Feb 22, 2016

The Farr Tract; Political Correctness vs. Property Rights

Harvey Farr and his widow left LVHN a 50plus acre tract of land, which they want permission to subdivide, to maximize its value. They are faced off against the Wildlands Conservancy, which claims that it wants to buy the land to preserve it, and Ron Beitler, who is confusing his personal land preservation preferences with his commissioner duties. Although Chris Kocher and his Wildlands Company states that they want to apply for a grant to purchase the land, here's a molovinsky on allentown exclusive; The Wildlands have told other parties over the years that they want their land for preservation, but needs grants. They eventually end up with some of these parcels through donation, but seldom actually ever purchase any of them. They tried to tie up one such parcel on South Mountain for over a decade, hoping that the Wildlands would eventually inherit the property. But here's the real crux of the situation; I knew Harvey Farr, and if it was his desire that the land be preserved by the Wildlands, he would have given it to them.  He didn't give it to them,  and now they're trying to steal it.

ADDENDUM: I believe that Lower Macgunie has already abused the property rights of LVHN on at least on two occasions, by not responding to plans for age restricted housing. Furthermore, I would think that attorneys for the hospital should insist that Ron Beitler recuse himself from any deliberations concerning that parcel, which is already zoned for residential development.

giant flag hung from the Farr Building in 1917


Charlie Sch said...

According to the Morning Call, the Wildlands offered to pay a fair appraised value for the land. They would be seeking a State grant to potentially cover 50 percent of the cost.

(The Board of the Hospital probably would be legally allowed to give it away, because they would be violating their fiduciary responsibility to the Hospital.)

michael molovinsky said...

Mr. Sch @9:18, comparing the appraised value on one 54 acre tract to that of 100 residential lots is not at all "fair." the wildlands conservancy is a politically correct, morally corrupt sacred cow. ironically, eight years ago, they did the same song and dance (fresh air, open space, creek quality, etc.) across cedar crest blvd, on the smaller half moon shaped Farr Road parcel.

Charlie Sch said...

Bad typo on my post: (The Board of the Hospital probably would NOT be legally allowed to give the land away, because they would be violating their fiduciary responsibility to the Hospital.)

Ron Beitler said...

While I am a preservationist the issue here is that we are dealing with a severely constrained site. First, the property is on a PennDOT identified congested corridor. Access onto Cedar Crest would surely require another traffic light. Safe secondary access onto Lower Macungie Rd. is also a concern due to slopes. The other big issue is the 90 some unit plan calls for 90 some individual wells. This means the development would not be served by fire hydrants and also presents water draw down issues that will have to be studied to determine impacts on neighboring wells.

As a Commissioner according to the Municipal Planning Code my job is to "protect and promote safety, accomplish coordinated development; and to provide for the general welfare". The MPC also talks about preservation of open space through TDR and easements.

But the biggest goal here isn't preservation. In general it's a better outcome related to coordinated development of this part of the township. Preservation could be one possible market alternative outcome and I'm certainly interested in learning more about it. But there are other options as well. For example, we are also aware of interest in an estate lot plan. A large estate plan of say <15 units would help address all of the above concerns to some extent.

Addressing those concerns are my primary goal. I talked on my blog about exploring all other options not just preservation. What I can say clearly is I oppose an adjacent landowners request to downzone the property. While I am a preservationist I believe downzoning to be a taking. Downzoning would be "stealing" as you say. Any solution will be a market solution.

What I do think the Mcall article correctly points out is LVHN's responsibility as a non-profit to take into account community impact. There are many other market options to pursue that would address township concerns.

michael molovinsky said...

ron@12:36, the morning call article was clearly a hit piece against the property rights of LVHN. they even invoked the ghost of leonard pool, saying that he would be against the hospital's plan. btw, the morning call has deleted my comment, noting a different POV

Anonymous said...

Just another politician who does whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants.

michael molovinsky said...

@6:13, generally, i think ron is very sincere about being a commissioner, but he's way off base on this particular issue. he has previously stated that he would like to see this parcel preserved. his alternative development suggestion depreciates the asset about 90 percent. suggesting that the hospital would serve community benefit by going for preservation is also absurd. whose benefit would that be, a few influential neighbors in that vicinity. the hospital is political, and may compromise on harvey farr's intentions. but, this blog tells it like it is, with no regard, and little respect, for sacred cows.

Anonymous said...

Politicians have worked very hard to make people extremely suspicious and cynical about their motives / intentions and, because I sincerely respect all that collective effort, I'm not willing to toss the fruits of their labor under the bus so quickly.



Anonymous said...

Ron Beitler speaks and promotes too much on issues that are before Lower Macungie for a vote. Instead of being an elected Commissioner and sitting back and hearing all sides of an issue and then making a statement and voting... he tries to convince others of his personal position outside of a the official public forum before it is fully considered by the full Board of Commissioners. He seems to have his mind made up before hand and attempts to sway others with his tired and drawn out planningesque logic. Ron Beitler should act more like an elected objective official instead of a community activist.

Anonymous said...

94 houses on 90 acres?

The Township will desperately seek out LCA to serve the development when all the wells dry up in five years.

The Township will deny that their decision making had anything to do with the traffic problems in the area. That's a PennDOT road and using Township logic, it's their problem.

Michael Siegel said...

