Author Archives: Beata Bujalska

Happy Holidays (and Farewell Lehigh Valley)

As the new year approaches us quickly, we wanted to thank all of our supporters and community members in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve had a great year, filled with many opportunities, as well as many challenges. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, check out our End-of-Year Message.

As many of you know, I am leaving the Lehigh Valley and moving to warmer weather down south. Sadly, this means that today is my last day with Renew Lehigh Valley. It’s been a fantastic ride and I feel so lucky to have been part of the RenewLV team.

I will continue blogging on the Crossroads blog as much as possible. Some of these updates will be ones about smart growth in Panama. Yes, Crossroads is going international.

If you haven’t already done so, please add us to your RSS reader. By doing so, you’ll never miss any of our posts.

Happy holidays and a great New Year!

Valley Transportation Projects Receive Funding

A slew of transportation improvement projects were approved for funding on Monday. PennDOT officials and members of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study chose 10 projects out of a proposed 24 to receive a share of $3.3 million in available money. These funds come from the Transportation Enhancement Program, which aims to fund projects that will improve transportation connections and provide much-needed improvements to our network. Dan Hartzell of the Morning Call reports:

TEP funds normally are awarded for improvements apart from direct road or bridge construction work, said Joseph Gurinko, chief transportation planner for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. These include sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks and related work, bicycle safety projects, street lighting, rail trails and other park improvements.

Better connectivity means more livable communities, so I’m thrilled to see that this important program is still around and still funding such crucial projects.

The Express Times posted the full list of projects:

^ $500,000 to Lehigh County to restore Manassas Guth covered bridge in South Whitehall Township

^ $499,100 to Allentown for pedestrian lighting along Seventh Street

^ $497,835 to Freemansburg for Main Street enhancements

^ $488,750 to the D& L National Heritage Corridor for trail construction from Hokendauqua to North Catasauqua

^ $449,500 to Whitehall Township to develop Jordan Creek greenway

^ $439,875 to Fountain Hill for pedestrian enhancements to Delaware Avenue

^ $434,654 to Hellertown for streetscape work at the government complex off Route 412

^ $243,600 to the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation for bicycle education for cyclists and law enforcement

^ $172,500 to Allentown for a safety/crosswalk project for Muhlenberg College students

^ $158,485 to Community Bike Works for bicycle safety and maintenance classes

Total: $3,884,299

Great to see that Hellertown received funding to continue it’s street enhancement project. Sure sign that this community will continue thriving (go visit if you haven’t yet — I recommend the restaurant at the Crossroads Hotel, and not just because our blog shares the name with it).

Local Battle for Open Space Preservation

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?

Why the Suburbs Are Also Declining

Much of RenewLV’s work focuses on the revitalization of the cities in the Lehigh Valley. In part, we examine the structural issues that are in place that prohibit the redevelopment of brownfields and vacant lots in the cities and we work toward solutions to the challenges. But lately we’ve been realizing that the problem is not just affecting the cities anymore. The so-called inner-suburbs have also suffered a decline over the past two decades. In fact, this is the very issue that the Southeast Pennsylvania First Suburbs project works on and a significant part of the Building One Pennsylvania movement.

Urbanophile writes about this issue in a recent post, mentioning the huge unfunded liabilities that one generation lays in place for the next one to pay. They write:

It is a huge incentive for politicians and residents to vote for immediate gratification with the bill – infrastructure costs, pensions, redevelopment costs, or what have you – pushed out 25-30 years. Then these people or their children simply move to a greenfield and start the process over again.

And here is where the realization comes in:

If you think about it, we spend virtually all of our time in the planning process thinking about the upfront side of the development. We charge impact fees to mitigate road needs from new development and such. We go through an extensive review process to make sure there are no adverse impacts on the surroundings. But we spent little time thinking about the back end of the project, of its end of life, and the types of negative externalities that occur there as people can simply abandon homes and malls and go elsewhere.

One suggestion for how to plan for this, as mentioned by Urbanophile, is to mandate redevelopment insurance on the developer. Sure, it might serve as a disincentive to develop if only certain municipalities or states did this, but if it was mandated uniformly across the nation, then we would all be in the same boat. Read more about this idea on the original Urbanophile post.

Could this be one way that we could ensure that our communities don’t die? Essentially, what the decline of the inner suburbs has shown us is that, given the way we’ve been planning and developing in this nation, no community is safe from falling into distress. It’s happening all across Pennsylvania. And we have to do something about it.

Holiday Festivities Around the Lehigh Valley

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s December and we are in full holiday season. And while many tourists will flock to Bethlehem, aka the Christmas City, this holiday season, it’s important to remember that all of the Valley’s cities are being festive.

Easton has some great holiday shopping, with the shoppes around Centre Square having sales and bargains galore. The Peace Candle is also up — I was lucky to see it this weekend when I went to brunch at Sette Luna and it really put me in a holiday mood.

Of course, there is ton to do in Bethlehem, including the various Christmas tours, schedules and information for which can be found on the Bethlehem website. The shopping in Bethlehem is also amazing with many boutiques in both downtown Bethlehem and SouthSide Bethlehem.

