Celebrating Community Planning Month

The Chester County Commissioners issued a proclamation in recognition of the work done by local, county, and regional planners in conjunction with the celebration of National Community Planning Month during today’s meeting.

“It’s important to take the time to acknowledge the valuable efforts and contributions of local planners, including those who work for the Chester County Planning Commission and municipal planning commissions,” said Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell. “Their work is significant when it comes to planning for our County’s future and balancing managed growth and preservation. In particular, we appreciate all the work that has been done this past year to implement aspects of Landscapes3, the County’s new comprehensive plan.”

The Commissioners adopted Landscapes3 in November 2018, renewing a vision and strategy for balancing growth and preservation. Over this past year, different aspects of the six goal areas of the plan – Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Prosper and Connect – have been addressed.

“Chester County has begun implementing Landscapes3 by preserving open space, supporting urban center infrastructure, expanding trails, supporting affordable housing, providing planning guidance, advocating for expanded public transportation and roads, collaborating with municipalities and other key partners, and pursuing a variety of community initiatives,” states the Commissioners’ proclamation.

The Preserve goal has been implemented through the release of the Return on Environment report, which highlights valuable economic, environmental, and public health benefits that open space preservation in Chester County. The report was released during the Chester County Open Space Summit in May, which also served as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of open space preservation efforts in Chester County. The Chester County Planning Commission worked with the Chester County Department of Parks and Open Space Preservation and several other internal and external partner agencies to conduct this event, which championed the fact that nearly 29 percent of the County is permanently protected as open space. During 2018, two major open space protection efforts (the former Strawbridge estate near the Maryland border and the Bryn Coed property in West Vincent and West Pikeland) were completed after three years’ worth of planning and acquisition.

The Planning Commission has moved forward with the Protect goal by updating an inventory of natural resource ordinances. In addition, the Planning Commission is assisting the Chester County Water Resources Authority with an update to its water resources plan. Originally adopted in 2002, Watersheds serves as both the County’s integrated water resources plan and as the countywide Act 167 Stormwater Plan, providing policy support to municipal stormwater ordinances.

Aspects of the Appreciate goal have moved along this year. The Planning Commission is creating a National Register interactive map and promoting adaptive reuse of historic properties. The Appreciate goal also was seen through the continuance of the popular Town Tours & Village Walks program this summer. For the past 25 years, the free summer strolls have taken place in historic neighborhoods, hamlets, villages and sites throughout Chester County. These events are sponsored by the Commissioners through the County Planning Commission and its partners, including the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, the Chester County Historic Preservation Network, the Chester County Historical Society, Westtown Township, and other local participating municipalities.

The Planning Commission is implementing the Live goal by working with housing partners to find solutions to affordably-priced housing issues and will be discussing tools to address this topic during a housing forum from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 10 W. Pleasant Grove Road, West Chester. The event, Creating A+ Homes, will focus on ways to make homes attractive, affordably-priced, adaptable, aging-friendly, and accessible. The forum topics include new residential designs, policies for affordably-priced homes, and housing tools for municipalities.

The Commissioners, along with the Chester County Department of Community Development, have provided funding support toward several affordably-priced housing options in the County in recent years. Those projects include the Habitat for Humanity of Chester County’s upcoming 40-unit housing development for middle-income families in the Borough of West Grove; the Petra Community Housing’s SteelTown Village in the Borough of Phoenixville, a new 48-unit affordable housing community for families, senior citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities; and the upcoming 51-unit Melton Center Apartments, an affordable workforce housing development that is being developed by Church Housing Corp. and NRP LLC.

The Prosper goal of Landscapes3 has been implemented this year through the County’s continued support of the urban centers. The Commissioners unanimously approved $2.5 million in grants through the Community Revitalization Program this summer, which went toward infrastructure projects in the City of Coatesville and the boroughs of Atglen, Honey Brook, Phoenixville, Kennett Square, Modena, and West Chester. Overall, the Commissioners and Department of Community Development have awarded more than $68 million in Community Revitalization Program and Community Development Block Grant program grants since 2002.

As part of the Prosper goal, the Planning Commission is creating a map about redevelopment opportunities in Chester County. In addition, the Planning Commission and Department of Community Development conducted an Urban Centers Forum on Oct. 8 that focused on tourism in urban centers.

Another aspect of the Prosper goal that has seen progress is retaining and expanding business. A recent example of retaining a business was Lockheed Martin’s decision this summer to keep the Sikorsky facility in Coatesville open until at least 2020. When Lockheed Martin first announced its plans to close the Sikorsky site, the Commissioners immediately assembled a task force to address this issue.

The Connect goal of Landscapes3 has been moving forward through progress on several trail projects. For example, the Schuylkill River Trail construction contract will be awarded by the end of the year, and construction will begin in early 2020 on about 4 miles of new trail between Parkerford and the 422 Bridge over the Schuylkill River, as well as paving about 5 miles of trail between Parkerford and the Cromby Road Trailhead that is currently surfaced with stone dust. The 1-mile extension of the Chester Valley Trail from Main Street at Exton to the Oaklands Corporate Center is anticipated to go to construction in spring 2020.

The Planning Commission also will be conducting a forum, Trails, Trains and Traffic, that will focus on public transportation, active transportation, and road improvements. The event will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at the West Whiteland Township Building, 101 Commerce Drive, Exton.

During the development of Landscapes3, Chester County residents identified the need for more bicycle and pedestrian facilities in their communities. To address this issue, the Planning Commission staff is working on an Active Transportation Municipal Ordinance Inventory and Outreach project. As part of the project, the Planning Commission will inventory all 73 municipalities, and the results will be used to target locations where active transportation facilities and the municipal ordinances that require and standardize such facilities are most needed.

National Community Planning Month has been celebrated since 2006. The American Planning Association theme for 2019’s National Community Planning Month is Planning for Infrastructure That Benefits All.

Over 10,000 Pennsylvanians serve on municipal planning commissions across the state and they work with public and private sector professional planners to enhance the quality of life in communities.

“The celebration of National Community Planning Month provides the opportunity to publicly recognize the participation and dedication of the members of planning commissions and other citizen planners who have contributed their time and expertise to the improvement of Chester County,” states the Commissioners’ proclamation.