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Dear Neighbor,

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.

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Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

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

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

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Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

I’m away for the week with my business partners shooting back to back destination weddings in Bermuda then Jamaica. (plug for my business here)

Didn’t want the blog to go dark for a week so decided to pre schedule a cross post from James Bacon over at www.smartgrowthforconservatives.com

If you are right of center politically and you think that smart growth is just for tree huggers or crazily some wacky agenda 21 conspiracy theory to take over the world then you should spend 5 minutes to read this post.

Then if the argument makes sense purchase Pamela Blais’s Perverse Cities and read itConservatives are missing a tremendous opportunity to re-frame the debate over growth and development in line with the principles of fiscal responsibility and free markets. I never will understand why. But it’s never too late to change.

Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

perverse_citiesby James A. Bacon

If planning and regulation were the answer to sprawl, then the Toronto metropolitan region ought to be a smart growth paradise. Toronto has a sophisticated, multi-tiered planning process, starting with an regional plan, plans for 30 upper-tier municipalities, and plans for 241 lower-tier municipalities (towns and townships, mostly). Yet outside the city of Toronto itself, which is undergoing a condo boom, there isn’t much to show for it.

The various municipal plans, which are comparable to Virginia’s comprehensive plans, define urban boundaries, control densities and show where growth should take place. The goal is for 40% of all new residential units to be built in already-urbanized areas. “That’s not happening,” says Pamela Blais, a city planner and principle of Toronto-based Metropole Consultants. “All the plans said all the right things. … [But] the regulatory approach isn’t sufficient to bring about the change.”

pamela_blais

The failure of regulation to halt sprawling, auto-centric development was the basis for Blais’ 2010 book, “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl.” She had researched and written the volume to figure out how the planners’ plans had gone awry. If smart growth made so much sense, and if planners had the power to bring it about, why weren’t developers and home builders doing what they were supposed to do? Something else had to be going on, she reasoned, something that was not commonly recognized.

As she delved into the subject, Blais found that real estate development is guided by massive hidden subsidies that shift costs from inefficient, land-intensive development to efficient, compact development. These invisible subsidies work at cross purposes to the regulations. As it turns out, developers follow the dollar.

Blais describes herself as a pragmatist. “It’s not an ideological argument I’m making,” she told Bacon’s Rebellion. “I’m interested in getting better cities. I’m happy to talk to everybody on the whole spectrum.” But her approach to urban development is one that fiscal and free-market conservatives can appreciate. The system for pricing public goods such as roads, water, sewer, electricity and public services bears little relationship to the cost of providing those services, she argues, with the result that a tangled skein of hidden subsidies incentivizes low-density development.

“Everybody thinks [sprawl] is the the invisible hand of the market. It’s a highly distorted market,” she says. “I’ve been arguing, let’s remove the distortions and take it from there. Remove the distortions and you’ll get a different development pattern. That should be the starting point.”
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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 ronbeitler@gmail.com 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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King George is saved.

I wanted to write today about the good news. One of the core proponents to save the historic building wrote a nice post on the Save King George FB. It’s better then what I would have written, so I thought I’d just re-post below.

Couple of thoughts first. Total team effort led by a tireless core. Activists including our LMT historical society, local residents & officials and most crucially the developer. Sincerely can’t thank Mr. Patel enough.

Having been immersed in a grass roots resident driven effort before but sadly the disappointing end, it’s great to see residents score victory. I hope the group stays active. When we fought the Jaindl rezoning we made a Facebook page. The “Friends LMT” page was created to raise awareness of the 2010 decision to rezone 700 acres of farmland but still lives on as a smart growth watchdog despite the outcome. During the height of the Jaindl issue the “Friends” group had 400 followers. Today it’s near 1000. We kept the inertia deciding to make the best of it by keeping residents informed of future issues. We hope never again will residents be blindsided by a decision with such wide reaching impact without the chance to weigh in.

I  hope Save the King George inertia also remains as a watchdog and proponent for other historical preservation projects. They succeeded in raising awareness to the point where the developer and local officials had no choice but to hear the valid arguments of preservation. For now the group deserves a victory lap, a huge pat on the back and many thanks for their efforts.

Saving the King George Inn: 
Using Social Media and Technology for Awareness
By Dean K. Ziegler

As with any hard fought victory, now is the time to savor and reflect. I am amazed at how the nuances of local government came to life with this issue, and what methods were used to accomplish our goals. First, there was no substitute for hard work, networking, and involvement from a core group of people with similar interests. Without this, the outcome would have been very different, I am sure. Countless meetings, both public and private, with elected officials is what got the job done. But, without social media sites, like Facebook, and modern communication technology, I doubt the awareness of the King George Inn situation would have happened on the magnitude that it did.

