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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Big Step Forward for Preserving Some of Lower Macungie's Open Space

I really wasn't expecting to update last night's blog so soon. But at tonight's Lower Macungie Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Jim Lancsek, who had previously spoken against efforts to preserve open space, presented a proposal to move open space preservation efforts forward.

Lancsek's proposal, which will have to go to the Board of Commissioners' Budget & Finance Committee for review and then a recommendation back to the board, suggested taking advantage of historically low interest rates for a bond issue or other financing options and possibly using surplus funds to preserve three key properties in the township. Lancsek said he doesn't support preserving open space without a functional purpose.  But he would support buying development rights for farms that, if fully developed with three or four single family homes per acre, would create excessive traffic problems for the township. He also said that he thinks it would be appropriate for the township to purchase in fee simple parcels adjacent to existing township parks so that those parks could be expanded.

The township's Environmental Advisory Council, which I chair, sent the commissioners a recommendation in spring of 2013 to allow a voter referendum to ask the residents whether they would support a fractional increase in our Earned Income Tax for a 5-year period to fund open space preservation. That recommendation was stuck in the Budget & Finance Committee until tonight when the Budget & Finance Committee recommended to the full board that no action be taken on the EAC's 2013 recommendation. Likewise, another potential open space funding recommendation that the EAC sent to the commissioners last year, which involved earmarking all real estate transfer taxes from a 700-acre commercial and residential subdivision that was previously zoned for Agricultural Preservation, was finally rejected by the commissioners. And I couldn't be happier.

I'm happy because the commissioners themselves looked for and found a viable means of funding preservation of some key properties in the township.  The EAC had discussed recommending a bond issue to get all of the needed funding up front to preserve several properties at once, but we thought that incurring debt would be frowned upon by more people than would take issue with a minor Earned Income Tax bump. And when I say minor, I'm talking about the price of one large two-topping pizza per month for someone earning the median income in our community. But that route would not have accumulated enough money to move forward with acquisitions for a few years. Mr. Lancsek's proposal could potentially get the money needed to preserve two properties borrowed and in the budget for next year.

This new proposal isn't a slam dunk by any means, but it is a very encouraging sign that one of our Board of Commissioners' biggest critics of open space preservation over the past three years has finally acknowledged the residents' wishes and stepped forward with an aggressive proposal that could make a real difference in what Lower Macungie will look like when we are fully built out in 20-30 years.  In three decades we might just have a few green patches remaining to separate the warehouses and cookie cutter houses from each other.

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