Recapping 2022 and Setting Goals for 2023
Posted January 5, 2023
It was yet another challenging pandemic year, but the Chester County Planning Commission continued to move forward successfully implementing Landscapes3 and planning for Chester County's future. This success can be attributed to the strong staff here at CCPC, the municipal partners, and the many other individuals and organizations in the county who care so passionately about the future of the community. Here are a few of CCPC's accomplishments in 2022, organized by the vision and six plan goals laid out in Landscapes3. It's interesting to note how many new organizations and initiatives were begun this year.
Landscapes Vision and Map Implementation
The most important element of Landscapes3 is the overall vision and the Landscapes map, which provide general guidance on growth, preservation, and development design. Many of the Vision Partnership Program (VPP) projects completed in 2022 addressed recommendations in Landscapes3 and the Landscapes vision and map.
In 2022, many municipalities worked on their comprehensive plans. CCPC staff completed the following two implementable comprehensive plans during the year as the consultant:
- Franklin Township's Comprehensive Plan, which tackles agricultural retention, resource protection as green infrastructure, trail and other pedestrian connections, roads and infrastructure, and Kemblesville Village enhancements.
- Modena Borough's Comprehensive Plan, which emphasizes resource protection and economic development opportunities as core elements of the borough's future vision.
Highland Township, West Grove Borough, Phoenixville Borough, and the Phoenixville region completed comprehensive plans or updates in 2022, working with consultants through the county's Vision Partnership Program. Other VPP projects completed during the year include the West Whiteland Township historic resources survey, the Icedale trail study, the East Nantmeal historic survey, and the East Whiteland open space plan.
When driving around the region, visitors probably notice that many of the county's land developments are better designed than those found in neighboring counties, and this is partially due to the planning commission's long history of providing design guidance in Chester County. The latest version of this guidance, the fourth landscapes design guide, is the Rural Center Design Guide. This document provides planning, zoning, and layout guidance for growth areas in rural communities, showing how a village and rural character can be fostered.
In 2022, the impact of inflation, an anticipated recession, and ongoing supply chain issues were reflected in development proposals submitted to the planning commission.
- On the residential front, there were approximately 800 units proposed, as compared to 3,400 units in 2021. This is a dramatic pullback in residential and will most likely be one of the lowest totals for proposed units since the planning commission began tracking proposals. Interestingly, the residential units actually constructed in 2022 may be very high.
- On the non-residential side, development proposals also declined dramatically, falling from nearly 4.7 million square feet of proposed building area in 2021 to 2.4 million in 2022, which is still a robust number. Once again, industrial was the largest portion of this total, although institutional building square footage was relatively high.
Preserve Goal Implementation
The preserve goal is focused on preservation of open space. At the start of 2022, 147,000 acres, or over 30% of the county, was protected open space, according to the planning commission's annual tracking of land preservation. This 30% number is not an end goal for the county, which is looking forward to many, many more years of productive open space and farmland protection.
Planning Commission staff updated, modernized, and digitized the popular cluster design guide from the early 2000s, creating an online version with contemporary examples and a new organizational structure.
To rejuvenate open space planning and preservation by the county's municipalities, the planning commission partnered with the county's conservancies to prepare tailored open space outreach for every county municipality. This outreach began in 2022 and will continue in 2023.
In 2022, the open space summit focused on preserved agricultural land and was held at Springton Manor Farm Park.
Protect Goal Implementation
The protect goal is focused on natural resource protection and the environment. This goal area saw the most dramatic change at the planning commission with the creation of the Sustainability Director position and the new Sustainability Division. Throughout 2022, this division focused on implementation of the county's recently-adopted Climate Action Plan and worked closely with the county's Environmental and Energy Advisory Board in expanding outreach to environmentally-focused organizations, businesses, and citizens. The Planning Commission's annual Protect Forum was the keynote event in these efforts.
During the year, Chester County became an official affiliate of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, which advocates for litter abatement, waste reduction, beautification, and environmental stewardship.
The planning commission also produced an online guide to solar power, which is primarily focused on grid-scale solar facilities. This guide addresses solar power trends, planning for solar power, and regulating solar power at the municipal level.
Appreciate Goal Implementation
The appreciate goal is focused on historic preservation. In anticipation of the nation's 250th anniversary in 2026, the new Chester County 250th Commission got up and running. In a parallel effort, the county hired a consulting team to begin preparing a heritage tourism plan, with the intent of helping the county's many heritage sites improve their visitation and visitor's experience.
