Barry Seymour, the executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), attended the Chester County Planning Commission’s board meeting on Aug. 14 and discussed the role of his organization and its partnership with the county.
Seymour explained the DVRPC is a federal designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for a diverse nine-county region that encompasses parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Chester County. The organization was created in 1965 and has focused on regional planning issues such as transportation, land use, open space, housing and economic development, and population and employment.
Connections 2045 is DVRPC’s long-range plan for Greater Philadelphia and it focuses on five pillars: Sustain the Environment, Develop Livable Communities, Expand the Economy, Advance Equity and Foster Diversity, and Create an Integrated, Multimodal Transportation Network.
Seymour said the DVRPC works closely with counties on projects in the region. “Our first point of contact is always the county,” he said.
The organization is governed by 18 board members, including Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary serves as an alternate board member.
Seymour described his organization as a combination of a government agency, consulting firm, and foundation. “We’re basically a nonprofit consulting firm,” he said.
The DVRPC has been involved with several projects in Chester County over the years. Highway projects include operational improvements to Section 200 of Route 202, a Downingtown Area Transportation Study, and work on Route 3 and Paoli Pike.
When it comes to smart growth, the DVRPC has been working on a study that looks at the community impacts of multifamily development in Greater Philadelphia. The study was undertaken to help regional stakeholders better understand the potential transportation, economic, and community impacts of various types of multifamily development. Seymour said the report includes a lot of useful information, and that his team found that a lot of projections are too high for the amount of school-aged children associated with new housing developments.
Seymour also noted that the DVRPC has a Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) that helps communities through grants for early stage planning work on projects. The Chester County Planning Commission is currently utilizing a TCDI grant for an Active Transportation Municipal Ordinance Inventory and Outreach project as a result of feedback during the development of Landscapes3, Chester County’s new comprehensive plan. As part of the project, the county Planning Commission will inventory all 73 Chester County 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. The county Planning Commission’s efforts will be aided by ongoing DVRPC projects such as its sidewalk inventory and bicycle level-of-stress mapping.
When it comes to economic development, the DVRPC has been working on a regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that involves input from Chester County. It also has been assisting with the Kennett Area Freight Study and has been promoting some of the county’s urban centers.
Seymour also discussed DVRPC’s Regional Trails Program that provides planning assistance to trail developers, counties, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations to “complete the Circuit, Greater Philadelphia’s 800-plus-mile network of multi-use trails.” Some of the trails that DVRPC has provided assistance with in Chester County include the Chester Valley Trail, the Brandywine Creek Trail, and the Struble Trail.
“With financial support from the William Penn Foundation, the Regional Trails Program has provided almost $16 million in funding to 86 trail planning, design, and construction projects to date,” states DVRPC’s website.
DVRPC also focuses on environmental protection efforts. The organization has a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and a Regional Streetlight Procurement Program that replaces streetlights with energy efficient LED lights.
The DVRPC partnered with GreenSpace Alliance and published Return on Environment – The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2011. Chester County, along with assistance from the DVRPC and several other partners, produced a follow-up report this year, Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Chester County, which highlighted the economic, environmental, and public health benefits of open space preservation to surrounding communities.
The DVRPC has programs and initiatives that address energy and climate change, such as a greenhouse gas inventory, solar and wind ordinances, and an electric vehicle toolkit.
O’Leary noted that the Chester County Planning Commission has heard from various partner agencies at board meetings throughout this year. He said the DVRPC and Planning Commission have a complementary partnership in which both sides help each other.
“The DVRPC is a critical partner for us, especially for transportation, environmental, and demographic issues.”
Chester County Planning Commission Board Chairman Kevin Kerr added: “We appreciate what you and your organization do.”