I first saw the news on a Facebook post. Someone had commented on a post of what a shame it was to have the King George Inn demolished for developmental purposes. My incredibility and perhaps ignorance made me comment that the current owner would never let that happen! Being publically corrected made me realize what was going on. The King George Inn had not only been sold, but was scheduled to be demolished. My next thought was how was this injustice going to be corrected? With that in mind, myself and a few other Lehigh Valley residents started this journey of local government intervention.

Facebook let us put out feelers as to who was organizing what in order to save the King George Inn. A brief meeting at the Lehigh Historical Society gave us the inspiration that we needed. Nancy Lloyd and Susan McDermott chaired the meeting, as well as a representative from another historical organization. The events that needed to happen seemed a bit intimidating. We could either convince the proposed owner not to demolish, find another buyer, or have local government officials step in. Our work was cut out for us.

I started the MoveOn.org petition in hopes of showing our local politicians that our tight knit group was not a fluke. Within several weeks, we had over 1,500 online petition signatures, and you can bet we used this fact in our presentations, first to the South Whitehall Township Commissioners, and then to the Lehigh County Commissioners. The number of signatures later swelled to over 2,000. Every single one of them was in touch with us by e-mail, courtesy of MoveOn.org’s protocols.

After the petition was started, we formed the Save the King George Inn Facebook site. This was invaluable for notifying the public about what was going on, sharing newspaper articles, and hopefully, some recognition by the affected politicians that we were not a group that would go away quietly. McDermott and Lloyd, and a host of others sent a flurry of e-mails to everyone. We received countless suggestions from non-affected politicians, retired government officials, and even the builder who completed a very similar project of utilizing an existing historical structure for commercial purposes.

By being proactive with the newspaper reporters, several key points were included in their coverage. Of course, we cannot claim that we swayed anyone’s writing or opinions. But, little by little, I feel that not only did the politicians grasp what our movement was about, they also had a pulse on public opinion.
I wish Mr. Patel the best of luck in his commercial endeavors. I am satisfied to write that even if it seems that public opinion is just a little cog in the wheel of society, once in awhile it plays a significant role in our community.

Thoughts on Saucon Valley teacher negotiation

I generally stay away from school board politics. It’s not my wheelhouse and I only follow what I read in the papers for the most part. I try to make it to my local school board meetings but do so only a couple times a year.  I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for people who run for school boards. Totally thankless position. Time consuming and completely volunteer.

Saucon Valley

I have been following from with interest from afar the negotiations in Saucon Valley. Interesting read in today’s Morning Call: Saucon Valley teachers refuse to change vote against proposed contract

As a casual observer regardless of my personal feelings about unions it really does seem as if the teachers in Saucon Valley and their union reps are now losing the public perception battle. They are coming off as inflexible and unreasonable. The pendulum has swung.

One friend who is a parent with kids in that district commented when I posted a link to the article: “The general sentiment is that the teachers are seen as inflexible and pushing waaaay too hard. The situation is out of control. I personally find it very disturbing.” I’ve heard similar from others with kids in the district.

We’re at a crossroads as a nation as far as our public unions. I have been and continue to be an advocate for fair and equitable reform of public unions that affect local municipalities. More often no one, not even public union members deny reform is desperately needed. But on the extreme end there are those who seek to completely dismantle public unions. Count me into the reform camp rather then the dismantle camp.

That being said when perception swings as far as it has in Saucon Valley unions are doing themselves no favor by giving extremist elements such great fodder. Is there anyone without a stake in the game who thinks that the last deal on the table was not totally reasonable?

 

 

Hamilton Crossings: Looking into the Crystal Ball.

#HamiltonCrossings

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 ronbeitler@gmail.com.

More information about Hamilton Crossings Development.

Learn more about Lower Macungie Township Issues.

Keep the conversation going on Social Media

Development watch: Hamilton Crossings

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

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

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

My thoughts: I am heading into the next 2 months with the mindset that the developer and those who support the TIF must make a case for it. The prior BOC which I did not sit on publicly supported TIF. They did this via a resolution asking Lehigh County to participate. (At the time the public narrative was all 3 district, county and township were needed for TIF to move forward. Apparently that is not the current interpretation.) If I were on the board last year I would have voted against the resolution of support.
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Lower Macungie Commissioners Agenda Preview 3/20/14

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

Township Board of Commissioners 3/20/14 – Agenda with detail here

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RIP Lower Macungie Patch.

This morning I finally took the Lower Macungie Patch off my social media feeds.

