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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?

Northampton County Open Space Money Deadline Sept. 30

The Morning Call reported yesterday that Northampton County has set a deadline of September 30 for municipalities to submit grant requests through the county’s Open Space Initiative. Thirteen municipalities have been promised funding, but have not used all of their open space allocation — Allen Township, Chapman, East Bangor, Glendon, Hellertown, Lower Mount Bethel, Lower Nazareth, Lower Saucon, Nazareth, Roseto, Upper Nazareth, Williams and Wind Gap. The story reports:

The funds can go toward buying land for parks or developing existing ones.”If they don’t have an application in for a project this round, they will not be able to requisition that money,” Bentzoni said. “With the open space program in such dire straits, this is last call.”

The September deadlines for open space grants have set some localities scrambling to decide on projects, find matching funds and get their applications in. Townships have to come up with 50 percent in matching funds while the cities and boroughs need only a 25 percent match.

In the midst of a poor economy many municipalities have seen general revenue drop or stay flat and for them finding matching funds could pose a problem. But on the flip side, the Great Recession has meant land prices and bids from contractors are down also so communities should get more for their dollars, [county Councilman John] Cusick said.

Some communities dug into their allocation quickly. In March 2006, Bethlehem got a $1,098,734 grant to acquire and develop the South Bethlehem Greenway. Easton spent its $559,209 to buy land and construct the Bushkill Creek Corridor Trail starting with a grant in 2006.

Kudos to the cities in Northampton County that jumped early to use the funding. Hopefully, the other municipalities are able to submit the grant requests by the deadline.

BRT on the Rise Across the Nation

Cities across the United States are beginning to experiment with bus-rapid transit, a high speed bus service that works much like a light rail. Many cities are beginning to embrace this mode of transportation because it tends to be an easier upgrade in an urban public transit system than other modes (such as subway, rail, etc.).

Bus improvements are on the agenda in Chicago, as a blogger on the Metropolitan Planning Council mentions on its blog recently:

Before the days of bus tracker, I remember bearing the elements (for what seemed like a lifetime!), waiting for a bus to arrive at my stop. Now I not only know whether I’ll catch a bus in time to get to work, but I can wait in a safe, comfortable place and build in a few minutes to pick up the daily paper before my bus arrives. So I welcome the news that the city of Chicago recently received a $35 million federal grant to continue to improve CTA bus service. In the next couple of years, we’ll see Bus Tracker digital kiosks at bus stops so that all riders can anticipate the next bus. Some buses will operate in dedicated lanes to dash past traffic congestion.

Bus-rapid transit is one of the long-term recommendations in the Moving LANTA Forward plan that was unveiled last year. Having a faster and super-efficient bus network around the Valley would bring us a step closer to a more balanced and robust public transportation system. But is it feasible here? The first step would involve working toward better land-use planning in the region. To find out more about RenewLV’s work on transportation, visit our Sustainable Transportation Initiative page.