What is wrong with North Whitehall?

I won’t spend a ton of time on this subject, since it has already been covered pretty well here, here, here, here, and most extensively here, but I’d just like to say that it is MIND BOGGLING to me that the North Whitehall Township Supervisors could be so short sighted as to invite Walmart into their once-lovely community.  

This kind of development shows an absolute total lack of foresight on their part.  What is it about municipalities in the Lehigh Valley that makes them think “OOOH something that brings an immediate paycheck, but has devastating long term implications for our municipality and all of our neighbors, drags down the quality of life for the whole Lehigh Valley, will ultimately lower property values, make this an undesirable place to live or work, and will inevitably end poorly as people seek more sustainable lifestyles that don’t include 5 acres of parking lot for every 7 acres of land… What a wonderful opportunity!”  I hope that the residents of North Whitehall Township vote every single one of these losers who has voted “yes” out of office next election.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that tax benefits to the community if Wal-Mart comes in.  But what cost are people willing to accept in order to save money on taxes?  Every person I have ever spoken to on this issue feels that the future tax savings are not worth the terrible cost to the community in terms of businesses closing, traffic increasing, crime rates going up, and open space loss.  Have we really come to a point where if township supervisors were to raise the tax rates going forward at a reasonable pace to keep up with the demands of providing public services, that they would face political retribution?  I hope not.  But that seems to me to be the only reason that I can possibly fathom that the BoS would approve this plan.

I suppose this is my naivete coming into play once again, but I do not measure my quality of life in terms of dollars, and I don’t think many other people in the Lehigh Valley do either.  Personally, I do not shop at Wal-Mart.  I don’t need to educate any of the readers of this blog on the terrible business practices which have become Wal-Mart’s signature since Sam Walton died in 1992, but suffice it to say that I prefer to spend my money elsewhere.  That said, I understand that for many families, Wal-Mart’s “low price guarantee” means real savings, and has a definite positive impact on their abilities to balance an already tight budget.  In the Lehigh Valley, there are already 7 Wal-Mart locations, including one very close by to North Whitehall on Route 145.  Wal-Mart has no need to open this location in order to serve this market.  They have the need though, to take business away from every other small locally owned business on Route 309 and Route 873.  Locally owned businesses create THREE times the economic activity that national chains do.

The Lehigh Valley is desperately behind the times in terms of regional planning and smart sustainable growth initiatives.  One of my absolute favorite things about the Lehigh Valley is all of the tiny little towns, if you can even call them that.  Even as BD and I drive up to his mother’s house in Neffs, we pass through Wennersville, and Settlersville, and Guthsville, Orefield, Schnecksville, and then finally arrive in Neffs.  Sometimes we take the back way, which takes us through Myersville, or Greenawalds, and Mechanicsville or Ruchsville, Ironton, and Ballietsville.  I love these little villages and towns, with their hotels and inns and drive-thru diners and roadside fruit stands.  And I don’t love them for purely nostalgic reasons – these are LIVEABLE communities.  It breaks my heart as they disappear into oblivion between “Lakeside Meadows” or “Mountain Heights” or any other development.  There is that old joke that when developments are built, they are named for the natural features which have been wiped out to make room for the subdivision, and even though I know you have to laugh at some things or else you might cry, I just wonder at what point will the citizens of the Lehigh Valley think “enough.”

I’m not talking about reinventing the wheel here, either.  There is a plethora of good literature available regarding smart growth, but I’ll point you in the direction of one book.  Last year I attended a presentation by Ed McMahon, a national expert on sustainable development which outlined clear methods for encouraging development in smart ways.  His presentation was straightforward and easy to understand, sensible, and emphasized the essential point that “smart growth” and “no growth” are not the same.  They aren’t even compatible as far as I’m concerned.  His book, Better Models for Development in Pennsylvania, covers many of the same topics as his presentation did.  A more thorough review is here.  If you are interested in thinking about issues of sustainability, especially as it pertains to this area, its a great starting point.

In terms of the future of Route 309 – its looking bleak to me.  The problem with ignoring smart growth principles is that development that occurs today, in all of its unsustainable glory, is the development we’ll be stuck with.  A few years down the line if people think “oh that was a bad idea” you can’t return that Wal-Mart to open space.  Its there.  The environmental and economic blows to the community will have already taken their tolls.  Wouldn’t it make a modicum of sense to strategize and plan for growth on a long-term basis?  

I am pro growth.  I’m not even really anti Wal-Mart  (well okay I am pretty anti Wal-Mart), but at what point do we stop with all this unsustainable, unattractive, short-sighted development?

3 Responses to “What is wrong with North Whitehall?”

  1. 1 Glenn December 5, 2008 at 9:40 am

    You Said…
    ” MIND BOGGLING to me that the North Whitehall Township Supervisors could be so short sighted”

    It’s the Wal-Mart developers way. You go into rural areas where there are part-time mangers or commissioners. If the local yokel government reps were to attempt to oppose, W-M would simply drive that community into the ground in the courts. Davy-Goliath… they have no choice! So they simply play nice to save the budget which is little larger then a couple of week’s of Allentown’s operations’ budget.

    Schnecksville was a great little community at one time.. NOT ANYMORE.
    If you think 309 North is a parking lot now… !!!

  2. 2 Glenn December 5, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I don’t want to go all radical here, but if I were…

    There was a film:.

    (OR Click on my name)

  3. 3 Chris Casey December 5, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I was sorry to see this go through. I live near one in Trexlertown, and I pass three more driving down 309 to Montgomeryville during the week. They also want to build in Maxatawny near Kutztown. It’s a Wal mart World!
    Good to see you back!

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