Many of the county's founding mothers and fathers were recognized in this year's nine in-person Town Tours and Village Walks. Humphrey Marshall, whose namesake village of Marshallton is in West Bradford Township, was the focus of the kickoff event held in West Chester.
The Planning Commission continued facilitating the installation of Brandywine Battlefield historic markers in 2022, including signs in Birmingham, Pocopson, and Thornbury Townships, as well as Kennett Square Borough. So far, 12 of an intended 15 municipal signs have been installed.
Significant work continued on the Brandywine Battlefield study, the Adaptive Reuse Guide, interactive historic site maps, and a village preservation guide.
Live Goal Implementation
The live goal addresses a variety of housing, community facility, and park issues. The Annual Housing Report showed that there were dramatic changes in housing between 2020 and 2021. The median housing value in 2021 rose to $420,000, a huge jump (12%) over the prior year and the highest inflation-adjusted sales price ever for the county. A total of 3,743 units were built in 2021, the largest number of units built in the county since 2001. And 9,049 units were sold in 2021, the largest number of units sold since 2005.
The county's Housing Choices Committee sponsored the annual A+ Homes forum, Costs and Challenges of Building A+ Homes. A panel of developers and municipal officials highlighted the hurdles to building more affordably-priced housing.
As part of the county's ongoing A+ Homes initiative, the Planning Commission released a new housing guide — Planning for Attractive Homes — Missing Middle Housing. The report provides many examples of Missing Middle housing and shows how it can easily match existing community character.
The Planning Commission tackled a new topic in 2022 — social equity data, with a web area that provides background information on social equity as well as data, maps, and web links on demographics, housing, the economy, education, transportation, and the environment.
Prosper Goal Implementation
The prosper goal of economic development and urban revitalization remained very relevant as the pandemic's economic dislocations continued. In partnership with the Chester County Economic Development Council, planning commission staff prepared the third annual report on the county's economy. This report continues to show that the county has a strong and diverse economy with a low unemployment rate and rising participation in the workforce, which did go down when the pandemic initially hit.
One important industry for Chester County is agriculture, and the county adopted the Chester County Agricultural Economic Strategic Plan in March, which the Agricultural Development Council began implementing right away, including the creation of flyers for local municipalities on how agriculture can occur in developed areas and on relatively small properties.
The ADC also released its annual farm guide, which featured stories about Pigeon Creek Farm, Styer's Peonies, and the Thorncroft Equestrian Center.
In October, the Planning Commission held the annual Urban Centers Forum in South Coatesville, with a theme of density, diversity, and discussion. Borough and city representatives from the county's 16 urban centers shared their own success stories and questions with each other.
The county's Nonresidential Construction Report showed that nonresidential construction was moderate in 2021, with about 1,140,000 square feet built, with institutional and commercial development accounting for most of the new building square footage. One project, West Chester University's Commons Building, accounted for 315,000 square feet of the total.
Connect Goal Implementation
The connect goal focuses on transportation and other infrastructure. To improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, the county launched a new social media campaign that highlights best safety practices for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
In consultation with Amtrak and other transportation partners, Chester, Berks, and Montgomery Counties created a new passenger rail authority focused on returning passenger rail to Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Reading. This is the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority. With the new federal infrastructure bill and Amtrak's ambitious expansion plans, there could be Amtrak service in Phoenixville before the end of the decade.
Planning Commission staff also provided guidance to DVRPC on the creation of a new freight plan for the county that identifies existing freight areas, designates a truck network for the county, and describes freight priority areas.
In September, the Planning Commission hosted its annual transportation forum, titled "Trails, Transit, and Tractor Trailers." Speakers at the forum described the process for creating a county-wide trail plan, provided an overview of the draft freight plan, and summarized a state bus stop design guide.
Goals for 2023
In 2023, the Chester County Planning Commission will keep moving forward. By the end of the year, the staff expects to complete three major plans — an updated public transportation plan, a new county trail plan, and a heritage tourism study, which a consultant is preparing. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission staff will continue implementing Landscapes3 and new related plans, including the Climate Action Plan, the Agricultural Economic Development Strategic Plan, and the Freight Plan. And most importantly, the staff will continue providing extensive support and resources for the county's 73 municipalities through the Vision Partnership Program, the land development and zoning reviews, and the Planning Commission's extensive guides, information, data, and outreach.
2023 should be another excellent year for planning in Chester County.