The Chester County Planning Commission accomplished many goals in 2016. The staff continued to create excellent, highly-professional products that set the standard for planning work in the region. Here is a brief recap of 2016’s accomplishments and how they helped implement Landscapes2 and smart growth.
The Planning Commission worked together as a team to get the comprehensive plan update, known as Landscapes3, off to a great start. In 2016, the agency:
- Developed an outreach strategy to promote public engagement in the update process.
- Held seven topic-specific stakeholder meetings, bringing together partners to discuss issues and reinforce the importance of working together for good planning.
- Identified important open space, sprawl, town revitalization, transportation, and trail accomplishments over the past 20 years that implemented Landscapes and Landscapes2.
- Held a photo contest with 375 submittals.
Helping Municipalities Implement Smart Growth
Local municipalities are critical for implementing smart growth. Here are completed Vision Partnership Program (VPP) projects from 2016 and how they implemented Landscapes2:
- East Bradford Township adopted an updated comprehensive plan that developed strategies for providing alternative transportation choices, including sidewalks, trails and bike routes.
- Kennett Township and Kennett Square Borough completed an economic development study to help coordinate municipal actions on proposed business and residential development.
- Phoenixville Borough adopted a fully updated subdivision and land development ordinance that supports walkable development that is consistent with regional and local planning.
- South Coventry Township adopted an updated comprehensive plan that included strategies for retaining its rural character while providing opportunities for managed growth.
- The Western Chester County Region completed the Route 30 Multi-Modal Study, which developed coordinated land use/transportation strategies for the Route 30 business corridor and the Route 30 bypass interchanges.
Providing more Transportation Alternatives
The agency continued to work hard to expand transportation alternatives and improve the overall transportation network. Major efforts included:
- Holding workshops around the county on the Multi-Modal Handbook, which has become the go-to resource in the county.
- Completing a study on enhancing bus stop access and design.
- Coordinating the completion of the Struble Trail study.
- Completing most of the Chester Valley Trail Extension to Downingtown study, and there’s a very good chance that the inactive Philadelphia and Thorndale rail right-of-way will become available for this trail extension.
- Celebrating the opening of the Sullivan Trail Bridge into Valley Forge Park and the completion of Section 300 of the Route 202 widening.
These studies, and more, are available at www.chesco.org/planning/transportation.
Protecting Open Space, Preserving Historic Landscapes, and Keeping Agricultural Land
A key part of Landscapes2 is preservation, and it’s an important part of the Planning Commission’s mission. In 2016, the agency:
- Completed the Brandywine Battlefield Strategic Landscapes phase 1 study, which is already being implemented with new interpretive signage and land preservation efforts.
- Coordinated town tours throughout the summer, with over 2,000 total participants.
- Tracked open space preservation, identifying approximately 27 percent of the county as protected open space at the start of 2016.
- With the Agricultural Development Council, produced the Farm Guide and other materials designed to strengthen agriculture.
Advocating for Housing Options
Another important issue is housing affordability. In 2016, the agency:
- Completed 5 affordable housing case studies.
- Held three Housing Options Task Force executive committee meetings.
Encouraging Revitalization of Urban Centers and Underutilized Suburban Land
Smart growth involves revitalization of urban and suburban areas. In 2016, the agency:
- Created a Commercial Landscapes Task Force, which is working on policy guides for office parks, brownfield sites, train station areas, and retail commercial sites.
- Supported two Urban Center forums focusing on the redevelopment of underutilized properties and marketing and branding of downtowns.
- Provided technical support to Urban Centers through the VPP grant program, coordination of meetings between municipalities and economic development advocates, and updates to the Urban Centers’ lists of infrastructure projects.
Reviewing Plans for Consistency with Landscapes2 and Smart Growth Planning
In 2016, there was an increase in proposed housing, particularly multi-family housing, and non-residential square footage. Much of the proposed development was in core employment and development areas, like Phoenixville, Great Valley, Exton, West Chester, Downingtown, and Kennett.
- Residential units increased from approximately 2,500 in 2015 to 3,300 in 2016.
- Non-residential square footage increased from about 2,700,000 in 2015 to 3,000,000 in 2016.
For more information about 2016 subdivision and land development, visit www.chesco.org/planning/act247.
Providing Information and Data to the Public
In addition to implementing Landscapes2, a key function of the agency is to provide information and data to the public. These efforts included:
- Bolstering the Pipeline Information Center with new information and public outreach efforts.
- Analyzing housing prices and construction.
- Working on 2045 population and employment forecasts provided by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
- Updating various data and map areas on the website.
The agency’s great work was recognized this year with a number of awards, including:
- The PA Chapter of the American Planning Association gave the county a Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach for the Pipeline Information Center.
- The Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association gave the county a Diamond Level Sustainability Award for planning work.
- The Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance gave the county an award for the VPP.
- Preservation PA gave the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force, which the Chester County Planning Commission staffs, its Chairman’s Award.
Creating New Goals for 2017
In 2017, the Planning Commission will continue working on the update of Landscapes2, the county’s comprehensive plan. The agency expects to hear from stakeholders and the public about trends facing the county. A steering committee will then use this input to create the goals and policies for the plan, which will be called Landscapes3.
Other key 2017 projects will include a Brandywine Battlefield plan, agriculture zoning guidance, a study of the Chester Valley Trail west extension, more affordable housing case studies, a commercial landscapes guide, and a Phoenixville area multi-modal plan. The Planning Commission also will be continuing the VPP for municipal planning, reviewing proposed land developments, providing up-to-date data and mapping, and conducting several other projects to help keep Chester County a great place for residents, businesses, and visitors.