Jan 13, 2017

Open Space Dreamers In Lehigh Valley

Despite Pennsylvania being one of the thirteen colonies,  there exists a vast wilderness in the northern central portion of the state.  Open space exists everywhere in the world, except our densest cities.  Despite this reality, the concept of open space and farm land have become mantras of the left.  Here in the Lehigh Valley, we have many more acres of farmland than farmers,  yet the conservative Lehigh County Commissioners keep adding more tax dollars to farm preservation.  I recently suggested that they should care more about our historical structures,  rather than bowing to political correctness.  But all this background is leading me up to today's topic,  Lower Macungie Commissioner Ron Beitler.  Although we never met,  Ron and I are often on the same page.  However,  Ron is an open space advocate, who I believe may now be crossing a line.

Ron would like to see his township zoners more sympathetic to open space.  I think that he is clearly confusing zoning and planning.  The township comprehensive plan dictates what uses are allowed, and where they are allowed.  It is zoning responsibility to implement that plan.  It is the zoning board responsibility to fairly allow justified  exemptions to that plan.  The zoners should not be swayed by a predetermined philosophy of land use.  Although the township is rolling out a new comprehensive plan later in the year,  Beitler just engineered the replacement of a zoner that he felt wasn't in sync with his philosophy of open space.  Although he acted within the guidelines of appointments and approvals,  it was deck stacking,  which I find objectionable.

ADDENDUM: Deck stacking can have major consequences, one need look no farther than Allentown.  Mayor for Life Ed Pawlowski in eleven years stacked city council and all the Authorities.  Before Candida Affa became his yes lady on council,  she was his yes lady on the Parking Authority.  Try going downtown to Hamilton Street, and putting in eight quarters for a cup of coffee.  Destination cities do not even charge $2 an hour to park.  What kind of destination does Allentown think it is?  Mayor for Life is supposedly soliciting contributions for his 4th term.  He has yet to call me.

photo credit: The Morning Call


Geoff said...

Great comments in the addendum especially.

Would love to see a post on the new Neuweiler "plan." If I understand the article correctly, the "marketing" beer company doesn't seem to make beer anymore. Which makes me wonder what in the world this project is even about, though even that seems in the air. You were way ahead on this one.

Suburban Dad said...

I have commented on this before, but parking is the Achilles heel of downtown. If you are going to rape me for parking, you may as well make it easy, by upgrading your meters to accept credit cards or work with a phone app to pay. I am not a customer for the aforementioned coffee, if I didn't remember to bring the 8 quarters. I would just stop at any of the DD or Starbucks that have free parking.

If you are deciding which coffee shop to have a quick business chat, where you may have two or more cars, you aren't choosing the one where you will need a roll of quarters to park the cars, if you can find a spot.

Aaron White said...

Meters on and immediately adjacent to Hamilton Street do take credit cards.

Ron Beitler said...

The particular parcel that was the most recent catalyst where Mr. Royer and I disagree will be developed one day. It isn't a cornfield. It's an industrial Brownfield. (Eastern Industries) That should and will be developed one day. It's on an identified growth corridor. While, yes I do believe in open space preservation this is not place for it along the 222 corridor where major infrastructure investments (for better or worse) have been made over the years. To get return on investments on those investments we want growth.

The problem here is the intersection of Kressler Rd. and the bypass which is severely problematic. Severely constrained. This area in question is also zoned industrial as it should be as a brownfield. At some point in the past leaders inexplicably allowed as a conditional use (not by right) very large shopping centers in this area. Lower Mac just developed another VERY large and very impactful shopping center just a half mile down the road. And a 2nd a little further down. The 222 bypass is straining at level of service during peaks. Has been for years even before the most recent developments.

The problem with the board more specifically is this. We recently just reduced the requirement for front yard setbacks in our C zone. I personally advocated for this. The move of course wasn't met as a development impediment but rather to make context sensitive development EASIER. To reduce the need for variances. We will have full build out of the Hamilton Blvd. It is our breadbasket. The problem here (among many) was the developers attorney argued for the same flexibility of reduced setbacks here in the nearby I zone off the bypass where it was purposely and strategically left out. By granting this flexibility with NO HARDSHIP the zoners did an end around of legislative intent. I don't want or need the zoners to be in lock step with the BOC. But I do want them to have an understanding at least on a basic level of the philosophy behind the zoning code when they grant flexibility to that code with ZERO hardships exhibited.

