County Commissioners adopt Landscapes3
● By Richard Gaw
Mark the time. 8:18 p.m.
Mark the place. The Uptown! Knauer Perfroming Arts Center in West Chester.
Mark the significance of the moment: The passage of a comprehensive plan that will provide a ten-year blueprint for Chester County that will guide decision making, municipal planning and implementation, and create a framework of balance between growth and preservation.
Before 100 concerned residents and leaders, the Chester County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 41-18 – the long-awaited Landscapes3, a visionary plan of action that prepares and protects the county for what life is expected to look like in Chester County by 2045.
It was adopted by County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell.
Molded from six goal areas – Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Prosper and Connect -- the principles of the plan commit to protecting the county’s open spaces, natural areas and historic landscapes; maintain the smart growth of its urban and suburban centers; commit to diverse and affordable housing; expand public transit and increases pedestrian and bicycle networks; promote collaboration between business and community entities; and respond to changing market scenarios through the use of modern technology.
“Lndscapes3 will renew our commitment to balancing growth and preservation while embracing the unique characteristics of our county, including healthy natural areas, robust farms, cherished historic sites and vibrant communities,” Kichline said. “The plan also calls for diverse housing, thriving businesses, quality education and accessible transportation.”
Development of Landscapes3 was guided by the Planning Commission’s nine-member volunteer advisory board and by a 27-member steering committee.
Implementation of the plan is expected to begin in 2019.
“This has been a long and worthwhile process in which we have heard from various stakeholders about what they value in Chester County,” said Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary. “The Planning Commission is looking forward to implementing initiatives next year, while continuing to collaborate with our partners. We have a tremendous work program that touches on all the goal areas of Landscapes3.”
Some of the major components of the plan include completing an economic value of protected open space study; updating an inventory of natural resource alliances; creating a National Register interactive map; generating an affordable housing zoning tool; updating an existing urban community design guide; and creating an inventory of the county’s trail network.
In his opening summary presentation, O’Leary said that a key impetus to get a working plan in place stems in part from a need to determine the best way to manage the projected 146,000 new residents who are anticipated to move to the county between now and 2045. Translated, that’s 55,000 more homes, 88,000 more jobs and 64,000 more seniors – a 30 percent growth, O’Leary said.
The demographic landscape is predicted to change during that time as well, as seniors live longer and the racial and ethnic makeup of the county continues to become more diverse.
The plan takes its working playbook from the original Landscapes plan that was adopted over 20 years ago, and its successor, Landscapes2. Getting to the signatures of Commissioners Farrell, Cozzone and Kichline on the resolution didn’t happen overnight; it was a three-year collaborative process of gathering ideas and opinions from municipal officials, residents and business owners. During that time, the plan’s architects gave 71 presentations throughout the county, six public meetings, attended 10 steering meetings, and gathered the opinions of 5,978 survey responders.
During the hearing, several county residents raised certain issues related to the plan. One resident asked the Commissioners how the plan will embrace the use of solar resources.
“We can certainly help municipalities with ordinances that will help them allow their residents to do that in a way that fits in with the character and culture of their particular community,” Cozzone said. “While there’s nothing specifically in the plan, it’s something we can look at, and perhaps compile some resources that we can make available to the folks who wish to figure how to do that.”
One resident expressed a concern that the county is not wholly committed to honoring its history. She told the Commissioners that too often, she will see a historic home or structure right beside a commercial development or modern store. She also complained about sign pollution throughout the county.
“Is there anything in the plan that says that you can leave something in its natural state?” she said. “It’s making everything looks like suburbia?”
Kichline said that the plan can’t dictate a township’s zoning laws, but it can advise municipalities to take historic structures into consideration when writing their laws.
“I do know there is some extensive commentary in Landscapes3 about the importance of historic preservation,” she said. “We do continue to have on our planning commission a staff member, Karen Marshall, who is dedicated to those types of issues. It is important to us.”
Given that creating opportunities for affordable housing is such a key priority of Landscapes3, one resident asked the Commissioners how they define affordable housing.
“Is it determined by size, cost or the community it is in?” he asked.
“From a bricks and mortar perspective, it’s been a major topic in the county for some time,” said Cozzone, who referred to some affordable housing developments planned in the county.
“What they look like, and who will live there, will depend in large part on how they are structured,” she said. “That’s why the public-private partnership is so important. Some might be for small, starter families. Some might be for empty nesters, and some might be for those in between.
Establishing those housing options, Cozzone said, depends on encouraging municipalities to set their zoning laws with affordable housing in mind, so as not to freeze out middle-income individuals and their families.
“There are folks who will need vouchers, and we need to continue ensure that we will continue to have those options available, but we also need to make sure we have properties available for teachers and police officers, and folks in the middle-management kinds of jobs in our communities,” Cozzone said. “There isn’t a cookie-cutter solution, but I think that’s what is going to make it successful – the ability to be flexible and make a determination as to what’s the best way to move forward for each community.”
An annual progress report will keep track of Landscapes3’s progress, and monitor how the plan is protecting open space; encourage the county’s municipalities to enact natural resource regulations; maintain its commitment to historic tourism; make sure that housing projects match the plan’s vision of housing; focus on how taxes are assessed in urban centers; and continue to develop transportation options.
To read Landscapes3 online, visit www.chescoplanning.org/Landscapes3.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.