Recapping 2021 and Setting Goals for 2022
Posted January 4, 2022
Despite the ongoing social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Chester County Planning Commission (CCPC) continued to make progress on Landscapes3 implementation while adjusting to the constantly changing circumstances. Here are a few highlights of CCPC's accomplishments in 2021, organized by the Landscapes vision and 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 2021 addressed recommendations in Landscapes3 and the Landscapes vision and map.
Here are projects CCPC staff completed during the year as the consultant:
- Tredyffrin adopted a comprehensive plan that emphasizes sustainability and green practices as a core element of the township's future vision;
- Thornbury finished a subdivision ordinance that included several new design standards to further the township's planning goals such as trail, scenic corridor, enhanced landscape and lighting, and vegetated riparian buffer standards;
- Elverson approved an active transportation plan that identifies community enhancements to enable residents and visitors to navigate the community without the need for an automobile; and
- Kennett Township adopted a zoning update that promotes sustainability through a balance of resource protection and smart growth using Traditional Neighborhood Design and Transfer of Development Rights, all while supporting renewable energy.
Many municipalities also made great headway on their VPP projects working with consultants to implement Landscapes3. During the year, the Newlinville Village Master Plan; East Marlborough Open Space, Rec, and Environmental Resource Plan; Kennett Township/Kennett Square Economic Development and Regulatory Updates; and Phoenixville Region Comp Plan Update were completed.
The Planning Commission continued to focus on improving the design of land developments and subdivisions and completed a third landscapes design guide, the Suburban Design Guide. This document provides planning, zoning, and layout guidance to suburban areas, showing how both preservation and walkability can be fostered.
In 2021, the economic impacts of the pandemic on land development proposals became more obvious, with one dramatic swing in development trends.
- On the residential front, there were around 3,400 units proposed, the second highest total in the last ten years. Apartments remained strong, but townhouses and twins showed the most dramatic increase, with nearly 1,300 units proposed.
- On the non-residential side, development went wild, with nearly 4.7 million square feet of proposed building area, the most by far in the last decade.
This was led by nearly 3 million square feet of industrial space, which is three times the highest amount seen over the past ten years. Although warehousing was the bulk of this, new manufacturing facilities saw significant increases, ranging from large steel rolling mills and paper plants to smaller welding shops and fabricators. Agricultural square footage also increased dramatically, totaling over a million square feet, led by a huge, consolidated mushroom growing and packaging facility in southern Chester County.
Preserve Goal Implementation
The preserve goal is focused on preservation of open space. At the start of 2021, 144,000 acres, or nearly 30% of the county, was protected open space, according to CCPC's annual tracking of land preservation, which is collected in partnership with the Department of Parks and Preservation, land trusts, municipalities, and others. Many new properties were preserved during 2021, such as the 577-acre Glenroy farm along Octararo Creek or the 42-acre Sproat Farm in New Garden Township.
The county's open space summit was held virtually this year and focused on municipal support of open space preservation, with experts speaking about municipal financing of open space, agricultural preservation, and conservation tools. There were excellent back and forth conversations from the participants on each of these three topics during breakout sessions.
To prepare for significant open space outreach to municipalities in 2022, county staff expanded and updated the planning commission's suite of eTools. These included agricultural easements, conservation easements, greenways, parkland dedication, urban green spaces, and transfer of development rights.
Protect Goal Implementation
The protect goal is focused on natural resource protection and the environment. The most significant action in this goal area was the county's adoption of a new Climate Action Plan. This plan highlights county actions and advocacy that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan was prepared by the Planning Commission, working with the Environmental and Energy Advisory Board and using a state-supported initial template. The draft plan was also the focus of a spring workshop on the Protect Goal.
In conjunction with the completion of many natural resource eTools and after an analysis of municipal natural resource codes, CCPC staff contacted all 73 county municipalities about natural resource protection, offering to assist a number of them in updating their codes.
The county hasn't been sitting still while the Climate Action Plan was going through the adoption process and began implementing the plan on a variety of fronts, including an updated renewable energy web area that includes links and information on solar, geothermal, and wind energy.
Appreciate Goal Implementation
The appreciate goal is focused on historic preservation. In anticipation of the nation's 250th anniversary in 2026, the county created a new Chester County 250th Committee that will help the county's historic sites prepare for the upcoming semi-quincentennial.
The county's diverse past and role in the Underground Railroad were featured in the seven virtual and in-person Town Tours and Village Walks. In recognition of Juneteenth, the tours kicked off with a presentation by Bill Kashatus on William Still and the Underground Railroad.
