The Local Political Coalition We Need

Bernie O’Hare sounds surprised that conservative Republican J.B. Reilly donated $1000 to Democratic Mayor of Easton Sal Panto, but I’m not. Reilly is a developer. He likes Sal Panto because under Panto’s administration, Easton is more pro-growth and pro-development than some other municipalities:

Speaking of Pawlowski, he gave Sal $1,000 last year. So did a lot of Pawlowski’s own crop of donors. NIZ developer J.B. Reilly, a conservative Republican, found it in his heart to give Sal $1,000. Robert Bennett of Bennett Toyota, located in Allentown, gave Panto $1,500. Alan Kessler, who is with the Duane Morris law firm, kicked in $2,500.

This is today’s reminder that the set of issues in the municipal issue space is different from the set of issues in the federal issue space. The issues around land use and development in particular tend to crack up the national party coalitions.

If you wanted to organize local political parties around the actual local issues, you’d have two coalitions:

In the anti-development coalition you’d have the Democrats who reflexively oppose new development for historic preservation reasons, or environmental reasons, or rich-guy-hating reasons, or anti-corporate chain reasons. And you’d have some Republicans who reflexively oppose new development for get-off-my-lawn reasons, or suburban tribalism reasons.

In the pro-development coalition, you’d have the Democrats like me who are pro-urban development for anti-sprawl reasons, or pro-agglomeration economy reasons, and for environmental protection/open space reasons. And you’d also have a bunch of Republicans who are pro-development because they support strong individual property rights, support economic growth, and take a live-and-let-live attitude toward other people’s business.

On Team NIMBY, you’d have politicians like Dennis Pearson and Bob Donchez and David DiGiacinto, and on Team Growth and Development you’d have politicians like Sal Panto, John Callahan, Percy Dougherty, Roger Ruggles and Ron Beitler.

If you ignore the nominal national party labels and view these local coalitions as the “real” parties, then it makes perfect sense for J.B. Reilly to cut Sal Panto a check.

I would like to see the local parties, and the Democratic Party in particular, make more of an effort to organize local politics around these divisions. You need to put together a coalition of labor + developers + real estate agents + environmentalists + open space NIMBYs to support an agenda for lots of new construction in the core cities, and no new construction on township cornfields. That’s the Growth Machine coalition. The real estate professionals and labor provide the fundraising, and labor and environmentalists provide the grassroots political machine.

In the last election you saw the LVAR do some mailers for Lehigh County Republicans + Geoff Brace, but it wasn’t clear what they were trying to get. I think my idea makes a lot more sense. There’s a common interest uniting a few of the different interests active in local politics – designating some areas where you’re allowed to build a whole lot of new construction. Putting together an informal party coalition to advocate for this interest would increase the likelihood of successful policy change.



  1. Where do “team criminals” like Pawlowski, Reilly, Mann, Browne, Jennings and Topper fit in?

  2. What if I want to develop my private property into quarter acre lots? What if I want to live in a colonial style house on a quarter acre lot? What business of it is yours if these two constituencies get together and make a mutually beneficial deal?
    You can’t resist meddling in people freely making lifestyle choices you’ve decided are “bad”

    • @Jack, I have no problem with you living on your large two acre lot with a large colonial house. What I do have a problem with is taxpayers paying for the infrastructure to service your large lot IF it’s in a remote or inefficiently serviced location in terms of public liabilities like water, sewer, electricity ect. ect.. I don’t question your right to do what you want with your land. (within reason.. in general I’m a proponent of less restrictive form based zoning codes vs. restrictive and arbitrary Euclidean) What I do however is question forcing taxpayers to accept liability for maintaining new infrastructure with greenfield growth.

      It’s all about growth patterns. There are inherently efficient ones and ones that are not. And yes, to ensure the taxpayer isn’t left holding the bag you need a level of regional planning.

      Hey if you can privately swing the cost of public infrastructure, roads, water, sewer, electricity to service your location (not just initial but in perpetuity, maintenance and repair) then go for it. Property owners should bear the full location-variable costs of where they build.

      • Before we go off the deep end, in Lower Mac water, sewer, and electric are all funded by property owners and not taxpayers.

        • Besides, Jon’s tombstone will read “Someone else paid for this”

          Why all of a sudden Jon do you want someone else to pay their own way when you’re such a leech?

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I have one principle on redistribution issues. The government should stop redistributing wealth and political protection upward and start redistributing it downward. That’s what these zoning issues are all about. Government-mandated sprawl is one big upward transfer of wealth to the upper middle class and wealthy at the expense of middle income and lower income people. It’s extremely expensive, and it hurts the economy.

        • Right, LCA, ppl ect. ect. But residents still shoulder the cost for inefficient building patterns in terms of rates. LCA feeds the beast with constant pressure to expand lines further and further out.

          Substitute taxpayer with resident. One way or another the community pays.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Not roads or police service

  3. Jon Geeting says:

    Well to the extent that that kind of development has costs for people beyond the buyer and seller – costs like the Monocacy flooding more in Bethlehem due to exurban development upstream in Lower Nazareth; costs like lifetime road, water and sewer maintenance that are shunted onto taxpayers; and costs like depleted open space and traffic congestion – then I think it’s fair game for political meddling. However, I think you can effectively limit this kind of land-intensive development through non-coercive means. Allowing more construction in the already built-up areas would take some of the development pressure off the periphery. And doing farmland preservation through a Tradable Development Rights Bank would be a nice market-based way to balance the competing demands for open space preservation and housing growth. Better than something like an urban growth boundary, or zoning for farm use only that are closer to a taking.

    • Dead on with the a need to fairly compensate landowners for their property for the PUBLIC benefit of open space and farmland preservation.

      Using the inherently unfair zoning mechanisms to preserve farmland is the fundamental flaw that lead to the “Jaindl issue” on 700 acres here in Lower Macungie.

      From my platform…
      Lower Macungie if serious about preserving open space, needs to explore programs to buy or transfer development rights. Buying or transferring development rights, is the only effective way to preserve land and the fairest mechanism for landowners.

      There are certain necessary assumptions about preserving land.

      1. Open space and farmland serves the greater good and is a benefit to society.

      2. Survey after survey shows that communities value open space and farmland. Unfortunately, the marketplace assigns little value to open space. (Note the 2-1 passing of the 2001 green futures county voter referendum)

      3. Because of this, open space will eventually be developed in an area where economic development demand is strong.

      4. Open space and agricultural zoning is temporary and some argue unfair to property owners who must bear the burden of preservation for the sake of the community. Open space also gives a false sense of security.

      5. A community must be willing to enter the marketplace to preserve open space and farmland. Failure to do so will result in all developable land eventually being developed.

      Ron Beitler

Speak Your Mind