us to address not only the problems directly adjacent to the center but problems that are a result of hyper growth in general. This money could be used right away or banked for 10 years or until the study is updated. (an update which is sorely needed since we’ve grown faster then the plan predicted)

So now that apparently the impact fee is all the sudden moot, I believe this is more reason that the township should not participate in the TIF and lose 50% of the new revenue over the next 20 years. This is most certainly money we will regret giving up 10 years from now when the township is reeling from congestion issues.

UPDATE: Paraphrased from a conversation with a member of the 2008 Traffic impact fee committee.

The seeds of the issue were planted in early 2008 when the court-appointed commissioners, following the recommendation of Commissioner Doug Brown, started the process to generate a transportation impact fee. I think that the intent to establish the fee may have been advertised, but a resolution creating the Transportation Impact Fee  Advisory Committee (TIFAC) was never presented or passed. The responsibility for this major error was never assigned to the Commissioners, nor to the then solicitor, (Blake Marles) Interim township manager or the paid TIFAC consultants.  After the advertisement of the ordinance in March 2009, Atty. Zator discovered the error, and all of the previous action of the TFIAC and township was nullified.As a note, this fee then was much larger than the one now in place. The township scrambled to restart the process correctly by creating the committee anew on April 16, 2009, but before it could, many development plans flooded in during the window of opportunity, thus avoiding any future impact fees. I was not aware that Hamilton Crossings plans was among them.

Lower Macungie Commissioners Agenda Preview 4/3/14

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

Township Board of Commissioners 4/3/14 – Agenda with detail here

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Hamilton Crossings: Looking into the Crystal Ball.


Recently, the Morning Call outlined what I see as a wakeup call for Lower Macungie. Basically it amounts to a Crystal Ball moment. Re-read the below article about Upper Saucon’s traffic issues at 309 and Center Valley Parkway and substitute the bypass for 309 and Lower Macungie for Saucon Valley. Sound eerily familiar?

Center Valley Parkway intersection improvements a decade away


A pair of trucks crashed, trapping one driver in his cab, last month on West Saucon Valley Road near Center Valley Parkway in Upper Saucon Township, a collision one area driver says is indicative of traffic problems in the area. (APRIL BARTHOLOMEW, THE MORNING CALL)

A pair of trucks crashed, trapping one driver in his cab, last month on West Saucon Valley Road near Center Valley Parkway in Upper Saucon Township, a collision one area driver says is indicative of traffic problems in the area. (APRIL BARTHOLOMEW, THE MORNING CALL)

Officials in Saucon are currently asking employers to stagger work hours in an attempt to deal with traffic plaguing the area. Similar to Hamilton Crossings proposal in Lower Macungie, in 2006 developers with projects in the area contributed one time funds for quick fix improvements to get projects approved. This included additional lanes and signal upgrades. (again, sound familiar?)

This knowing full well that a more permanent solution of grade separation was one day needed. What that means is essentially a new bridge over 309 eliminating the signalized intersection where gridlock and problems like the above photo occur. The proposed solution at the time was estimated to be complete 2 years ago at a cost of 20 million. Obviously that hasn’t yet materialized and turns out that mark was nearly 20 years off.

Today, with the mess beyond critical mass the Morning Call reports the end game solution is now an additional 20 years away with an estimated cost ballooning to 30 million. 20 years from now you can bet the final cost will be 40 million plus. Meanwhile residents have to live with the mess for nearly 30 years. Why? Failure to force developers to pay for their impacts up front.

Look very closely at this scenario and compare it to Lower Macungie, Hamilton Crossings and the 222 bypass. Our scenario is actually worse since not only will we have to pay down the road, we are being asked to pay now as well to the tune of 250,000 dollars in improvements to Hamilton Boulevard. Add to that the real kick in face that when we have to deal with this issue likely within the next 20 years we’ll still be paying 50% of our taxes to the developer if we participate in TIF. This is money we will need to address issues that inevitably will materialize because of this and other projects along the bypass.


Just like Saucon Valley in 2006 the money now is for the quick fix. Improvements needed just to satisfy Penndot for permits to get a project built. In some ways it actually makes the situation worse for us in Lower Mac. Instead of addressing the bypass so it functions as a bypass the gameplan is to increase capacity on Hamilton Boulevard. This will pretty much kill any plans for the road to evolve into a Main St. Boulevard. Instead, we get a classic costly STROAD. In fact instead of one road (move cars quickly and efficiently from A to B) and one street (a value capture mechanism where businesses can flourish.) we’re building two side by side STROADS.

The more I think about LMT participating in TIF the more I think it’s foolish. It’s crazy to think this project will not go forward without TIF. Therefore, this amounts to nothing short of charity for a developer paid for by you and I.

What do you think about this project? I am looking forward to hearing from residents on both sides of this issue over the next 2 months before LMT votes. Please contact me at

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