As part of ongoing efforts to share information and resources, the Planning Commission cosponsored a municipal leadership luncheon on historic preservation tools in cooperation with the county's historic preservation network.
CCPC staff members also facilitated the installation of three Brandywine Battlefield historic markers in 2021, which are funded by the PA Society of the Sons of the Revolution and its Color Guard. So far, six of an intended 15 municipal signs have been installed.
Live Goal Implementation
The live goal addresses a variety of housing, community facility, and park issues. Housing prices and unaffordability continue to be major concerns, and the Annual Housing Report indicated the median housing value in 2020 rose to $375,000, a 3.1% increase over the prior year. A total of 1,732 units were built in 2020, with 31% of these single-family detached, 34% single-family attached, and 36% multifamily.
The county's Housing Choices Committee sponsored the annual A+ Homes forum, which focused on Missing Middle Housing. This more affordably-priced housing falls somewhere between big single-family homes and large apartment buildings and might consist of duplexes, twins, townhouses, cottage courts, and other less-frequently seen housing.
As part of the county's ongoing A+ Homes initiative, the Planning Commission published two new housing guides — Planning for Affordably-Priced Homes and Planning for Aging-Friendly Homes.
The 2020 US Census information was released in the fall of 2021 and shows that the county's 2020 population was 534,413 people, a 7.1% percent increase from 2010. A summary of county and municipal census information is available.
Prosper Goal Implementation
The prosper goal of economic development and urban revitalization remained very relevant as the pandemic's economic dislocations continued. One focus area is agriculture. Working with a consultant, the Agricultural Development Council prepared the Chester County Agricultural Economic Strategic Plan, which has a range of recommendations, such as developing the farm of the future, catalyzing the industrial hemp sector, or preparing farms for carbon credit markets.
The Planning Commission, in partnership with the Chester County Economic Development Council, prepared the second annual report on the county's economy. This report continues to show that the county has a strong and diverse economy, with particular strength in management of companies, finance, professional and technical services, and agriculture.
In October, CCPC held the Urban Centers Forum in Oxford, with a theme of Great, Green, and Growing Small Towns. Local experts spoke on topics like permeable paving, stream protection fees, roundabouts, urban forests, street trees, and green infrastructure.
The county's Nonresidential Construction Report showed that nonresidential construction was moderate in 2020, with about 960,000 square feet built. More than half of this space was institutional.
Connect Goal Implementation
The connect goal focuses on transportation and other infrastructure. This fall, the commissioners adopted a new Complete Streets Policy for the county. The policy highlights how streets can facilitate travel in a safe, convenient, and comfortable manner for all users regardless of their transportation mode.
The county continued planning for trails, including extending the Chester Valley Trail to the west, supporting additional trails and sidewalks in southern Chester County, and connecting the Struble Trail to Marsh Creek State Park. As part of these efforts, CCPC released a new, interactive trail map for the county.
The Planning Commission's biannual Transportation Improvements Inventory (TII) shows that there are plenty of roadway, bridge, bicycle, pedestrian, freight, and transit projects around the county, with a total of 529 projects and an estimated overall cost of $4.52 billion.
Using the TII as a starting point, CCPC continued advocating for transportation funding for the county and coordinated with the County Commissioners and state legislators to identify the highest priority transportation projects in the Transportation Priority Projects brochure.
CCPC staff continuously advocates for transportation funding for the county, and, every two years, works with the County Commissioners and state legislators to identify the highest priority transportation projects in the Transportation Priority Projects brochure.
Goals for 2022
In 2022, CCPC will continue to implement the goals of Landscapes3 through a wide range of initiatives that cover all six Landscapes3 goal areas: Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Prosper, and Connect.
In response to current trends, CCPC will put extra emphasis on a few initiatives. Because of growth pressure, CCPC staff will redouble their preservation activities with efforts like a municipal open space initiative, a village preservation guide, and woodlands and tree conservation guides. Because of the current economic uncertainty, staff will help with economic development planning, begin implementing the new ag economic strategic plan, and support a historic site tourism plan. Because of housing cost issues, staff will examine actions the county can take and identify where the best locations for new housing might be. Because of climate change, staff will be preparing a new county trail plan, providing guidance on solar power, and implementing the new Climate Action Plan. And, of course, CCPC staff will do all their regular VPP and other implementation activities, running the gamut from long range-transportation planning to immediate land development reviews.
With the ongoing pandemic and resulting social and economic dislocations, it remains challenging to predict how things will change in 2022. Whatever the trends end up being, Landscapes3 provides the county, its municipalities, and its other partners with a strong framework for smart growth and effective preservation.