Category Archives: State Policy
As Envision Lehigh Valley is asking the question “What will the Lehigh Valley be like in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years,” the state budget was passed late Saturday night with language that seemingly wipes away the need for 18 Lehigh Valley municipalities to continue lawsuits against the city of Allentown. Pennsylvania legislators made municipalities whole again, returning to them their earned income tax revenue that a 2009 Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) Act allowed the city of Allentown to keep in order to fund a new hockey arena.
For the second time in as many years, Governor Corbett signed a state budget on time and with no new taxes. This budget has some significant legislation attached, including amendments to the tax code for businesses that donate to private schools, amendments to the state’s welfare and school codes, and funding for the four state universities. Perhaps the most significant amendment for Lehigh Valley residents, however, is the change to the state’s fiscal code which prevents the city of Allentown from using earned income taxes from the suburbs to help fund the building of the hockey arena proposed for the area at Seventh and Hamilton Streets in the city.
Author of the original NIZ Act in 2009, State Senator Pat Browne saw this as an opportunity for the whole region to get behind a project that would surely stimulate not only the economy in Allentown but in the outlying municipalities as well. This opinion was not shared by many of the local governmental bodies in the Lehigh Valley, leading to lawsuits from 18 municipalities and one school district protesting the use of their earned income tax revenue to fund the hockey arena and the surrounding shops, hotel, and office space.
In an effort to keep the project moving forward and spur the economic development of Allentown, which presumably would lead to a better Lehigh Valley in general, Browne sponsored the amendment to the fiscal code so that the nearly $2 million that was to come from earned income tax collections from those who work in the 130-acre NIZ area but live outside the city would now stay in the municipalities. When asked about the NIZ funding, State Representative Joe Emrick said, “We have effectively fixed that problem with this budget…” and that is “one of the reasons it has my full support.” It seems likely now that the lawsuits will be dropped, if indeed all of the money already collected is returned to the appropriate municipalities and no further money is withheld.
Is this the spark that the communities needed to get back to the regional thinking that is necessary for a progressive Lehigh Valley to continue to be economically competitive statewide and even across the nation? With extremely limited resources at the local government level and municipalities forced to cut services to their residents or raise taxes to continue them, now is the time to consider these regional ideas as good for the Valley as a whole. Let’s work together and remove some of the costly barriers in order to make the Lehigh Valley more efficient and competitive.
Our neighbors in New Jersey have implemented a new way to hem in urban sprawl using new municipal ordinances. Noncontiguous clustering is an innovative tool “that preserves farmland and open space with private funds by an alternative to conventional subdivisions; instead of building homes on large lots, a developer may use the developmental potential of a parcel or parcels where preservation is desired on a different, nonadjacent property.”
A recent report by the organization New Jersey Future, provides insight into the study of the nine municipalities currently utilizing the planning tool. The study, “Preserving Land Through Compact Growth: Case Studies of Noncontiguous Clustering in New Jersey,” provides a detailed description of the situation in each of the nine townships with visuals to highlight the plans in place. Read the full report here.
The nine townships featured in the report that have adopted noncontiguous clustering ordinances are Delaware, Hillsborough, Hopewell (Mercer County), Middle, Monroe, North Hanover, Ocean, Plainsboro, and Robbinsville. One of the authors did note, however, that only four projects have been completed over the 16 years that such ordinances have been available.
Still, it is encouraging to see that townships in neighboring areas have adopted ordinances to combat the spread of sprawl. Municipalities within the Lehigh Valley could learn a lot from these townships by studying what worked for them in the process and what obstacles hindered progress. Farmland and open space can be preserved. Smart planning and development can be achieved. It takes smart policies with the power of enforcement, as well as cooperation among local government and developers, in order to prevent more sprawl.
The phrase “smart growth” has a liberal connotation, but that label is unfairly given. Smart growth policies benefit everyone. It is not a partisan issue; at least it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Conservatives often attack smart growth policies, but I think this is a result of a misunderstanding of the impact smart growth policies can have on a community.
David Goldstein wrote a blog post highlighting the reasons why conservatives should support smart growth policies, namely “economic freedom, limited government, and responsibility.” (Read the blog post here.) He brings up many good points that should appeal to both sides of the political divide. He sums up his argument perfectly when he writes:“Smart Growth looks at these issues in a holistic way. It does not advocate eliminating land use planning, nor letting anyone borrow money regardless of their ability to repay. But in many ways it does reduce the heavy hand of government and other big bureaucracies to tell you what to do.” (emphasis original)
Smart growth policies will benefit our entire community, but we must join together in the effort to establish these policies in our communities first. Liberals, conservatives, and independents alike should stand together to implement these changes to improve our communities. No matter the demographics or political affiliations, smart growth will benefit us all.
Stay tuned for Governor Corbett’s presentation of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 on Tuesday, February 7th before a joint session of the PA House and Senate. This is only the first step in the annual fiscal process, as legislators will be in budget meetings discussing the proposal in the days and weeks following Corbett’s proposal.
You may be asking, “Well, who cares? It’s only the first step in the process.” Guess what? It does matter and you should care! If you are concerned about cuts in funding for a particular program or agency, you need to speak up. Take for example the students from four state-related universities who rallied at the Capitol building to advocate for state education funding. They are concerned about financial aid and affordable tuition for college, and they made sure their voices were heard.
What are your biggest concerns as the state budget is debated and determined? Share with us your thoughts. But more importantly, share your thoughts with your local representatives and senators. Let them hear your concerns so that they can be your voice in the debate. Change won’t be accomplished unless you participate.
Watch the address at: http://www.governor.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/governor_pa_gov/20650
Sure, the Marcellus Shale drilling isn’t happening here in the Lehigh Valley, but the effects will certainly be felt statewide both economically and environmentally. This is a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania right now. Even if the drilling isn’t occurring right in the Lehigh Valley, it is still every Pennsylvanian’s responsibility to become educated about the issue as an informed and active citizen.
PennEnvironment, a state-wide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization will be in Bethlehem on December 6th for a Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training Session. Their goal: “to train 1,000 Pennsylvanians with the skills they need to protect their communities from gas drilling. Whether you’re new to activism or been [sic] on the front lines of the Marcellus Shale, this training will help you take the fight to the next level.” Below are the details of the training:
WHAT: Lehigh Valley Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training
WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center St, Bethlehem, PA
WHEN: Tuesday, December 6, 6-9 p.m.
RenewLV is not a sponsor of this event, but strongly encourages citizens to become educated to participate in their local communities. If you are interested in this event or want more information regarding PennEnvironment, visit: https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3865.
The Lehigh Valley news circuit has been percolating for some time now regarding the recent Lower Macungie development decision. Patrick Lester of the Morning Call had an excellent write-up about the matter earlier this week.
Here’s a brief recap: David Jaindl, property owner, wants to develop homes and warehouses on a big chunk of his land (about 600 acres). He went to the Lower Mac Commissioners for permission; the Commissioners, hoping to make good on promises of open space preservation, denied his request. Jaindl then threatened to turn the land into a quarry, at which point the Commissioners decided to renegotiate and allow for the land to be developed, with a preservation of about a few hundred acres. Many in the township are outraged at this agreement, mainly because they claim that the Commissioners made the decision without public input.
Some in the township are now fighting back. According to Lester:
The Friends [for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township] group has dug in for what is expected to be a long and costly legal battle over zoning and land development ordinance changes that benefit Jaindl’s plans for about 500 acres in an area bounded by Smith Lane and Mertztown, Spring Creek and Ruth roads. The changes essentially allow heavy industrial, commercial and residential development that previously weren’t permitted.
Several of the group’s members have joined to sue the township in Lehigh County Court in an attempt to overturn the zoning changes and prevent what they describe as a dangerous precedent that could have statewide implications.
Open space is not the only aspect that is of concern (or, at least, open space for the sake of open space is not the only concern). Worries are high that a new development in this area will come with a slew of externalities, such as increased traffic and problems with stormwater management. If we look at a map of the area below, two things stand out: 1) the area proposed for development is very large (600 or so acres means nothing to some until you look at a visualization, and 2) this development is situated in a place that already experiences high traffic volumes and, additionally, developments like these have caused numerous quality of life problems in this part of the region. Here is the map:
Patrick Lester followed up on his coverage with an article published in the Morning Call yesterday. The article reports on a Tuesday meeting, at which Jaindl representatives addressed the worries of the residents:
Scott Pidcock, Jaindl’s engineer, said the company will exceed its obligations for controlling storm water on a proposed 14-lot subdivision plan and is well aware of the traffic concerns. The subdivision is part of Jaindl’s overall plan to add warehouses, businesses and homes on 600-plus acres. The township approved zoning and subdivision ordinance changes to accommodate Jaindl’s plan.
“The goal is that we have proper functioning roads,” Pidcock said. “We, as you, want the roads to work, otherwise the value of the property is diminished.”
The Lower Macungie Planning Commission did not take action this week and discussions are to continue into early next year.
My question: Where is the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission fit into all of this? I am sure that they provided their recommendation for this (they do so for all development decisions in the Lehigh Valley), but given that they are purely advisory (thanks to Pennsylvania’s MPC), their recommendations are just that: recommendations. Lower Mac can ultimately do what it wants to, even though their decision will impact more places than just Lower Mac.
What are your thoughts on this situation?
Lehigh Valley Independent has posted a great video on municipal consolidation efforts in New Jersey. This brief video does an excellent job of framing the issue as well as countering arguments against municipal consolidation. Although Pennsylvania and New Jersey have different policy frameworks at the state level, there’s plenty we can learn from this effort going on across the river. Definitely worth checking out. We’d be curious to hear your take. Feel free to post replies/comments below.
Incidentally, Pennsylvania has five times as many municipal governments as does New Jersey, despite us having only about 50 percent greater population.