Since AOL completely fumbled the once promising venture, today it’s no more than a tabloid. Gone is the unique hyper local content generated by local editors and bloggers who were from the communities they served. We now have crickets on the local boards. The headlines consist of the kind of stuff you  find on TMZ and supermarket tabloids.

Very sad. Had high hopes for Patch. Seemed like we had 3 of the more successful ones locally in Emmaus, Upper Macungie and Lower Macungie. At one time it was a website I visited daily. When patch was cookin on all cylinders it provided an important service keeping residents informed on what was going on locally and providing a robust platform for neighborhood conversation and interaction. Content covered local gov’t, schools, neighborhood news, community events ect. Now it’s pretty much your standard celebrity gossip and national human interest stuff.

The local uniqueness is all gone now replaced with generic  content you can get on 100 other sites that are better put together.

Celebrity gossip and spam. What once was a very promising hyperlocal news website was completely fumbled by it's parent company.

Celebrity gossip and spam. What once was a very promising hyperlocal news website was completely fumbled by it’s parent company.

 

Followup to #repairpriorities post

Read this in today’s paper.

Now the danger here is I know very little details about this project aside from what I read in this article this AM. So if I’m missing something here please fill me in.

Summary: 

Pennsylvania is committing $5 million to help ease traffic into Pocono Raceway.

The announcement came during a Pennsylvania Capitol ceremony celebrating Pocono Raceway’s estimated $257.5 million contribution to the region’s economy in 2013.
- Express times

 

Yesterday’s post about a recent Taxpayers for Common Sense and Smart Growth American study highlighted an alarming deficiency between money spent on road expansion projects and money spent on maintaining the existing road network. This fundamental problem is one of the reasons we just faced a gas tax. (now the 5th highest in the nation)

In my opinion above is exhibit ‘A’. How can this not be classified as a transportation pork barrel project?  What am I missing?

It’s 5 million dollars spent on hyperlocal capacity improvements to benefit one racetrack seasonally.  This road widening serves literally no other purpose that I can gather from a quick google map recon and a little familiarity with the area.

When we talk about Pennsylvania spending a disproportionate amount on road expansion (providing marginal benefits) compared to maintaining the roads and bridges we currently have in place, unless I’m missing something this really should be viewed as the poster child for the problem. Why on earth is a Republican Governor supporting this? (could have something to do with an election coming up..)

5 Million dollars for road widening project to service exclusively Pocono raceway.

5 Million dollars for road widening project to service exclusively Pocono raceway.

 

 

Pennsylvania spends more on road expansion then repair

Pennsylvania spends more on new road expansion than we do on maintaining our existing network – despite financial liabilities mounting & conditions not improving. Meanwhile, we just raised the gas tax.

Here is a link to an eye opening study by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common sense.

State departments of transportation (DOTs) are spending more money building new roads than maintaining the ones they have—despite the fact that roads are crumbling, financial liabilities are mounting and conditions are not improving for America’s drivers.
-Executive Summary

Here’s the statistical breakdown for PA:
*dollar figures in millions

Average annual state expenditures on road expansion versus repair, 2009–2011

Average annual state expenditures on road expansion versus repair, 2009–2011 From “Repair Priorities 2014 Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads.

So we have above representing Pennsylvania’s most recent spending reality. (Again remember, we just raised gas taxes to address a “crisis” level concern. Which of course is pretty much universally acknowledged as a band-aid at best.) This in my opinion is a problem in and of itself, but meanwhile here are the results of this failed strategy…

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 2.23.40 PM (1)

Here is another little tidbit from the report PA specific:
Pennsylvania as stated above is spending 877 million a year in repair. What’s the liability? 2,203 million. That’s a deficiency of 1,326 million annually.

Pennsylvania reflects the Nationwide trend of spending billions for marginal benefit. “States spent $20.4 billion on road expansion each year between 2009 and 2011. During that time our state-owned road network increased by 8,822 lane-miles, less than 1 percent. Meanwhile, America’s driving measured in vehicle-miles traveled, remained fairly stable during this two-year period, yet traffic congestion in urban areas did not change. It’s a statistical fact: States’ investments in expansion are yielding little gain for drivers despite the substantial cost.”

My question is whose going take some leadership in Pennsylvania? Road conditions are deteriorating yet our spending problems are focused on expansion which at best provide negligible results in level of service improvements. Whose going to break the broken cycle?

I’m looking towards our local state officials for leadership here. @Senator Pat Browne, @Representative Ryan Mackenzie, @Representative Justin Simmons, @Representative Michael Schlossberg (House transportation committee). Anyone paying attention to this?