Chester County Planning Commission - Landscapes3 Recapping 2020 and Setting Goals for 2021
Here are a few highlights of our accomplishments in 2020, organized by the Landscapes vision and our six goals.
Landscapes Vision and Map Implementation
The most important element of Landscapes3 is the overall vision and the Landscapes map, since these provide general guidance on growth, preservation, and development design. Many of the Vision Partnership Program (VPP) projects completed in 2020 addressed recommendations in Landscapes3 and the Landscapes vision and map. Because municipalities had to close due to the pandemic, fewer projects were wrapped up in 2020 than in prior years, which means that 2021 should be a particularly eventful year.
Parkesburg adopted a comprehensive plan and revitalization plan, prepared by staff at the Planning Commission, that prioritized revitalization, streetscaping, traffic calming, and community enhancements;
Thornbury completed a revised zoning ordinance, prepared by staff at the Planning Commission, that preserves open space through cluster zoning, includes comprehensive natural features protection, and has extensive historic preservation standards, particularly for portions of the township within the Brandywine Battlefield area;
Uwchlan finished a comprehensive plan and an official map that recognizes the township as a suburban center which will have significant additional growth that will require a robust road system, a good trail and sidewalk network, and protection for natural and historic resources;
Valley Township adopted a comprehensive plan that prioritized visual and functional improvements along the Lincoln Highway corridor, reinvestment in neighborhoods, economic development, and expansion of the township’s park and trail system;
Coatesville, South Coatesville, and Valley worked together to prepare the Coatesville Area Economic Development Study, which identifies market opportunities and proposes land use concepts for key sites in the three communities;
West Caln Township adopted a comprehensive plan focused on maintaining the township’s rural character, including a focus on horses for transportation purposes.
The planning commission continued to provide expanded design input for development reviews, including sketch plans, development redesigns, and buildout illustrative drawings. As part of the commission’s design focus, staff completed a second design guide for each of the Landscapes map categories, which is the Suburban Center Design Guide. This document provides planning, zoning, and design guidance to suburban communities with mixed use centers.
In 2020, with the pandemic, we saw a few shifts in the character of our development proposals.
For residential, there were around 2,700 units proposed, which is an increase of 500 units from the prior year and about average for the past ten years. The biggest increase was in single-family attached homes, but apartments remain our most popular housing type, with approximately 1,300 units proposed. Given the demand for housing in Chester County, we expect 2021 to be a big year for residential proposals.
A little surprisingly, there was only a small dip in nonresidential square footage, with about 2.1 million square feet proposed, compared to 2.4 million the prior year. The nonresidential numbers were bolstered by industrial square footage, which was over 600,000 square feet in 2020. This was the second highest total over the past ten years, only exceeded by one year that featured a very large and very speculative proposal. We expect industrial square footage numbers to be even higher in 2021.
Preserve Goal Implementation
The preserve goal is focused on preservation of open space. In 2020, the Planning Commission tracked the county’s amount of permanent open space, identifying over 29 percent of the county, or 142,200 acres, as protected by the end of 2019. Since then, additional properties were preserved during 2020, including 91 acres added to the Crow’s Nest Preserve, and five farms, two of which were over 120 acres.
In support of greater open space preservation, county staff conducted an analysis of the open space tools used by the county’s 73 municipalities. Of these communities, 35 have special funding programs for open space preservation, 13 have transfer of development rights ordinances, 11 have true agricultural zoning, and many others have strong cluster ordinances.
Protect Goal Implementation
The protect goal is focused on natural resource protection and the environment. In 2020, the county hoped to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a series of events, but these were cancelled due to the pandemic; nevertheless, the Planning Commission did release a pamphlet to honor Earth Day titled 50 Ways Your Community Can Protect Our Planet, which shows how municipalities can rewild the suburbs, provide greening for everyone, support new transportation options, corral growth, and befriend the environment.
The county’s new Environmental and Energy Advisory Board began meeting in 2020, and this board started working immediately on a new Climate Action Plan for Chester County. A preliminary draft should be available in early 2021.
In preparation for a new municipal outreach program on natural resources, the Planning Commission completed a series of eTools focused on natural resource protection, including floodplain protection, riparian buffers, steep slope protection, wetlands protection, woodlands conservation, greenways, and conservation easements.
Appreciate Goal Implementation
To support historic preservation in 2020, commission staff:
Shifted Town Tours and Village Walks to six virtual events, which were focused on a theme of art and architecture;
Completed a planning study of the southern Brandywine Battlefield area, which focuses on the British approach to the battle, and presented these findings at a special Brandywine Task Force event;
Worked with a historian to analyze the core battleground area of the Brandywine Battlefield; and
Supported historic commissions through training, events, and technical support.