You are right, I am an "open space dreamer" in a few areas outlined by our official map. I say a few since that's reality in Lower Mac at this time. Just not many left. The official map - a transparency tool - identifies those targets publicly. There was a long public process with lots of input identifying those targets. My underlying foundation for support of preservation is financial. Lower Mac along with Upper Milford will determine if the East Penn School district needs to build a second 150 million dollar high school. That's just one example. New residential development costs us 30 cents for every new dollar generated. I argue that money spent compensating landowners by entering the market now will return dividends later by avoiding new liabilities now. The zoners won't determine that. The board will. By staying committed to funding the program.

michael molovinsky said...

ron@8:41, thanks for your comment. it's no surprise to me that you were compelled to exercise your options, because of a heartfelt belief that the intent of the zoning was being compromised. however, i feel also compelled to note whenever the separations of government's due process are potentially compromised. i think that you understand that as an activist and blogger, i speak out sometimes against those whose work i generally admire.

Ron Beitler said...

I understand. But in this case. What other recourse was there? We get the power to appoint. Otherwise, the zoners are totally and completely independent. As it's designed and as it should be.

Now I'll also add this. With our zoning hearing board, if there is ever communication between Commissioners and zoners it must be done formally and is always entered into the record and presented as an exhibit. I'll often correspond (always on the record) and I'll often go and personally testify. Everything is done within the public process.

Often if the board of commissioners takes a position which we do at times, we send our solicitor and staff to testify. We don't "work things out" behind the scenes. I KNOW that happens in other places. The integrity of the public process is always most important.

Also note, recently we let a proposal die that was brought up by our solicitor to exempt ourselves from our own zoning code. Something most municipalities do by ordinance. So it wasn't an outrageous suggestion by any means. We feel however, that we should hold ourselves to the same standards we hold residents. And just because "everyone else does it" does not make it right. So, if we need relief form our own zoning code we testify in front of the zoners. Just like any other land owner.

Anyways thanks for your continued work as a watch-dog. We need people like you.

Rich Fegley said...

$2 per hour parking until 10pm was put in place by the Parking Authority, Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, and City Council.

They all lied and said that they did a survey of downtown businesses regarding parking. A survey was never done yet they lied again and again and said they surveyed the business owners.

The fact is that the Mayor uses Parking Authority revenues to pay for non-parking related expenses.

Parking fees in Downtown Allentown have just added another reason for consumers to avoid the downtown altogether.

Thank you City Council for approving all of this without ever really knowing what you were doing. Once the Feds clean house in Allentown, maybe we can correct this misinformed change. The expensive parking continues to kill the downtown. The mall, Dunkin and Stabucks have free parking, why ever go to downtown and pay to park?

Who parks in the deck that Boyle and the Parking Authority built at 6th and Walnut? No one. It's mostly empty and it cost us over $20 million to build. LOL We wait to see what the Feds will tell us about this project.

michael molovinsky said...

rich@10:54, when they doubled the parking meters years ago, under the previous authority director, they also claimed a merchant survey, which was completely bogus.

i have less faith than you in the Feds cleaning up these messes. the merchants should form their own association, independent of the city or chamber, etc., and petition city council to rescind their approval of the meter increase.

Jeffrey Anthony said...

I think the real question is: how much is the city actually netting from the Parking Authority, and is it worth it?

Because of the public sector labor rackets, you've got a small army of low-skill high-wage Parking Authority employees. After we're done paying them (wages, benefits, retirement contributions, etc), and accounting for the cost of capital assets (vehicles, meters, real estate, etc), and miscellaneous expenses, what is the net net profit to the city? And what is our Return on Investment?

I don't know the answer to the last few questions, but I'd be willing to bet the cash thrown off by the Parking Authority is negligible (I'd love to know what it is if anyone has the docu). If that's the case, why are we relentlessly pestering and annoying people who just want to park their cars so they can do business in Allentown? Seems like a pretty counterproductive practice, doesn't it?

Suburban Dad said...

Rich, the goofy parking is one reason we go to the BBW instead of the ABW, even though it's farther. The night we went to ABW recently was a hockey night and the garages said event parking. We rushed in, and out, with a lack of loose quarters, to feed a meter on 9th.

Maybe that 6th and Walnut Garage is the ticket....

Luiz Garcia said...