With the adoption of Landscapes3 in November 2018, the planning commission pivoted its work program to focus on implementing the county’s new comprehensive plan, which seeks to balance growth and preservation. During the year, 65 of the county’s 73 municipalities formally endorsed Landscapes3, and another two municipalities acknowledged the relevance of the plan. This great support shows the importance of Landscapes3 as a guiding document for the county and its many diverse communities. In 2020, the Planning Commission will continue to implement the goals, objectives, and recommendations in Landscapes3. We will also have events associated with each of the six goal areas; Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Work, and Connect.
Landscapes Map Implementation
A key element of Landscapes3 is the Landscapes map, which provides general guidance on growth, preservation, and development design. Many of the Vision Partnership Program (VPP) projects completed in 2019 addressed recommendations in Landscapes3 and the Landscapes map.
- Avondale adopted a comprehensive plan that examined moderate housing needs, walkability, and traffic calming;
- Caln prepared a Capital Improvement Plan that was primarily focused on stormwater needs;
- East Bradford completed its Plum Run Greenway Plan, which identifies a trail connection from the township’s heritage center towards West Chester University;
- Franklin conducted a land use needs analysis, using staff from the county Planning Commission, of its housing needs in relation to its status as a primarily rural community;
- London Britain, a rural community, adopted a comprehensive plan focused on open space preservation, historic preservation, and traffic calming;
- North Coventry adopted a comprehensive plan, prepared by the Planning Commission, that addresses senior housing around the mall area, mixed uses in its commercial core, resource protection needs, and open space preservation;
- Penn Township completed an overhaul of its zoning ordinance, prepared by the Planning Commission, that beefs up historic resource, natural resource, and health land use standards;
- Phoenixville finished its pedestrian accessibility plan designed to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians;
- Tredyffrin wrapped up a multi-modal study showing how the township can improve its walkability, bikability, and access to public transportation;
- West Brandywine completed a comprehensive plan that recommends improved agricultural protection, trail connections, and commercial development;
- West Goshen adopted a comprehensive plan that supports affordably-priced housing, identifies potential redevelopment of a shopping center, and advocates for better bike/pedestrian connections to West Chester; and
- Westtown adopted a comprehensive plan that supports affordably-priced housing and open space preservation.
The planning commission continued to provide expanded design input into proposed subdivisions and land developments, illustrating how better planning can be incorporated into new developments. To help with this effort and to provide examples of zoning that works, the planning commission began creating design guides for each of the landscapes map categories, beginning with the Urban Center Design Guide, which will be coming soon.
In 2019, we continued to see steady amounts of development proposed, but there was a drop from 2018.
- For residential, we saw around 2,400 units proposed, which is a significant drop from the prior year. The largest declines were in single-family attached and apartments. For the second year in a row, we received large numbers of proposed single-family detached homes, over a 1,000 units.
- Similar to 2018, we had over 2,000,000 square feet of non-residential space proposed, which is more than during the Great Recession but relatively low compared to historic trends.
Preserve Goal Implementation
The preserve goal is focused on preservation of open space. In 2019, we tracked open space preservation, identifying nearly 29 percent of the county, or 140,000 acres, as protected open space at the end of 2018. New properties preserved in 2019 included expansions to the Nottingham County Park and Marsh Creek State Park.
Working with a wide range of partners, we completed a Return on Environment report that examined the economic value of open space in Chester County. This econometric analysis showed that preserved open space increases housing values, provides environmental benefits that would be very expensive to replicate, saves residents money by providing free places to exercise and avoided medical costs, generates jobs and income from agriculture and tourism; and provides more in tax revenue than it generates in costs.
This report was released at the first annual open space summit, where the county commissioners celebrated 30 years of open space preservation in Chester County.
Protect Goal Implementation
The protect goal is focused on natural resource protection and the environment. In 2019, we prepared an inventory of natural resource ordinances and supported the Water Resources Authority in their update of the county’s Watersheds plan.
