The Movie Tavern. Cleaning out the notebook.

Clearing out my notebook on the Movie Tavern (Trexler Business Center) – I hope this is helpful for folks to understand why I voted NO. The plan passed 3-2. This one was a long slog. It was unfortunate it turned out that way. It didn’t have to be but certain developer concerns about the impact fe were raised very late in the game. 

1.) First, I apologize I wasn’t able to blog more about this topic over the last few months. Problem was for the last few weeks of this issue we were under the implied threat of litigation. Unfortunately, at that point a blog meant to keep residents informed can be used against the township in a court. Once we have the threat or implication of legal action we lose some of our ability to talk freely about a subject. This is unfortunately reality. In cases of land development reviews words can be taken out of context, mischaracterized or misrepresented. I struggle with this. I’m often advised “not to blog so much”, but I fundamentally believe residents should know every piece of information I know. My blog let’s me clearly put my thoughts down “on paper” in writing. The free flow of information is critical to transparency.  Unless forced to I’m not inclined to ever compromise that. Hence clearing out the notebook now.

2.) I would have voted yes on the original resolution. The original resolution left a blank space for the amount of credits granted. During the course of consideration 3 credits were agreed upon by the planning and zoning committee and the township engineer and staff. These were negotiated during the course of public meetings. I felt they were fair and I felt they honored the intent of the traffic impact fee by addressing regional issues related to the project. The problem with the resolution presented to us the AM of the vote was that additional credits were granted. These were not subject to public discussion in a meaningful way.

3.) Credits, vs. contributions vs. impact fee monies. The impact fee – “Transportation impact fees are a funding mechanism permitted by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). Fees can be assessed to new development in proportion to its impact on transportation networks—the traffic the development is expected to generate during peak commuter periods. Funds collected are used to improve roadways used by development-related traffic.” PennDOT impact fee guidebook.

That is the purpose. However, I believe the program the way it’s written has some severe flaws. In light of that I am OK with credits to appropriate off site improvements. Using the same definition of off site improvements as the impact fee program. And also gaining the same amount of monetary value as the impact fee program allows. No more, no less. This is very fair and very transparent.

Again, I had no problem with crediting or contributions in liu of impact fee. My problem is we gave additional credits beyond what was agreed upon during the course of public meetings. I also had issues with the credits themselves in that I feel strongly they don’t address issues that would have otherwise been addressed by developers at some point in the future.

4.) My structural problem with the last minute credits. The last minute credits were basically to fund a new driveway across the street (north side of the blvd.) that will connect Hamilton Blvd and Grange Rd. Now, there are benefits to this and that’s the reason why have it on the township official map. But the map gives us the tools to ensure this conversation happens at an appropriate time. That is in the future when it’s actually needed. (If and when the north side develops, remember the intent of the impact fee is not to address or otherwise induce future development). The problem here is this credit is unrelated to the Movie Tavern project. Further there is no timetable when it ever gets built. And it’s something we would likely secure anyhow based both on our ordinances, the official map and realities of any commercial project built on the north side of the boulevard. 

In my opinion, we gave away something that made no sense to do so at this time meaning we left money and value on the table that we should be using to fix existing issues. Not future issues related to more development. I actually believe the townships move last night will expedite and induce more “boxy” development on the north side since it will give future developers more public road frontage. I also question whether the township is obligating ourselves to essentially take ownership of what otherwise would and should be a private shopping center driveway on the north side. If this is the case it’s a strategic error.

5.) Procedural problems with the last minute credits. As mentioned above, there were a number of credits and contributions agreed upon in the course of public meetings. They were presented and vetted in public. They addressed the intent of the traffic impact fee ordinance. I had no problem with this. Issue was, that this still left an approximate 375,000 dollar hole. This hole was “plugged” apparently 24 hours before the final vote. I have an issue with that. So did my father Ronald R. Beitler. The two reasons above including both the structural and procedural issue with the “last minute” credit are why I voted NO on the resolution.

6.) The land development itself is good. I am 100% in favor of preservation and better managing growth. Problem here is this development is proposed in a location identified for growth. Other areas of the township not we are aggressively pursuing preservation strategy. And we’ve had successes. This was not a place that made financial or planning sense to do so.

