Rural Center Zoning
Rural Centers are defined in Landscapes2, the County comprehensive plan, as the focal points for accommodating limited growth anticipated within the rural areas of the County, and are intended to meet anticipated development for rural Chester County municipalities. These centers are commonly located along a main street or at crossroad villages, and contain historic structures and traditional rural support services. By focusing growth in rural areas to designated rural centers, the effects of sprawl and uncontrolled development throughout the Rural Landscape can be minimized. The Livable Landscapes Map in Landscapes2 identifies nine Rural Center Landscape designations in Chester County. These designations include Ludwig's Corner, Rocklyn Station, Cochranville, Chatham, Kemblesville, and Nottingham.
Existing villages, which contain locally-oriented retail uses and community services, may also be suitable for development in rural areas. In these instances, new development should be compatible with the existing village in terms of scale, design and density, and respect the historic characteristics of the village. Landscapes2 recommends that limited development be accommodated to maintain economic viability and reinforce the village scale and setting. However, not all villages are appropriate areas for new growth. Many villages should be protected and recognized for their contributions to the historic and scenic landscape.
Rural Centers provide the following benefits:
- Energy conservation through the efficient use of land and resources;
- Provide a focal point for rural communities;
- Provide locally oriented services and commercial uses;
- Reduce the number and length of car trips by providing services at convenient locations;
- Provides alternative types of development to large lot subdivisions in rural areas;
- Reduces development pressure on surrounding agricultural and open space areas;
- Provides a logical location to meet fair share housing requirements;
- Can be used as a receiving area for transferable development rights where a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program has been implemented;
- Provides potential for future public transit service;
- Supports energy conservation practices that reduce overall energy consumption by promoting walkable communities based on Smart Growth principles.
The following limitations may be associated with Rural Centers:
- Generates higher concentrations of traffic and development in some areas;
- Potentially negative effects on existing village character if infill development and extensions are not carefully planned and designed;
- Requires alternatives to individual on-site water and sewer facilities;
- Requires substantial revisions to municipal ordinances to allow non-conventional development patterns in a rural area.
How to use this Tool
The first step in creating a rural center is determining its most appropriate location. Larger existing villages may already serve as centers in the rural areas and can be the focus of future development.
A rural center should be identified and described in the land use plan component of a municipal Comprehensive Plan. The text should describe the purpose of the rural center designation area, and outline the appropriate uses, and the general location should be depicted on the land use plan map.
Following the adoption or amendment to a municipal comprehensive plan, the rural center should be incorporated into the zoning ordinance as a discrete zoning district. In some instances, there may be two districts in close proximity, but allowing different uses and possibly different design requirements, such as a village commercial and a village residential district making up a single rural center designation. Residential uses should include a variety of dwelling types on smaller lots. Non-residential uses which should be considered for rural centers include locally-oriented retail and service businesses, churches, schools, municipal buildings, post offices, libraries and parks. The ordinance should ensure that the size and scale of both residential and non-residential uses are limited to what is appropriate for a smaller, rural community. Parking requirements may also need to be adjusted to meet the characteristics of the municipality.
The area and bulk requirements within or in immediate proximity to existing villages should be based upon existing standards. When a new development pattern can be achieved, lot dimensions should be such that a more compact development pattern can be achieved. The signage requirements are also important, to ensure that their scale and design are compatible with the existing village setting.
Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance
The subdivision and land development ordinance should be reviewed to determine if the design standards are adequate for the uses permitted in the rural center. Street design requirements may need to be revised to ensure they are appropriate for a village setting. Allowing alleys creates more flexibility in the design of the compact development needed in the rural center. Alleys provide additional parking and rear access for residents and services such as trash pick-up, helping to maintain the integrity of the streetscape. Requirements for street trees and other landscaping to provide shade and a buffer between pedestrians and traffic are important. Pedestrian access within the rural center is critical if non-automotive transportation options are to be provided.
In order to implement the policies of a municipal comprehensive plan, a municipality may want to create and adopt an official map that applies to the municipality as a whole, or specific to a rural center area. The Official Map can be utilized to establish the location of proposed streets, sidewalks and trail corridors.
Sewage Facilities (Act 537) Plan
The municipality should review their Sewage Facilities Plan to ensure that it supports the concept of rural centers. The plan should recognize the location of rural centers, the center sewage facilities needs, and how those needs are to be met. Because rural areas generally do not have public sewage facilities available, options for community treatment systems may need to be identified. The plan should not extend public sewage treatment facilities into areas reserved for agriculture and open space so as to contain the boundaries of the center.
Issues to Consider
Proximity to existing urban centers: In some rural townships, the need for establishing rural centers may be limited because an existing city or borough already serves retail and services function. In such cases, it may be appropriate to focus new development in close proximity to an urban area and use the services already available.
Fair Share Housing Obligations: The rural center is a logical location for a rural municipality to provide for a large part of its fair share housing obligations. Sufficient area should be available in the center to meet the municipal requirements for multi-family housing. Developing a rural center in a traditional village pattern also offers an attractive alternative to townhouse or apartment development. Many of the non-residential uses need to prevent complaints of exclusionary zoning will also be met in the rural center. The size of the rural center and the regulations governing uses permitted there should be planned accordingly.
Honey Brook Township: Honey Brook Township has adopted a comprehensive plan amendment of an updated strategic development plan for the Rocklyn Station area of the township. Honey Brook Township also concurrently adopted an official map depicting the future trail, road, school site and park/open space/village green designations in the Rocklyn Station area, and a zoning ordinance and zoning map amendment creating the Rocklyn Station TND-Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay District.
West Vincent Township: The Township has adopted the Ludwig's Corner Strategic Vision and Community Design Plan as an amendment to its Comprehensive Plan, the purpose of which was to develop more specific, "place-making" land use, zoning and community design recommendations for the Ludwig's Corner area of the Township. The Township's 2010 Zoning Ordinance update included the Ludwig's Village Center Commercial zoning district, whose purpose is to encourage the continuation of the traditional land use patterns and design of the Ludwig's Corner early village setting and allow in-fill development and a reasonable level of new development.
- The PA Municipalities Planning Code authorizes a municipality to create a rural center district through a comprehensive plan (Article III), zoning ordinance (Article VI), and subdivision and land development ordinance (Article V).
- Rural By Design: Maintaining Small Town Character, Randall Arendt, 1993.
- Village Planning Handbook, Chester County Planning Commission, 1993.
- Rural Community Design Guide, Chester County Planning Commission, 1993.
- Cluster/Open Space Development
- Growth Boundaries
- Historic Resource Preservation Planning
- Traditional Neighborhood Development
- Transferable Development Rights (TDR)
- Transit Oriented Development (TOD)
Landscapes2 recommends that development within the Rural Landscape be directed to designated rural centers, at appropriate residential densities and context sensitive design maintaining rural character. Landscapes2 also recommends that municipalities update comprehensive plans and land use ordinances to direct development in rural areas to rural centers to create and maintain compact, mixed use traditional communities. Additionally, Rural Center zoning also promotes energy conservation, which is one of the primary objectives of Landscapes2.
Rural Centers should project a sense of place containing a mixed-use core, with a compact traditional neighborhood form containing a variety of housing types connected to the core area with a system of sidewalks. Retail and community services should be locally oriented. Overall development should maintain a scale compatible with the character of the rural landscape.