Featured

Dear Neighbor,

This is my blog for news and information on my hometown Lower Macungie Township! In January 2014 I was sworn in for a 4 year term as township Commissioner. I am humbled and grateful for the support of Lower Macungie Residents. Brian Higgins and I prevailed in the 2013 election running a grassroots campaign that focused on quality of life and fiscal sustainability through smart growth. The election was another referendum on the unpopular development decisions and “dumb growth” policies of 2009-2013.

As a lifelong resident of Lower Macungie and a local business owner I am proud to serve as Lower Macungie Township Commissioner. This is my blog. It serves as a record of 2 years of advocating for A Better Way to Grow. Here you can find information on local concerns, letters and op-eds I’ve written outlining my thoughts on various issues that affect our community.

Please browse the site. Use the search bar to find my thoughts on the issues facing Lower Macungie and the surrounding community. I welcome questions and comments always. Dialogue is so important and what I hope to bring to the table as a Commissioner.

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

Featured

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.

Continue reading

Community notification – Share with neighbors

Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) through our municipal liaison Trooper Kirk Vanim distributed a crime alert today regarding the activity of transient criminal in the East Penn area. Read the alert here.

Let’s stop this in it’s tracks:

From PSP – “Please let your family members and friends—(especially the elderly) know of this plague. They are here and they will steal from you if given the opportunity.”

Awareness is the best weapon. These transient criminals are extremely hard to catch. But once awareness is raised they pick up and leave a community.

There is no reason in today’s age of mass email alerts, social media and text alerts that every LMT resident shouldn’t be aware this is happening.

Let’s spread the word! Share this post with others. Pick up the phone and call any elderly family or neighbors that may not have access to the mass alerts!

First 3 Jaindl Warehouses are approved.

Tonight was a sad and disappointing night for me.

This past January as a new Commissioner I inherited the awful agreement negotiated by the 2010 Township Board of Commissioners. This now dictates and binds the township to the rezoning and criteria allowing a mammoth warehouse development. The 2010 rezoning leading to warehouses obliterated two decades of agriculture protection that defined the western portion of the township. This greatly contributed to what made us such a great place to live and why so many moved here. It represented years of smart growth and planning successes of the past. The agreement erased that.

For 3 years I and others fought this rezoning as residents in every way we could. We walked petitions, donated money, distributed flyers, helped plan fundraisers, attended meetings. But in the end the efforts of these dedicated residents including over 1000 who signed a petition were frustratingly moot.

Tonight, because the prior boards series of decisions from 2010-2013 (including opportunities to correct mistakes) the township is legally bound to adhere to what amounts to as a contract.  Because of this I was in my opinion ethically bound to review the submitted plans by the terms of those agreements. Agreements which are now the law. I do not believe in casting votes to grandstand. And I think to have done so with no real way to overturn the MOU would have been just that. It wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

If there were anyway to overturn the rezoning or any possibility of success I would have pursued it. Legally there was no course.

Those who followed this closely understand the impacts coming. Many even still today who are just learning are shocked. This is now reality. I sincerely believe we’re still a great place to live. The affects of a warehouse development over a mile in size on previously protected farmland in the worse possible location can’t be overstated enough. But this is my hometown. It’s where I’m getting married in a month. Where she and I will raise kids. I guess that’s why I cared so much about this. But now time to move forward. We have got to figure out how. Can’t rest til we do.

The tip of the iceberg, the basic problems are this:

  • We now have a large amount of warehouses where they don’t make sense never made sense and with no clear path to the turnpike.
  • We have to provide services to those warehouses. We have significantly increased our need for costly local police force which will no doubt lead to tax increases. Fire safety obligations increase. For now we have a volunteer force. But each new development strains that.
  • We have tractor trailers through no fault of there own but rather the poor decisions of the past bleeding onto our local roads. This causes safety and quality of life concerns.
  • We have lost farmland that was preserved for decades.
  • People I know purchased homes, the biggest investment of there lives with an understanding that certain zoning was permanent. Their neighborhood will now forever change in the blink of an eye.

These are some of the problems that need proactive solutions. It is what it is. Tonight I’ll let myself be bummed. But tomorrow eyes forward roll up the sleeves.

Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 7/17

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 ronbeitler@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

Hearings:

Plan Approval Life Church: This is the reuse project of Rt. 100 Roller Rink. Sad to see the Rink go, but happy it’s a Church moving in. This plan has been reviewed by the planning commission and planning committee and recommended for approval. The project uses the same building with major changes mostly on the inside. Although it was neat to hear the church is utilizing the old rink floor. The major difference you will see outside is a much expanded parking lot.

Plan Approval Spring Creek Properties: This is the first 3 of possibly 7 warehouses associated with the Jaindl Spring Creek development. Here is a link to all the history leading up to tonight…..

Communication/Letters

Traffic issues:
We have another letter regarding speeding in subdivisions. This and truck traffic are probably 1 and 1a most frequently rec’d correspondence. I’ll be blogging about this issue next couple weeks.