We also took the first step in creating a climate action plan for Chester County, which will replace the county’s 2010 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Report, by working with a consultant, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and students from Millersville on a greenhouse gas inventory.
Appreciate Goal Implementation
To support historic preservation in 2019, we:
- Coordinated Town Tours and Village Walks, which focused on the county’s historic villages and welcomed 2,300 total participants to 13 events;
- Prepared an interactive map that shows national historic register listed and eligible properties; and
- Supported further analysis of the British and American approaches to the Battle of the Brandywine, which led to revisions to the battle’s animated map.
Live Goal Implementation
The live goal addresses a variety of housing, community facility, and park issues. In 2019, the planning commission focused on housing issues, which was one of the major concerns raised during the preparation of Landscapes3. During 2019, the planning commission:
- Convened a Housing Choices Committee comprised of municipal representatives, housing advocates, land use professionals, and developers;
- Completed a large number of housing eTools that provide guidance to municipalities on topics like accessory apartments, affordable housing bonuses, age restricted housing, and residential conversions;
- Prepared an interactive map that shows where medium to higher density housing is allowed in Chester County by local zoning; and
- Tracked housing construction and costs in the annual housing report, which found that the median housing value in the county rose about 1% in 2018 to $340,000, and 1,355 units were built in 2018, with only 9% of these being multifamily.
These housing efforts culminated in the A+ Homes forum, which featured ways to have attractive, affordably-priced, adaptable, aging-friendly, and accessible homes.
Knowing the characteristics of the county’s residents is key background information for implementing the live goal and recommendations. To make sure our information about our residents is correct, the Planning Commission launched a 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, which has created many documents to encourage participation in the 2020 Census.
Prosper Goal Implementation
The prosper goal addresses economic development and urban revitalization. In 2019, we:
- Prepared eTool guidance to municipalities on mixed use development, secondary farm businesses, and short term rentals;
- 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 center’s lists of infrastructure projects;
- Supported the Urban Center Forum, which focused on breweries, food trucks, farmers’ markets, and short term rentals; and
- With the Agricultural Development Council, produced the annual farm guide and an info sheet summarizing the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
For the first time, we collected information on non-residential construction. In 2018, the county added 1,259,000 square feet of non-residential building square footage, with more than half of this consisting of commercial space.
This non-residential data will be part of our new annual Landscapes3 progress report, which will include both quantitative measurements and qualitative accomplishments.
Connect Goal Implementation
For the connect goal, which includes transportation and other infrastructure, we:
- Completed the Transportation Improvement Inventory, which documents all needed transportation projects in Chester County;
- Prepared the Transportation Priority Projects list, which is signed by the county commissioners, all of our state house delegation, and all of our state senate delegation;
- Completed the Brandywine Water Trail Study in partnership with the Brandywine Conservancy; and
- Continuously updated the Pipeline Information Center with new information.
New Goals for 2020
In 2020, the Planning Commission will continue to implement the goals, objectives, and recommendations in Landscapes3. We will also have events associated with each of the six goal areas; Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Work, and Connect.
Major initiatives in 2020 will include continued support via the Vision Partnership Program; new Suburban Center and Suburban landscape design guides; an inventory of open space ordinances; a climate action plan; support to municipalities on natural resource protection; a guide to green and sustainable suburbs; an adaptive reuse design guide; the Town Tours and Village Walks; additional housing tools for affordably-priced housing; an analysis of housing needs for an aging population; 2020 Census outreach; a redevelopment map; a Main Street commercial landscapes guide; an analysis of municipal active transportation; a trail feasibility study for southern Chester County; and an inventory of non-transportation infrastructure needs. Ongoing major Landscapes3 initiatives include advocacy for good planning with our partners, maintaining the Pipeline Information Center, and continuing the Act 247 review process for subdivisions, land developments, ordinances, and plans.