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Letter to the Editor: Never Too Late For Smart Growth

Ordinances must be revised to facilitate Smart Growth, and that takes time.

To the Editor:

An article appeared in the newspaper two weeks ago about the Board of Commissioner’s (BOC) efforts to pursue smart growth strategies and I was really disappointed to see that some in the community believe it's "too late" to take action.  In my opinion, that is extremely short sighted.  How can we possible improve and make progress if we maintain that kind of attitude?  We still have an opportunity to employ smart growth principles into any future development that comes into Lower Macungie Township and when existing properties are redeveloped.

In the past, community leaders would often talk about smart growth but often fell short of taking the steps toward adopting principles and putting them into action.  Contrast that to what the Board of Commissioners has been working on - actually putting those ideas into actionable steps – and it’s clear we are serious about "doing" not just "saying."

For example, we held a smart growth focused joint Board of Commissioners – Planning Commission meeting where we actually discussed smart growth principles that we could get behind.  We put into place a comprehensive Greenway Study Plan that was developed to help create a walkable and interconnected community.  The plan has identified actionable steps we can take to get them done.  We have a comprehensive Parks & Recreation Plan underway in addition to the Hamilton Boulevard Corridor study in the works to identify ways to improve accessibility and walkability of that area to give it more of a village center – pedestrian friendly appeal.  We also hired Urban Research and Development Corporation to work with the staff, BOC, and Planning Commission to prepare a smart growth implementation strategy so that we can amend our Zoning and SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance) appropriately because amending these documents is at the heart of realizing smart growth opportunities.  All of these efforts have provided opportunities for public input along the way.

I would love nothing more than to snap my fingers and have smart growth principles embedded into our Zoning and SALDO approval processes.  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy or as quick as we want it to be – but that does not mean we should give up.  A prime example of how frustrating this can be was two weeks ago when we approved a new restaurant and retail space on Hamilton Boulevard. The building has a far setback well off the road, which goes against smart growth principles when you are trying to create a more pedestrian-centric area that would ideally have parking in the rear.  Interestingly, the developer said they were all for putting the building closer to the street. What handcuffed us is our Zoning and SALDO that simply do not provide us with the appropriate tools to allow it.

In the meantime, we will continue to move forward on taking actionable steps toward implementing smart growth principles, amending our Zoning and SALDO to actually make it work, and making quick fixes where possible.  I hope those community leaders who say it is 'too late' will rethink their position and put their energy and efforts into making smart growth a part of our future.


Ryan T. Conrad
Vice President
Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners

Ron Beitler October 10, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Good points Commissioner Conrad. I'm happy the board is finally taking steps towards implementing smart growth principles. While I'm disappointed that this took 2 1/2 years into yours, Ron Eichenberg and Roger Reis's terms to begin a process of more studying of smart growth implementation and meaningful reform... (contrasted with the absolute lightning speed in which the Jaindl zoning & Saldo amendments happened...) It's clear that finally this board is taking meaningful steps to understand and integrate SG principle into the way we build our future. Taking advantage of the grant money for the greenway and parks studies was a no-brainer. Big Kudos to staff for finding and securing this money. Now the BOC needs to adopt the greenway plan and lay out a roadmap for work to begin on the pilot trail... hopefully the adoption happens in November. And you've hit the nail on the head. You can study and talk and study some more. But until principle is reflected in the SALDO & Ordinance what we have is lip service.
Ron Beitler October 10, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Lastly, sorry but I can't let the board off the hook in regards to the prominent planning commissioner comments that "it's too late for smart growth." One member that made a particularly naive comment that IMO showed a complete lack of understanding on what smart growth means for LMT was JUST re-appointed a few months ago to a 4 year term. In fact both the quoted members were appointed by members of this board. I attended the interview process and in fact applied myself. Zero meaningful questions were asked about the candidates thoughts on smart growth and how we should implement them. Total rubber stamp. There are some newer voices on our PC but unfortunately they are often drowned out by those who have been on that board for a decade or longer... imo way too long. Fundamental question: How can we expect people who are largely responsible for the way we've grown over the last 2 decades to all the sudden buy into changing that status quo?
Scott Bieber October 10, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Good to hear these comments from Mr. Conrad. Too bad the Board of Commissioners wasn't thinking like this when they negotiated the Jaindl zoning deal in early 2010. But please, Mr. Conrad, don't say that the township was "handcuffed" by its own regulations requiring a proposed commercial development on Hamilton Blvd. to be set back further from the street than both the developer and township wanted. With both sides in agreement, you can sidestep any ordinance requirement using the variance procedure. Or you could put the project on hold and take the time to amend the ordinance. It is absurd to suggest it could not be done when both parties are agreeable to it. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Ron Beitler October 11, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Exactly Scott, it's not too late but you have to start. Second Hamilton blvd project going through committee level now. Across the street from Trainer and Kelly. Old Long Water company. New medical facility coming. Opportunity for smart growth principle to be applied. Commissioner Conrad please start. Just start now. Don't lose yet another opportunity. There is a disconnect. If the developers thought we were serious they would be submitting smart growth oriented plans. Somewhere in the early stages of the process we have status quo. I don't buy for a second they are handcuffed by the ordinances. That didn't handcuff any of these gentleman with Jaindl. He got his own personal gamechanging amendments, written by his staff (lawyers and engineers) in a just a few months.
Janet Persing May 24, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Where's the EAC in helping to reclaim/plant the logged-out berms of Sauerkraut Road? As I remember, Ron Beitler was all for getting people together and re-planting. Great idea...where's the activity?
Ron Beitler May 25, 2013 at 07:40 PM
@Janet - Brian and I met with 2 residents and the Twp. Manager yesterday AM for an update on what's going on. Waiting for twp. to research appropriate plantings and also looking into a guide-rail for a section. As you know, nothing happens quickly.
Janet Persing May 25, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Or at all.
Ron Beitler May 25, 2013 at 08:41 PM
The issue is some residents moved forward with the white fencing. Which of course is their right to do so. The problem now is, you cannot plant anything of substance within the ten foot section directly underneath. A coordinated solution would have had to go where the fences went. Back off the road. There might still be hope for a coordinated planting with ornamental grasses. I'm hoping for that. Anything to soften up the streetscape. Some residents were very interested and started coordinating a unified plan but others just sorta did their own thing. Again, that of course is their right to do so..... Its good they at least coordinated color and style of the vinyl fence. My fear was a patchwork of "quick fixes", which would have benefited the individual landowners but not the public as a whole.

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