Month: May 2014

Planners Duke it Out


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Lehigh Valley Planners Duke It Out


Okay, I have never actually seen planners go to fisticuffs.  Frankly, I cannot even imagine it.  Thoughtful, intelligent, educated people, most of the planners I know are some of the least confrontational people I have met. And yet, they sometimes deeply disagree about really important issues…like land use and zoning — the DNA of our communities.

Because their disagreements are about land use and zoning (which I find fascinating, but I hear from my friends can put many people to sleep), and because their disagreements happen long before a shovel goes in the ground, their issues often don’t get the attention they deserve.

Nothing is more important to the quality of life in our region than the land use planning decisions our local government councils make.

Here in Pennsylvania, the power is local.  Decisions ultimate rest with the municipal councils that vote to approve the recommendations of our local planning commissions.  Those councils are often motivated by short term desires to increase their tax base — and we see farmland disappear because of it.

There was some excitement on May 29th in planning circles.  In one corner you had the Lynn Township planning commission.  In the other, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.  Lynn Township planning commissioners want to change the zoning of some farmland in their municipality  to commercial.  LVPC disagreed with the Lynn Township planning commission, believing that it should stay zoned for agricultural preservation.   

What happened? Lynn Township Planning Commission said, “yes” to rezoning from preserved agricultural to commercial.  The LVPC said, “no.”

The details, according to WFMZ:  “Lynn Township’s plans to rezone a strip of properties along Route 309 across from Northwestern Lehigh High School were opposed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Thursday night. LVPC unanimously authorized its staff to send a letter to the rural northwestern Lehigh County township, urging Lynn’s supervisors to not adopt the proposed zoning change. The issue involves five properties located between Route 309 and Weiss Road at the eastern edge of the township, near the boundary with Heidelberg Township.”

There are profound, irreversable trade-offs every time local councils rezone farmland to commercial or residential use, and they effect us all.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, the iconic image of rolling hills is central to our collective identity.  Practically speaking, when we lose farmland, we also lose our ability to feed ourselves.  We become dependent on other regions of the country because food cannot be supplied locally.  Development also effects us collectively as our water and air quality deteriorate, storm water becomes more difficult to manage and traffic becomes more congested.

If you are one of the many Lehigh Valley residents that support open space preservation, this proposed zoning change is the line in the sand, the battle ground, per se, between preservation and development.

With 62 municipalities in the region, these decisions come up repeatedly to local councils throughout the region. Farmland preservation efforts die a death by a thousand cuts.

If you happen to live in Lynn Township or know someone who does, though, you can make a difference.  Now would be a good time to reach out to the local Lynn council people and tell them how you feel about the proposed zoning changes.

Farmland preservation or commercial development?  Weigh in.  Call your local council people.  Write letters.  Show up at council meetings.  Get informed.  Speak out.  Make your voice heard.

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Restarting the Sustainability Book Club

Come talk about cool books with us on Saturday, March 12 at the Coffee House Without Limits in Allentown!

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Make friends, discuss civic activism, new urbanism, smart growth, making a difference, and anything on your mind about your neighborhood or regional growth. We will be discussing What To Do When It's Your Turn (and It's Always Your Turn)  by Seth Godin (we have copies, so come even if you don't have this book).

The chat will start at 2:00 pm at The Coffee House Without Limits in Allentown!

In future weeks, we will read Becoming Jane Jacobs  by Peter Laurence, which you can order for $34.95 by calling Allentown's Moravian Book Store at 610-351-0849.

Hope to see you there!

Moving Ideas to Action

3rd Annual Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities "Our Towns, Our Farms, Our Future"

On 12/4/15, almost 200 community leaders and concerned citizens gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Allentown for RenewLV's third annual Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities to discuss strategies for land preservation, community revitalization and municipal cooperation.

At the Summit, we asked the questions:

•How can we preserve open space while supporting job creation and economic development?

•How does a municipality strike a balance between paying its bills, preserving its individual appeal and supporting the local economy?

•Given the increasing market demand for locally grown and organic food, how can the region better grow a vibrant local food economy?

•How do we capitalize on our central location through an interconnected mass transit system rather than continuing to focus on widening our highways?

A big thank-you to all of the Summit for Smart Growth sponsors who contributed! You made this event possible.

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Report Highlights Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Renew Lehigh Valley has often noted the benefits of smart growth development for municipalities, including cost savings. A new report by Smart Growth America details the benefits for municipalities realized through smart growth development. Read the full report here.

Watch the Envision Lehigh Valley Virtual Meeting

RenewLV and our partners at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, the City of Allentown, the City of Bethlehem, and the City of Easton held a one-of-a-kind virtual public meeting for Envision Lehigh Valley. 100 participants logged in through a live video feed, Facebook, Twitter, and live chat. Missed the meeting? View the full recording on YouTube here