And we can’t forget Lights in the Parkway in Allentown, a fifteen year tradition. The Lehigh Parkway has been turned into a winter wonderland destination with lights, music and animated displays. Admission price is per vehicle, providing an affordable fun activity for the whole family. For more information visit Lights in the Parkway website.

What’s your favorite holiday activity in the Lehigh Valley?

What Are We Fighting For? #MuniCon

The New York Times published an excellent article (New Jersey’s Tiniest Towns Fight Push to Merge) on the push for municipal consolidation, particularly in New Jersey, but more generally, a push that is catching on nation-wide. In New Jersey, former Governor Jon Corzine signed a law in 2007 that would allow residents of towns to petition in order to start the consolidation process for their municipality. But almost no towns have consolidated since the bill passed — and the small town of Teterboro is now fighting against this.

Richard Pérez-Peña reports:

At 1.1 square miles, this town is smaller than Central Park — smaller even than Teterboro Airport, which spills past its borders. It has no schools, no police or fire department, far more aircraft than residents, and a bone to pick with the Census Bureau.The bureau estimates Teterboro is home to 17 people, making it the smallest municipality in New Jersey. But locals say the true population is at least 50, maybe 60.

Either way, many people wonder why it is a town at all, and a bill before the State Legislature would abolish Teterboro and split the pieces among its neighbors. That bill has stalled, but the idea is not likely to go away. And many other places across the state are ripe for the same treatment.

The town’s manager Paul Busch — who, by the way, earns a salary of $130,000/year — states that claims about savings from consolidation are unsubstantiated. But it’s a little hard to figure out how Mr. Busch can make that statement without a comprehensive long-term study that examines the costs and benefits of consolidating municipalities.

All in all, the pushback on consolidation — at least in New Jersey (but who are we kidding? The pushback is strong everywhere) — seems to be mostly political. As the Times reports, “The idea of combining entities often meets fierce resistance: it can cost local officials their jobs or political power, and many residents see it as a loss of autonomy or identity.”

So what are your thoughts on municipal consolidation? Do we really need these little fiefdoms? What are we fighting for? And with a conservative estimate of 60 people in the town of Teterboro, is each resident paying over $2,000 for just Mr. Busch’s salary (assuming each of those 60 people is a taxpayer — which I doubt)?

Better Prevention as Better Health Policy

This really is a surprise to no one by now, but a forthcoming article in the American Journal of Public Health states that US medical costs could drop significantly if there were a greater investment placed in public health and preventative measures. Bloomberg Business Week reports on this fiscal sense:

The study authors concluded that reducing the prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure by 5 percent would save the nation about $9 billion a year in the near term. In addition, conditions related to those health problems would also be reduced, which would increase the savings to about $24.7 billion a year in the medium term.

It seems that a slight investment in public health upfront means big payoffs in long-term costs. Thoughts?

Check Out EPA’s Policy on Clean Water & Water Infrastructure

I’m not sure that we ever posted the new EPA sustainability policy on clean water and drinking water infrastructure, but it is something that we link to on our Regional Water Infrastructure page and tend to mention often in our presentations.

It’s noteworthy that the policy places a tremendous focus on long-term planning approaches and sustainability. This is very similar to RenewLV’s own water and wastewater policy, and we are pleased to be aligned with the EPA’s standards.

Check out the policy here. What are your thoughts on this document?

Want to keep up to date on RenewLV’s work on water/wastewater resource management? Make sure you subscribe to this blog via our RSS feed and sign-up for our e-mail list on our Join Us page.

West Ward Meeting on Master Plan

Photo courtesy of S. Feller

Easton’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership is planning a meeting to discuss the master plan for the neighborhood and city residents are encouraged to attend. The Express Times reports:

It’s the longest block in the city and includes 57 properties, 113 apartments and about 215 residents served by six bus routes. It serves as the transition between Downtown and the West Ward.And city officials say the 600 block of Northampton Street is also one of the most challenging in Easton.

“This block for a very long time has seen change, transition, disinvestment,” said planning and codes Director Becky Bradley.

Neighbors and residents are encouraged to participate in shaping the plan. Though many city officials have been going door to door with surveys, there are many voices who have not been heard yet. Attend the meeting to discuss the proposed master plan for the 600 block of Northampton St — this Wednesday, November 17, 6pm at the Salvation Army, 1110 Northampton St. You may also fill out a survey on the plan online; visit the Easton planning website.

Use it or Lose it, Says Sec. LaHood

CNN reported a few days ago that US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has a clear message to states who received high-speed rail funding from the stimulus — it must be used on HSR or returned. Steve Kastenbaum writes:

CNN obtained copies of letters LaHood sent to incoming Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin who have stated their opposition to rail projects already underway in their states. In the letters, LaHood said a rail link between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati in Ohio, and a high-speed rail connection between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are vital to economic growth in both regions.

Lahood wrote that he respects the power of governors to make decisions for their states, but, “There seems to be some confusion about how these high-speed rail dollars can be spent.”

Oooh, nice tone, Secretary. Confusion, indeed. This is the same type of confusion that supposedly went on in New Jersey over the ARC rail tunnel project, which received stimulus funding.

What should these states do???