Another letter deals with East Texas and Brookside intersection. Another frequent topic of resident letters. This is a tough problem. Anyone who drives through this intersection can see there simply isn’t much space for adding turning lanes. That makes it an extremely expensive fix and there lies the problem.

Suggestion for additional school zone. This comes from one of our new crossing guards. Unfortunately, state law dictates where the zones can and cannot be placed. However, Sauerkraut lane issues have to be addressed. This will be tied into a post I make about general speeding issues in the township. Sauerkraut is especially important given it’s now a walking corridor for students attending WLES. I think we have to get creative here.

Unfortunately, the next letter deals with a negative response to a request to enact a truck brake retarder ban on Brookside. I’ve requested a copy of the study. My question is: Are there any parts of Brookside that may qualify? The study request focused on the length of Brookside. There may be portions where the grades are flat enough for a ban. If there are I suspect it’s near the residential portions where the ban is most needed.

Fire Chief David Nosal writes a letter thanking the the township for help with a dumpster fire. LMFD was responding to a fire off Hamilton Blvd and had trouble extinguishing due to extreme hear and the fact the fire was deep inside the very large dumpster. LMFD requested use of township backhoe to overturn the dumpster. The letter praises our public works staff for there quick off hours response and aid. EXCELLENT JOB LMFD and LMT PUBLIC WORKS CREW!

Dept. Matters
Planning
Adoption of Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan. You can view the plan here! Many thanks to the consultant, steering committee, Parks Board and staff for working nearly a year (more then a year?) on this plan. Having a comprehensive plan is critical as it helps us to improve our park system on a township wide scale identifying strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and priorities. 

Solicitor
The solicitor will be updating the public on the pending Hamilton Crossings Litigation.

Committee
Not many action items on committees. Things will pick up next month.

One item is conceptual approval of a new municipal complex sign that will include a digital display. This has been a request of the community center a library for awhile now.

Gen Ad committee will be reporting on progress towards initiating the Homestead Act. I am very excited to report progress having attended the meeting. This was a proposal I made in January. Here is a review of the program which will potentially reduce property taxes for all owner occupied primary residences in the township.

A way to reduce primary residence taxes. Homestead exception. 

Afternoon in Allentown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live-work-play: Dining

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

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

Live-work-play: Recreation

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

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

Live work play: Work

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

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

Live-work-play: Shopping downtown!

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

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

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

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

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

Live-work-play: Here come the Phantoms!

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

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

Live-work-play: Tradition!

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

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

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

 

Wehr Dam – South Whitehall Township

I’ve been following this issue with interest over the last couple months. Primarily through “Molovinsky on Allentown“. The blog’s author Mike Molovinsky is a state house candidate running as an independent in the 183rd. Mr. Molovinsky has long been a champion of preserving Allentown Parkways historic WPA structures. Here his focus turns west to South Whitehall Township.

The Dam and Bridge are visually linked as the centerpiece of South Whitehalls flagship park.

The Dam and Bridge are visually linked as the centerpiece of South Whitehalls flagship park.

First, generally I support Dam removals. There are numerous environmental reasons and rationales. I also think historic preservation is important. So here, in this unique case we have competing historic and environmental arguments. Both things I’m concerned with. In this case I think the dam’s aesthetic and historic significance trumps the environmental concerns.

Like covered bridges, Mill dams are a part of our history. As Mike points out, we don’t build em anymore. Our area once had many. Some have been removed and more are likely to be. If there is one case for a single century old dam to be preserved I think that case can and should be made at Wehr.

I spend a good amount of time in this park since it has one of the areas best novice disc golf courses. I play it a couple times a year. So I’m familiar with it. I for one would definitely miss the dam since it’s clearly visually linked to the covered bridge as the centerpiece of this beautiful park.

Wildlands has stated the dam is neither historic nor aesthetic. As a general supporter of the wildlands and the work they do, I feel compelled to call them out on that statement. Seems a little insincere. Wildlands does important work. But I’m sorry, No one goes to that park without focusing their eyes on that Dam and Bridge. 

I do acknowledge the scientific arguments. But believe use of a little common sense in this unique case dictates recognizing that this dam/bridge combo is unique. Basically, there are lots more dams for the Wildlands to remove. Let’s keep at least one in the name of historic preservation.

 

How do we safely move freight in Lower Macungie/Greater Lehigh Valley?

For better or worse we’re now in the business of moving freight in Lower Macungie Twp. Much of our former agriculture land (which was at one time very high ROI, low impact and great for property values) is now or about to become warehouses. (very low ROI and extremely high impact terrible neighbors)

Moving freight is now a huge part of our local and regional economy. Because of that, local governments have to address the issue.

How do we achieve balance between the needs to move freight and safety/quality of life?

How do we achieve balance between the needs to move freight and safety/quality of life?