Mike- you need to butt out of this situation plain and simple. It is not your right to belittle Ron Beitler since you do not live in the township. If you have an axe to grind with the Wildlands Conservancy, then do it it when they are involved in Allentown. Ron is a great guy and I wish there were more like him in this township. He deeply cares enough about the future of Lower Macungie Township. He has an obligation to the residents of our Township to express his opinions whether in the paper or in an a simple opinion. Previous Board of Commissioners did this with their pro-development opinions and look what that got us. If you read the PA Municipal Planning Code, PA State Ethics Board Regs and First Class Township Code, Ron has not violated any laws and should not recuse himself for any reason, especially an opinionated one from a citizen who does not even live in the township Below comes from the state ethics regsulations. PLease read up on it Mike. Its time Allentown council read this, especially the Mayor. You have bigger problems to concentrate on at this time

(a) A Commissioner is required to recuse himself from a matter which involves persons with whom the Commissioner has a direct involvement, personally or financially.

(1) A Commissioner is deemed to have a direct personal involvement with members of his immediate family as defined in the act, in-laws and close friends.

(2) A Commissioner has a direct financial involvement with an individual who owns a part of or is employed by a business with which the Commissioner is associated within the 2 years prior to the Commission’s review of a matter in question if the financial involvement was of more than a de minimis nature.

(3) If a Commissioner recuses himself from a matter he will:

(i) Remove himself from that segment of the Commission meeting wherein the matter is to be discussed and avoid casual discussion of the matter with other Commissioners.

(ii) Receive no further information from the Commission or the Commission staff regarding the matter.

(iii) Receive copies of minutes of the meeting containing deletions so as to not disclose the matter to the Commissioner.

(b) A Commissioner who has a potential conflict not addressed in subsection (a) will take one of the following courses of action:

(1) Disclose the matter to the Commission and seek its guidance as to whether it would be proper to participate and vote in a matter before the Commission.

(2) Disclose to the parties his potential conflict and solicit their express agreement that he may continue in his official capacity, subject to the approval of the Commission.

(3) Recuse himself.

(c) A Commissioner who recuses himself or is recused by the Commission or at the suggestion of one of the parties is subject to subsection (a)(3).

(d) A Commissioner’s participation involving parties with whom the Commissioner has had substantial prior contact may present a conflict under subsection (b) depending on the totality of the circumstances. Circumstances to be considered include whether the matter involves one or more of the following:

(1) A relative of the Commissioner.

(2) A former employer or employe.

(3) A person or business with which a Commissioner has or had financial dealings of more than a de minimis nature within the 2 years prior to the Commissioner’s review of the matter in question.

(4) A source of income reportable on the Statement of Financial Interests.

(5) The individual appointing authority of the Commissioner is a respondent.

(6) A person providing the Commissioner with funds, goods or services without compensation.

(7) A person with whom the Commissioner has a fiduciary relationship.

(8) A debtor or creditor of the Commissioner.

(e) A Commissioner recused from a matter shall direct that the individual recording the minutes at the meeting enter into the minutes the recusal and the reasons therefor.

michael molovinsky said...

michael@9:43, i'm not "belittling" ron beitler. if i lived in lower macgunie i would vote for him, i know that he's conscientious. however, i have every right to express my opinion, living there or not. i believe that he is so pro-preservation, especially concerning this particular tract, that he cannot be an honest broker.

Ron Beitler said...

Mike S - I think MM is wrong here. But I don't take it as belittling. Thanks nonetheless. MM and Bernie's blogs provide important public services. They keep public officials on our toes serving as watch-dogs. That's a good thing. Though in this case I totally disagree with MM. The conversation is still important.

2 things.
1. At least for the last century property rights are a 2 way street defined by zoning codes in the United States. Meaning, they protect landowners but also neighbors setting up reasonable assumptions relating to: Stormwater, QOL, Schools, property values, traffic etc etc. Every decision is a balance between the property rights of multiple stakeholders.

2. MM is totally wrong on the active adult zoning change request. It was not a by-right plan which would have obligated the township to review and consider. The applicant instead sought to allow “active adult residential communities” as a conditional use in the suburban residential zoning district. So are you saying if the township doesn't grant every up-zoning request we see we're somehow infringing on property rights? The request was formally made and the planning commission considered and made a recommendation to deny. The BOC took no action since a motion was made with no second. One can speculate the additional density requested had to do with making a project economically viable on a constrained property without water service, located on a PennDOT designated congested corridor and with major access issues. (this was all documented in staff review letters at the planning commission level) Question - Within the realm of private property rights is it our responsibility to make constrained properties viable? When Lower Mac considered a large shopping center TIF I argued it wasn't taxpayer responsibility to subsidize a flawed piece of property. In a free market if a property is severely constrained the price goes down to compensate.

FYI there was also a corresponding application made by neighboring residents to downzone. The township also took no action on that. And the request was eventually withdrawn.

michael molovinsky said...

ron, i'm glad that you realize that my piece on this property was not meant as a personal attack on you, occasionally, i'm in a position where i must challenge people whom i admire. it was also awkward criticizing the paper about vince's, because i also consider chris cocca an associate in the battle for better government. today, i was critical of charlie dent on bernie's blog, although i'm glad he's my congressman.

back to the farr tract. the current hospital proposal is "by right," and the issues that you raised may have been appropriate when the current zoning ordinance was mapped out, but not now. as for preservation, that should always be only at the discretion of the property owner.

although you're welcome to reply to this comment, no reply is expected. neither mr. siegel or myself are vested in this proposal; in that way we're both outsiders, expressing our opinion.