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Issues

Issues for Land Use

Uncoordinated development poses regional impacts.

There are 73 municipalities in Chester County. Each municipality has its own zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. Regulations in one municipality may be entirely different from the development standards in an adjacent municipality. Yet, development in one municipality can profoundly affect the quality of life in an adjacent municipality. New development may occur in one municipality, while the adjacent municipality is the scene of traffic congestion that results from the development and lacks the increased tax base to pay for infrastructure improvements. Development in one municipality can cause flooding in another downstream municipality. Development in one municipality can increase school attendance, which necessitates an increase in property taxes in all of the municipalities within the school district, regardless of the lack of such development in the other municipalities. Problems such as air and water pollution extend beyond municipal boundaries, and, even, beyond the county's boundaries. The solutions to these issues often necessitate the cooperation of many jurisdictions and require some form of regional planning at both the multi-municipal and multi-county levels.

Limited land supply within urban and suburban landscapes has resulted in a leapfrog pattern of development.

Existing urban and suburban areas often have tracts of land that were not developed when adjacent properties were built up. Such tracts of land, however, may not be available on the market because of the desires of the landowner to retain the property for other uses. Moreover, other tracts may be on the market, but at an asking price that is economically prohibitive to obtain a return on investment. This has caused suburban development to leapfrog further away from the county's urban centers or has resulted in an increase of residential subdivision submissions on tracts containing severe and/or multiple development constraints, such as floodplains, steep slopes, wetlands, or hydric soils.

In-fill development faces challenges.

Tracts of land that remain undeveloped within areas that have been predominately subdivided and developed over the past 20 years often have irregular configurations, due in part to lack of long-range planning in the development of the original parent tract. These irregular parcel configurations often make it extremely difficult to further subdivide the property and to fully use the development potential of the tract.

Redevelopment is changing established neighborhood character.

Because of the escalating cost of land, properties suitable for development and residential lots in suburban and urban areas are being further subdivided when permitted by zoning. Even when the lot cannot be further divided, existing residences are being demolished and replaced by larger, more expensive homes on the same lot. Such redevelopment activity can change the character of established neighborhoods.

Infrastructure has not kept pace with development pressure within the county.

As the population of Chester County increases, activities also increase. There are more demands on public facilities such as schools and parks. There is a need for additional water and sewer capacity, and for controlling stormwater runoff. There are more cars on the road as new residents join existing residents in commuting to work, driving children to school and sports activities, driving to shopping, visiting friends, and the myriad other activities of a mobile society. As a result of these additional demands on public infrastructure, there is often a need to expand services or rebuild facilities and roads. Residents often see their property taxes rise as school districts have to construct new schools or expand existing facilities. Roads become more and more congested as traffic increases, but government cannot afford to keep pace with capacity and safety improvements. Open spaces are replaced with buildings and pavement. As a consequence, frustrated residents often demand that local elected officials stop additional development, evidencing an attitude, which is commonly referred to as NIMBY—Not In My Backyard! Adverse attitudes towards growth are sometimes manifested by impediments to development embodied in community zoning or subdivision regulations and by delays in permitting. While developers of expensive, high end residential or commercial development can often sustain the costly development process or afford legal fees to challenge ordinances, the developers of housing that is affordable to most wage earners cannot, and fewer and fewer new homes are constructed that are affordable to most households.

While urban areas are attractive, there are limited affordable housing opportunities.

Many young professionals would like to live in the urban areas because of the cultural and social amenities such communities offer. Moreover, the majority of jobs are concentrated in the urban and suburban areas, and many workers would like live near the employment centers to have a shorter commute to work. The housing in these areas, however, has become unaffordable to many of the people wanting to live there. A combination of market factors and development restrictions has pushed the prices of housing of all types and various densities to high levels. Higher density housing, such as apartments and townhouses, once viewed as affordable alternatives, have become as expensive as single-family homes on low density lots. Some built up areas have had smaller, older houses that would have been affordable to younger families torn down and replaced by new, larger, expensive homes. This has forced many households to look further out into rural areas, including outside Chester County, for affordable housing.

Land patterns in rural areas have precluded affordable housing.

Even in the rural areas, there are issues of affordable housing. Mobile homes are frequently the only type of affordable housing for some residents. Many times the resident owns the mobile home but rents the space in the mobile home park in which the home is located. Increasingly, development pressures are resulting in some mobile home parks being sold for redevelopment to new land uses, forcing the relocation of all of the park's mobile homes. Since few new mobile home parks are being developed, some displaced residents cannot find a new site to rent and have no place to relocate their mobile home.