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
Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners