Route 1 Economic Development Initiative leaders share status of progress
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
There were a little more than 100 elected officials, conservation experts, and representatives of townships, municipalities and schools gathered at the Route 1 Economic Development update presentation, held Oct. 27 at the Technical College High School in West Grove.
In the day-to-day of their nine-to-five jobs, many of them are directors, supervisors, managers, presidents and officers, but in the context of what brought them to the presentation, they all share the same title.
They are stakeholders in a transportation tributary across four boroughs and 12 townships, that many believe will serve as the shining light of smart growth, through a series of economic development and conservation efforts. For more than an hour, they heard brief presentations by several steering committee chairpersons, who shared some of the progress that the entire Initiative has made in the last year.
In his opening remarks, County Commissioner Terence Farrell emphasized the county's economic commitment to southern Chester County, saying that he and his fellow commissioners Michele Kichline and Kathi Cozzone "are 110 percent" behind the Route 1 Economic Development Initiative. As proof, Farrell pointed to the Community Revitalization Program, begun in 2002, which has awarded a total of $17.8 million in infrastructure support to Avondale [$4.2M], Kennett Square [$3.8M], Oxford [$4.5M] and West Grove [$5.2M], in order to support urban revitalization in these towns.
In addition, Farrell said that the county recently provided Oxford with $575,000 for the Wheeler Boulevard street improvement; and $400,000 to West Grove Borough, for the reconstruction of Hillside Avenue. The county is also supporting the Kennett Area Community Service facilities, as well as the start of a better housing alliance project in Oxford.
Dennis Melton, chair of the Land Development and Municipal Coordination Committee, said that he and his colleagues went on a listening tour of local townships and municipalities from last June to this past March, in order to get a feel for what each was thinking in terms of their individual plans for development along the Route 1 Corridor. They visited Avondale Borough, East Nottingham Borough, Kennett Township, Kennett Borough, London Grove Township, New Garden Township, Oxford Borough and Penn Township.
Working with a questionnaire sent to municipal leaders, "We asked what types of economic development they wanted in their township," Melton said. "Their answers were light industrial, medical and commercial. We then asked what kind of economic development they would least like to see, and several leaders who responded said that they would not like to see residential development."
Most of the leaders Melton and his colleagues spoke with said they were looking for ways to increase tax ratables in their respective townships, through the establishment of restaurants, shopping, hotels and entertainment businesses. Some leaders suggested to the committee that building sidewalks would allow one township to link with another, while others said that their key initiative would be to improve their township's infrastructure, such as sewers, parking, lighting and road repair.
Melton said that he and his colleagues will schedule follow-up meetings and presentations with townships, over the course of the next several months.
Bob Norris of the Economic Development Committee said that he and his colleagues are introducing the most likely development models anticipated to locate along the Route 1 Corridor over the next several years, to give townships and municipalities a snapshot of projected growth. Norris said that the most likely scenarios they envision are a) affordable housing, specifically, 200-unit, multifamily, garden-like apartment complexes, that rent between $875 and $1,500 a month, and are walkable to town centers; b) the creation of facilities to be used for light industrial business that are between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet, provide between 40 to 50 parking spaces, and can be used by either a single tenant or a number of tenants; and c) the establishment of larger-scale manufacturing or warehouse-type facilities that are about 100,000 square feet in size, and offer between 100 and 150 parking spaces.
"Whether we like it or not, these are the folks who are probably going to come in and want to grow around Route 1," Norris said. "Growth is going to continue to happen, and just as many of us came to Chester County over the years, others will follow. It's striking that balance between responsible growth, and keeping our area as beautiful as we can."
Bill Hostetter, chair of the Infrastructure Committee, said that he and his sub-committee colleagues identified certain locations along the corridor for potential development. However, he said, some areas were lacking infrastructure, which may prevent them from being developed.
A continuing commitment of the committee, Hostetter said, will be to work with boroughs, utility companies and authorities along the corridor.
"What we encourage municipalities and authorities to do is that when they're looking at the infrastructure needs, to plan for the future and build out a little more, to compensate for expected growth," he said. "We want to keep the lines of communication open, and I'm hoping we can be a clearing house for this information as we continue to build the knowledge base that we have."
Tim Phelps, chair of the Transportation Committee, said that over the last year, he and his colleagues have met with members of PennDOT, elected officials, the Chester County Planning Commission, and other advocacy associations and business leaders -- in order to find out what they key needs are. He pointed to the many studies and investments currently being conducted along several corridors on or near Route 1, which are determining ways to improve bus service, reduce traffic and increase transportation capacity, in order to better connect residents from one location to another.
"We need to move people, freight and goods, safely," Phelps said. "That will come with a balance of car, rail, by truck or by bus. We need to make sure that all of these modes are working together."
Phelps pointed to the County's Transportation Improvement Inventory, which includes a backlog of 139 projects -- estimated at $290 million -- that, when completed, will greatly impact the amount of development along the Route 1 Corridor.
Referring to the 2009 Landscapes2 comprehensive plan -- which spelled out plans for growth in Chester County -- Daria Payne of the Workforce Housing Committee told the audience that one of the goals of that initiative was to provide for diverse, affordable housing options, consistent with principles for smart growth and sustainability, to meet the needs for all households.
It's become an unattainable goal for many low- to moderate-income households in the county, she said.
"Four years ago, and I think it was in this room, this group, the stakeholders for the Route 1 Corridor, determined that insufficient housing for the workforce was one of the six top needs for both sensible economic growth and to support those who wish to live, work, go to school and play in southern Chester County," she said.
Working from the outlines of Landscapes2, Payne said that the Workforce Housing Committee are creating an inventory of suitable sites for affordable housing along the corridor; are identifying designed growth areas and suitable infrastructure; and are identifying properties that had been considered undesirable, that can be turned around through the establishment of public and private partnerships.
"The hope of this committee is to incentivize the development of more safe, affordable, healthy and environmentally sensitive communiteis in southern Chester County, where the emphasis is on 'Community' and not just 'Economics," she said.
Peter Kjellerup of the Preservation and Open Space Committee said that he and his colleagues are in the process of identifying environmentally-sensitive areas along the corridor, in an effort to ensure that they remain preserved as open spaces. Another goal of the committee will be to work with several local conservation groups, to help connect these identified areas to trail systems, in order to provide opportunities for residents to connect with nature.
Phillip Fuchs, a teacher at the Technical College High School, introduced two of the many TCHS students who collaborated on the re-design of the Initiative's website.
Jim Horn, a co-chair of the Route 1 Initiative's Steering Committee, said that during the last quarter of 2013, the committee saw a need to coordinate the efforts of the subcommittees, so in Jan. 2014, the Initiative's steering committee was formed, in order to foster open dialogue between the seven subcommittees and ensure a coordinated effort in the townships and boroughs where there is a need for planned growth, both economically and environmentally.
"We are committed to sustainable development in the region, and balancing that between prudent economic growth and land preservation," Horn said. "We are here to determine municipality's goals and needs with regard to growth, land preservation and tax ratables, and to remove any impediments from the decision-making process. We're simply here to gather the facts."
Bob Grabus of the Chester County Economic Development Council called the Route 1 Initiative "a grass roots effort," and said that the impetus to implement smart growth will not come from the members of the council, but from the townships and municipalities themselves.
"Everything that we're doing here is being run by local residents, businesses, associations and community leaders," Grabus said. "It's about the people and communities here in southern Chester County. It's not about what the county wants or the council wants. It's about, 'What can we do to help you achieve your vision?'"
"It's about singles and doubles," Phelps said of the Initiative. "That's what wins the game, and it's the small increments that we can make that builds the system, that builds all season long," he said.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .