For over two years, Susan Elks has been the driving force behind a plan for Chester County’s future known as Landscapes3. As the project manager, she has led efforts to develop a comprehensive plan that seeks to balance preservation with growth across the county’s landscapes through six goal areas: Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Prosper, and Connect.
“Landscapes3 provides the framework for the county’s future and helps identify the different ways that individuals, nonprofits, or municipalities can play a role in shaping the future,” said Susan, director of the Planning Services Division at the Chester County Planning Commission.
To continue to balance growth and preservation, Landscapes3 recommits to core principles that will position the county and its municipalities for success, including resource preservation, revitalized urban and suburban centers, housing diversity, transportation choices, collaboration, and resiliency.
Susan said the Planning Commission gathered feedback from many stakeholders throughout the development of Landscapes3, including municipalities, nonprofit organizations, and community members. Some of the ways the Planning Commission gathered input throughout this process—slated for completion later this year—included stakeholder, steering committee, and public meetings. In addition, the Planning Commission conducted two photo contests that garnered 600 submissions, organized attendance at nearly 30 community events across the county, and launched an interactive survey that attracted almost 6,000 participants.
“Chester County is fortunate to have citizens and community members who listen and understand there are a lot of competing interests,” she said.
In addition to her work on Landscapes3, Susan leads a division of eight that is responsible for direct interaction with Chester County’s 73 municipalities and partners to achieve consistency with Landscapes2, the county’s current award-winning comprehensive policy plan. Through the Vision Partnership Program, Susan administers technical service and cash grants for comprehensive planning, ordinance updates, and special studies at the municipal and regional level. Susan has worked at the Planning Commission for 10 years but has 20 years of experience spanning community, land use, and environmental planning and regulatory compliance, and has expertise in project management and facilitation.
While working for environmental and community consulting firms after earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Susan decided she wanted to transition to the planning side of land use projects. As a result, she pursued her master’s degree in geography from West Chester University. Shortly after earning her master’s degree, she moved to North Carolina for her husband’s job with the U.S. Coast Guard. While in North Carolina, she worked for the Onslow County Planning Department, a coastal county that is home to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune.
In addition to Landscapes3 and the Vision Partnership Program, Susan has helped with municipal comprehensive plans in Chester County such as the Elverson Borough Comprehensive Plan and the Easttown Township Comprehensive Plan. Susan has valued the diversity in her job duties and she enjoys working with her staff.
“The Planning Services Division is a strong and supportive group; it’s nice to be within such a talented team of professionals,” she said.
Susan’s passion for planning does not stop in Chester County. In April, she received a service recognition for her work as the professional development officer for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-PA). Susan served in that role from 2009 until early 2018 and oversaw the Chapter’s professional development training and certification efforts.
Additionally, Susan is senior fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program through their Delaware River Watershed Network, recently attending their training on community organizing. Susan, who has a certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners, received the Irving Hand Excellence in Planning Professional Development Award from the APA-PA in 2011. She used the funds from that award to pay for Facilitation and Mediation of Public and Environmental Conflicts at the CDR Association in Colorado and for Basic Mediation Training at the Lancaster Mediation Center. These trainings strengthened her skills in active listening and process management, helping her ensure that all participants can contribute to the discussion.
Susan grew up in the village of Unionville in East Marlborough Township and she resides there today with her husband, Jake, and their two children: 10-year-old Garrett and 8-year-old Claire. She met Jake while both were pursuing their bachelor’s degrees at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In her spare time, Susan enjoys going to the mountains and participating in outdoor activities such as canoeing and hiking. She and her family also like watching almost all of the Philadelphia sports teams.