I do wish this wasn’t another strip and pad project, but for what it is – much like Hamilton Crossings – it’s of a higher quality. I wanted to give specific credit to the Movie Tavern for working with us. They voluntarily upgraded many facets of the plan that will result in a better overall project. They also worked with us on a compromise regarding the tower height. Resident concerns were valid, and the Tavern addressed them. The developer also did work with us during land development although at times we had to push them a little harder. Everything was a negotiation. The Movie Tavern was easier to work with since they understood a better project was better for their business. It was less a negotiation and more working together to build something neat. They seemed to understand the vision we are trying to accomplish on the boulevard. That buy in was important.

7.) The Movie Tavern in and of itself was a good fit. While our job is not to pick winners and losers in terms of uses based on opinions. It is to vet projects based on objective criteria. In this case based on the objective criteria of traffic counts – the Movie Tavern was a much better fit than what otherwise could be built here. The reason is traffic counts generated are off peak. Nights and weekends. Again, the theater will not generate trips during AM or PM peak hours. This was a huge advantage to the township.



Movie tavern thoughts part 2

Movie Tavern has generated a lot of positive discussion over the last couple days. But before we get to that let’s back up a second.

I was elected on a smart growth platform. From the beginning I was clear that meant better growth management. Not stopping growth. You can’t stop growth. And to promise that would have been insincere. I was clear Lower Mac’s strategy needed to be smart growth + land preservation. And that’s exactly what we’ve been implementing.

Here are just a few examples:

Preservation of 55 acres on Mountain Rd.
Lower Macungie commits funds to preserve 55-acre Heim farm
Adoption of official map – a critical preservation tool
With official map Lower Macungie could take more proactive stance on land use issues
Utilization of County municipal match to leverage twp. funds for preservation dollars
Turning $200,000 into $800,000 for farmland preservation Two Lehigh County townships in pilot program to save farms
Update of our comprehensive plans 

I also believe we need to hold development in appropriate locations to higher standards. Not be afraid to vote against projects that would have negative impact. I’ve done this having voted against and pushed back on bad projects.  I’ve said here on this blog many times Lower Mac is open for business in appropriate growth areas but developers should be prepared to bring your ‘A’ game. In other areas where dumb growth strains our infrastructure and resources we must be prepared to put our skin in and game enter the market and get farmland and open space preserved. And we have done that. And will continue to do that.

So that brings us to the Movie Tavern and if the township should support a variance for increased building height to accommodate a 15 ft higher than the roofline marquee that some have categorized as a tower. 

The township currently regulates building height to 50ft. This is by my best guess a fairly old regulation. The question becomes, is this a standard we should dig our heels in on and risk losing what is otherwise a pretty good fit for our boulevard? Or should we work with the tavern like we’ve done for 6+ months now.
First, it’s important to understand what the purpose of the 50ft regulation is. Regulations must have a purpose. I spent some time trying to figure that out last two days. Since the ordinance was written before our current zoning officer and planner were here I can make an educated guess it has something to do with fire safety. When the ordinance was written the LMTFD may not have had the capability to fight fires in buildings over 50ft. Fact is today we can. I confirmed that yesterday with the LMTFD Chief. And of course this was reviewed as part of the land development process months ago as all developments are. Brent Mcnabb our fire inspector sits on our planning commission. Every single land development is reviewed by Brent.

Bottom line is we absolutely should hold developers to higher standards. And we have been last 2 years. To that end the project has seen numerous revisions over 6 months. Largely because the township requested certain improvements. In fact Movie Tavern officials have said to me “Lower Mac is the hardest review process we’ve ever had to go through”. But they also agree and have said that the strenuous review will result in a much better overall project. That’s the sort of buy in we seek.

Some of our requests included a complete redesign of the back of the building to eliminate glare, an additional large plaza area if front of the tavern and also allowing the township to hand pick the facade and building prototype that best represented the townships design standards. Movie Tavern volunteered to do all of this. And the review isn’t yet finished. The height issue relates directly to the Movie Tavern component. But the rest of the project is subject to a conditional use hearing that is yet to be held. Even today I have issues with other aspects of the property and of course will attempt to address them.

What I don’t want to do is regulate good projects to death. That’s not my purpose. As a whole this is a decent project. Not great. But within the scope of the overall project a Movie Theater is one of the best aspects. This is mostly based on measurable impact.

