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Chester County Press

Make housing more affordable in Kennett Borough

04/24/2024 03:06PM ● By Luke Zubrod

In June, I will have the pleasure of walking my daughter Kayleigh down the aisle and giving her in marriage to a young man named Jack that she began dating in their early days at Kennett High School. Jack will have just completed a history teaching degree and Kayleigh will soon follow with a degree in theology. 

It has been satisfying to watch them as they puzzle through what the future will look like. He is interviewing for jobs in Nashville, and she’ll continue to pursue education in the years ahead. At some point, we hope that kids will enter the picture and perhaps they will find their way back to the area to be closer to family. As much as I would love to welcome them back to Kennett, they have their eyes on Lancaster, where housing options are much more affordable and plentiful. It’s simply too expensive for people with their career aspirations to be able to live in Kennett. And, who knows how my wife and I will respond to the awestruck wonder of gazing into our grandkids’ eyes – we may leave the place we have called home for almost a quarter century and follow them west.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Towns across Pennsylvania, indeed all over the United States, are making policy changes to make housing more affordable. These changes are largely focused on the esoteric topic of zoning. Zoning is the means by which cities plan and organize. It is a way of restricting the number and types of buildings in a given area, as well as their uses. For example, I live in a residential district that restricts commercial activity, which is often concentrated in town centers.

In many ways, zoning rules are good. I am grateful, for example, that a loud industrial business is restricted from operating next to my house, but zoning rules are also a prime offender in keeping housing supply low, and thus housing prices very high – out of reach for people like Jack and Kayleigh.

Towns like West Chester and Oxford have already made or are considering incremental changes to their zoning rules to ease housing price pressures. West Chester recently moved to relax restrictions on accessory dwelling units -- commonly referred to as ADUs. A common form of these so called “granny flats” is an apartment built atop a standalone garage. Kennett has many of these – mostly built in the early to mid-1900s – along its alleys, and they are largely charming architectural additions to the fabric of our neighborhoods. 

However, zoning rules in Kennett preclude most ADUs from being built today. Restrictions on height and size, as well as a requirement that all ADUs have two off-street parking spots make it practically infeasible to build new ADUs in the borough.

This is unfortunate because ADUs tend to add housing supply below the median price point. Indeed, ADUs which in part are affordable because they are smaller, are perfect for young couples like Jack and Kayleigh. Kennett Borough Council will be considering a proposal from its planning commission on May 6 to relax zoning rules to make housing more affordable in the borough. This proposal is not a silver bullet – it is likely to add perhaps 10-40 housing units to the borough over the course of the next decade – i.e., not nearly enough to tackle the affordability challenge, but it also represents a critical first step forward. 

For those in the Kennett Borough, I encourage you to attend the Kennett Borough Council’s meeting on May 6 beginning at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the municipal building at 600 S. Broad Street. Tell them you want to see policy changes that will allow people like Jack and Kayleigh to someday live in the town they grew up in.

Luke Zubrod lives in Kennett Borough, works for Square Roots Collective, and is a member of the borough planning commission. You’ll see him and his wife Jessica around town walking their dog, Sully.