Monthly Archives: June 2013

Regional Smart Growth Concerns With the LCA-Allentown Lease

The City of Allentown chose Lehigh County Authority (LCA) as the top bid in a lengthy process to lease the city’s water and wastewater system for 50 years.  Whether you like the lease scenario or not, LCA will be taking over control of the Allentown water system by August 2013.  This large deal is meant to assist Allentown with its large legacy obligation, a grave financial problem many other municipalities are also facing.  Is the lease perfect? No. Are there some real concerns about the environmental impact, given both LCA and Allentown’s history with overflow in the Lehigh River and Little Lehigh Creek? Yes.  Are there also real concerns about how this lease will assist the city with its debt obligations? Again, yes, but there is a lot of opportunity to make this work for the region.

Now Renew Lehigh Valley has been involved with LCA and the City of Allentown for a number of years discussing the possibility of consolidating the two systems to realize efficiencies, cost savings, and other benefits of regional consolidation. Though the current deal did not come about as we had hoped, it certainly is an opportunity to once again review the possibilities for and benefits of regional consolidation of water and wastewater systems in the Lehigh Valley.  Did you know there are more than three dozen water and wastewater authorities in our two-county region?  RenewLV developed a series of “Guiding Principles” as we moved through the water and wastewater discussions.  (You can read our Guiding Principles on our website.)  In accordance with these principles, RenewLV did support LCA as a public option during the lease discussions because a public authority with public oversight provides the opportunity for further regional collaboration of systems; whereas, a private entity would have taken that option off the table.

Since LCA now has the bid and the wheels are turning with the transfer getting underway, RenewLV does have some concerns about the lease and LCA and Allentown’s practices over the course of that lease.  I attended one of the public meetings LCA held to inform the public and answer questions.  Unfortunately, the turnout was disappointing, given the population of Allentown and the size of LCA’s service area.  That said, I think it was an important first step by LCA to begin a dialogue with the public throughout this process.  Some information about the transfer of billing and other details for the consumer were shared.  Open, transparent conversation between the public, LCA, and the City of Allentown must be maintained in order for this lease to be successful and an effective model for other regional consolidation (albeit, under slightly different circumstances– sans the financial implications of a lease.)  The following is a summary of some of RenewLV’s concerns and recommendations with this lease.  A full copy of the position paper can be found on our website.

  • All monies received by the City of Allentown from the LCA under this lease must be kept in a Restricted Fund for the sole purpose of paying for Pension Costs
  • Adopt sustainable practices for water resource management
  • Undertake regional water services planning, cooperative projects among water systems, and consolidation of systems
  • Prioritize the use of existing water system assets over the creation of new infrastructure
  • Encourage water and sewer infrastructure projects that promote revitalization of older communities (cities and boroughs)
  • Prohibit projects that contribute to suburban sprawl
  • Apply best practices for the environmental stewardship of our watersheds
  • Transparent and inclusive stakeholder and community engagement by the LCA and Allentown in providing access to materials and public meetings
For more information about LCA and the proposed lease, visit

Sustainable Words To Know

The word sustainability is being used more and more,  but its definition is dependent on who’s using it. The Living Principles is building an online dictionary of every term associated with sustainability so that there may be an informed discussion on the topic where everyone is working from the same definitions. If you don’t agree with their definition, you can comment with an alternative answer and it may be changed. If they don’t have a term that you think is important to discussing sustainability, you can add it!

Here are some of the definitions:
SUSTAINABILITY: Meeting the economic, ecological and social needs of the day without impairing the chances or development of future generations. (UN-Conference, Rio de Janeiro, 1992)

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through an activity or from a product, company or person, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide. Methods of calculation have yet to be standardized.

CLOSED-LOOP SUPPLY CHAIN: Ideally, a zero-waste supply chain that completely reuses, recycles, or composts all materials. However, the term can also be used to refer to corporate take-back programs, where companies that produce a good are also responsible for its disposal.

CSR (CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY): A business outlook that acknowledges responsibilities to stakeholders not traditionally accepted, including suppliers, customers, and employees as well as local and international communities in which it operates and the natural environment. There are few accepted standards and practices so far, but a growing concern that the actions organizations take have no unintended consequences outside the business, whether driven by concern, philanthropy, or a desire for an authentic brand and public relations.

GOVERNANCE: The systems and processes of management that govern an organization’s behavior and conduct. Governance covers accountability, auditing, transparency (openness), reporting and disclosure, responsibilities and representation of various stakeholders (including shareholders, board of directors, advisory boards, employees, etc.) as well as charters, by-laws, and policies document the rights and responsibilities of all parties. Governance often includes strategy, risk management, and compensation, benefits, and evaluation of senior management. There is growing inclusion of governance issues within international certification systems, such as the GRI.

RENEWABLE: Any material or energy that can be replenished in full without loss or degradation in quality.

SROI (SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT): SROI is an approach to understanding and managing the impacts of a project, organisation or policy. It is based on stakeholders and puts financial value on the important impacts identified by stakeholders that do not have market values.

What do you think of these definitions? What do you think are the most important “sustainability” terms? How would you define them?

They don’t define ‘smart growth’ on their website, but that’s certainly an important one for what we do here at Renew Lehigh Valley. How would you define ‘smart growth’? What about ‘regionalism’?

The Cost of Suburban Sprawl and Why Smart Growth Yields Greater Tax Revenues for a Community

For decades it was a given that growing suburban communities benefit from the development that comes their way. Township supervisors were eager for development to expand the tax base of their municipality. It didn’t take long, however, for residents and local officials to begin to see the downside from sprawl as open space disappeared, roads became jammed with traffic, and the unique crossroad villages of their previously sleepy rural township became consumed by an endless, mind numbing array of strip malls, track housing, and nondescript industrial parks. The local sense of place was lost to the ubiquitous auto-bound culture that is suburban sprawl.

Early studies indicated that not all development was good for the tax base. Although industrial development generated revenue and made little demands on services and commercial development usually was a break even proposition, residential development most definitely did not pay for itself when built in a low density fashion. Housing brought kids which put a strain on the school system, requiring more teachers and class rooms to teach a burgeoning student population. Transporting students by bus across spread out distances added more cost to educating our youth. More residents meant eventual need for a professional police department, perhaps a professional fire department, and expanded demand for parks and other recreational amenities. Single use zoning required more roads to connect the dots of life among sprawl and all of this cost more than property taxes on residential units would be able to sustain over the long term.

Now a new report from Smart Growth America provides additional evidence that sprawl is expensive and costs a lot more than traditional neighborhood development does. Surveying 17 studies of compact versus sprawl development across the country revealed that compact development cost 38 percent less in upfront infrastructure than sprawl because it requires fewer miles of roads, sewer, and water lines than the low density pattern of development that is the norm in suburbia. Compact development also cost 10% less in ongoing service delivery costs by reducing distances that police, fire protection, and garbage trucks have to travel to serve residents. On top of it more traditional, compact models of development yield, on average, about 10 times more tax revenue per acre. It’s all pretty obvious but culturally elusive that traditional town development would yield higher revenues, while reducing delivery of service costs, and reducing infrastructure costs too.

Building in a more compact, denser form does not mean overcrowding. Indeed, some of our most cherished communities in America are built with anywhere from 10 to 15 residential units an acre and accommodate both the car and pedestrian in a walkable, multi-travel-route street grid with tree shaded sidewalks. The mixed use nature of traditional development lends itself to greater walkability, convenience, vitality, and the vibrancy that come from a mixed use setting of homes, shops, schools, parks and places of employment all within a compact form. Think of places like Georgetown, Savannah, Park Slope in Brooklyn, or the Lehigh Valley’s extremely stable and desirable neighborhoods of College Hill in Easton, Allentown’s West End or Bethlehem’s downtown neighborhood located around Main, New, Church, and Market Streets and you begin to get the picture. In addition to the wonderful quality of life factors that come from traditional patterns of development and foster a true sense of community, more compact development simply yields a better tax base with less of the costs that come from the spread out, overextended pattern of development that is suburban sprawl. For more details on the Smart Growth America report, go to:

Our guest blogger, Representative Robert Freeman, represents the 136th Legislative District of Northampton County.  During his previous 12 years in the House, Freeman served as chairman of the House Select Committee on Land Use and Growth Management (1991-92), which recommended ways to improve growth management and reduce sprawl. He was one of the leaders in revising the Municipalities Planning Code in 2000 and authored the Elm Street Program designed to revitalize older residential neighborhoods. The Elm Street legislation was signed into law in February 2004.  He also teaches a course at Lehigh University entitled on growth management and the politics of sprawl. Representative Freeman joined the Renew Lehigh Valley Board of Directors in 2013.

Revitalization on the big screen at South Side Film Festival

The annual South Side Film Festival is returning to Bethlehem this year starting in a few weeks. Every year, the festival celebrates independent films. One movie that we have on our radar here at Renew Lehigh Valley is Red, White, and Blueprints:  A Rust Belt Documentary.

Directed by: Jack Storey
2013 | USA| 69m 00s |
Red, White, & Blueprints is a documentary film that highlights several of the most innovative initiatives, individuals, and emerging ideas in the Rust Belt, and makes the case for why we still matter as a region. From St. Louis to Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, & beyond; the sole intention of this film is to inform and inspire a new generation of leaders to take the vital actions necessary to revitalize our great region.
Screening Times:  Broughal: 5:20pm Thursday, June 13 | Victory Firehouse: 5:20pm Friday, June 14

Broughal: 114 W Morton St, Bethlehem, PA 18015

Victory Fire House: 205 Webster St., Bethlehem, PA, 18015

Even though the documentary examines the Midwest Slate Belt, we think that it will resonate with viewers in the Lehigh Valley who are seeing revitalization happening right in their backyards. As the film will be screened in South Side Bethlehem, it will be hard not to think about the all of the redevelopment happening nearby where Bethlehem Steel used to use the hulking blast furnaces daily and now they remain silent. And that is just one example of brownfield redevelopment that is happening in the Lehigh Valley. In Whitehall, the township planners are revitalizing MacArthur Road on the former site of Lehigh Valley Dairy. Allentown is in the process of redeveloping the old Schoen’s Building along routes 102 and 104 turning the old department store into office space, an art gallery and a ground floor restaurant and pub. Where Toyota Bennett used to reside in Allentown, there’s going to be a 9-acre retail site available for lease.

We hope this documentary will teach us new information about redeveloping industrial sites and maybe inspire us with projects that we hadn’t yet considered for our region.