Fact is, the tavern IS the best use for this location. Understand, this commercial center is allowed under zoning. Since it’s grandfathered that cannot be changed. Something is going to be built at this location as an anchor for this commercial center. If it’s not a Movie Tavern it would likely be some else. Probably box retail. And box retail would almost certainly have more impact both on the community at large and also neighbors. Purely traffic conversation. The theater is an anchor that will generate mostly evening and weekend trips. Anything else would likely be AM/PM peak day trips. That is exactly what we want to avoid.

I will also say having attended the hearing it was clearly demonstrated with site line drawings that the tower would not impact neighbors. I think this could have been addressed even further with enhanced buffer plantings along the back of the building.

So the issue is, yes I believe strongly (and have demonstrated many times) the township needs to have a commitment to high design standards. On this project we’ve done that. But at the same time those standards need to have an actual purpose. It’s not just obstructionism or throwing up monkeywrenches. With the Movie Tavern we have an excellent use on a decent project in an area identified by long term comprehensive plans (regional and local) for targeted growth.

Residents came with very valid concerns (we need more of this) and I think those concerns were addressed. There will be more opportunities to address concerns during conditional use.

Because I’ve fought bad projects in the past I think some expect me to fight every development project. There are some who just want the township to cease all development. Personally I’m sympathetic.  I wish we could. Would be nice to just put a moratorium on development. But unfortunately, that’s impossible based on state laws. So I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done last 2.5 years. Aggressively advocate for farmland and open space preservation. Continue to hold developers to very high and meaningful standards. And for projects that represent good fits in identified growth areas? Get the heck out the way and help foster higher value growth in the right places. 

I’m sorry that some disagree with me on this. But I made a promise when I ran to always let residents know exactly where I stand on issues. And this is another attempt at letting folks know where my head is at. Disagree? Let’s talk. Contact me at

Movie Tavern Field Trip to Exton.

A new Movie Tavern is being proposed as part of a small shopping center (small compared to Hamilton Crossings that is) on the Boulevard. The location is behind the Texas Roadhouse & Hamilton Animal Care.

Few key points:
1.) This area is zoned commercial. However, we’re forced to consider this proposal under a very old ordinance. That’s unfortunate since standards have gotten better over the years. I will say that the developer has been working with us to ensure better quality. The township appreciates that. A partnership is important. We set a new bar with Hamilton Crossings. Personally, I hope that over time we raise that bar even higher.

2.) According to multiple adopted comprehensive plans this is the appropriate location for commercial development in the township. Infrastructure already exists along the corridor. Major investments in the bypass were already made. Smart growth is building where public investments have already been made. While we should (and we are) working to preserve farmland and open space aggressively elsewhere in the township, this is the corridor where we must capture value. I think we can do a better job, but this is another step in the right direction in a more positive progression.

These are just a few of the latest moves we’ve made towards land preservation in the township:
Turning $200,000 into $800,000 for farmland preservation
Lower Macungie Preserves 55 acre farm

3.) We are early in the land development process. The developers were in front of the planning commission for the first time this past Tuesday. Long way to go and plenty of opportunity for public comment. One outstanding issue is protection of the stately and historic sycamore trees along Hamilton.

Whenever we get an anchor for a new development I take little field trips to check out similar design. In this case we have the same Movie Tavern prototype  nearby in Exton PA. Main St. Exton is an excellent neighborhood commercial center.  Movie Tavern one of it’s Main Anchors. Here are some photos I snapped:


The developer could ask for a variance to construct an LED marquee like Exton.

This design was created specifically for the Exton Shopping center. Movie Tavern had to make a new design to comply with West Whiteland Township’s very strict design guidelines. It was then copied in Flourtown, PA. And now is proposed here in Lower Mac. It’s a much better design in my opinion than the boilerplate Movie Tavern.


Brick patio and public plaza


Streetscaping elements throughout the shopping center are part of a coordinated design.


The Movie Tavern in Exton is a “3-sided” building. This is a good design characters. No walls visible from the public areas are blank.

The Movie Tavern in Exton is a "3-sided" building. This is a good design characters. No walls visible from the public areas are blank.

The Movie Tavern in Exton is a “3-sided” building. This is a good design characters. No walls visible from the public areas are blank.