In Upper Macungie distribution warehouses probably always made sense due to a location directly adjacent to I-78 with direct highway access to all points N, S, E & W. In Upper Macungie they have the ability to separate the trucks from residential portion of the township. Here in Lower Macungie we are much further from interchanges. Therefore, trucks coming in and out of the township to and from the warehouses are frequently ending up on local residential roads. Day and night trucks rumble through Macungie and Alburtis intermingling with pedestrians and residential neighborhoods. In Lower Macungie we see them on local roads such as East Texas Rd, Spring Creek Rd, Sauerkraut Ln, Willow Ln ect.

In the next 10 years the amount of warehouses will double. The biggest of these mega warehouses are forecasted to generate up to 40 trucks an hour 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. The problem will only get worse.

We need answers. Moving forward how do we balance the needs of a safe, livable community with the need to efficiently move freight? I’m not sure there is a blueprint. Are there any other examples of areas that have gone this far overboard with distribution warehouses? 

Continue reading

Gridlock stymies both progress and reform

Most residents in PA support liquor store privatization andseverance tax on fracking. (both notions supported by polling)

Yet we get neither done. And barring a last minute effort by Gov. Corbett we once again kick the can down road concerning desperately needed pension reform.

Thank about it. PA remains the largest natural gas-producing state without a severance tax. We’re the only backwards state with full on state stores. Both very clear cut issues to most reasonable folks. But we get no action on either since neither entrenched side will ever blink.

Why? We have hyper partisanship and a special interest vice grip on PA politics.  Is it any wonder Independent registration is at record highs?

Shameful.

Moving forward the hyper partisan crowd will crow about “victories”. Meanwhile underlying issues worsen. No one really ‘wins’.

‘Progress’ for Democrats and ‘reform’ for Republicans are words associated with action forward. But because too many leaders are governed by self interest we again get neither. It’s a shame because basically we’re trying to get to the same place. That is a sustainable state budget not reliant on brinksmanship and games year in and year out. Whose gonna stop playing the games and lead?

 

House bill proposes changes to Sunshine Law

Pennsylvania is a sunshine law state. This requires by statute that government meetings are open to the public. This is critically important law that ensures elected officials are transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

PA’s sunshine laws require elected officials conduct official action and conduct deliberations leading up to official actions at meetings open to the public. There are only a few justifications for holding private executive sessions. These include: personnel matters, discussion of pending litigation, considering the purchasing or lease of land and labor and arbitration issues. 

H.B. 1671 sponsored by Rep. Rick Saccone (R), would more stringently define when a public body could enter private executive session meetings to conduct business. In recent testimony considering the bill widespread abuse of executive sessions was revealed across the Commonwealth. 

“The committee heard very detailed and disturbing testimony from reporters, organizations and citizens about instances where public bodies improperly went into executive session to circumvent  Sunshine Law,” said Saccone. “Abuse of executive session privilege appears to be widespread, with government entities apparently calling private meetings outside the bounds of the law Action clearly needs to be taken.” – Rep. Rick Saccone 

House Bill 1671 would streamline the definitions of instances when executive session can be used. It would also require an audio recording of the executive session so if an allegation arises that the meeting was improperly held, it can be verified later by a judge.

  Continue reading

Young residents want walkability.

At last night’s meeting we had 5 letters that were very clearly a school (High School?) Social Studies project or something similar.

They were all in identical format and were physically mailed to the township which is what leads you to believe it was a project. They were also all very good. Thoughtful and thoroughly researched.

What was interesting is that 4 of the 5 dealt with walkability issues. When selecting a topic to write local gov’t about almost all decided to write asking for more walkability. This is in line with study after study that says young adults want to live in walkable/connected communities. 

It’s not surprising at all. Living on Lower Macungie Rd. and driving Brookside frequently you see scenes like the one below every single day. Whether it’s on foot, bike or here on a skateboard we have tons of walking on our corridors by young people in very unsafe situations.

In my opinion this currently represents a safety issue. Yes, we want to encourage more walking. But the fact is we already have ALOT of walking right now. Most of our arterial and connector roads are poorly equipped and fail miserably as complete streets. We need to think less in terms of “connector” and “arterial” and more in terms of Complete Streets and Boulevards. We need to work in partnership with Penndot to retrofit key corridor roads as multimodal complete streets.

Young adults walk daily on dangerous corridors in the township.

Young adults walk daily on dangerous corridors in the township.

 

Apologies…

My apologies for not writing agenda preview posts the last 2 meetings. Since breaking my hand…. the more word intensive posts take double the time. That coupled with the amount of correspondence we got before the Hamilton Crossings vote, a ramped up wedding season (my day job) and heading down to Washington for a smart growth conference for a few days left very little time for blogging.

Starting yesterday I’ve been able to start typing with both hands again so expect the previews to start up again the first August BOC meeting.

A reminder: Links to past agenda previews can be found here.
Also I try to tag all my posts so the search function works well. If your ever interested in any particular issue just search for it in the search-bar. Of course you can always email at ronbeitler@gmail.com