WEST CHESTER >> Chris Alonzo, a lifelong resident of Kennett Square and third-generation mushroom farmer, remembers a time when there was only one traffic light in town.
But it’s not like that anymore.
“The number of people who want to live in the county has increased and the traffic has increased,” said Alonzo, the president of Pietro Industries and chairman of the Chester County Agricultural Development Council. “If we don’t plan this carefully, we’ll be the next Route 202 in Wilmington, Delaware, where there is a traffic light every mile.”
As Chester County officials plan for the future with the development of Landscapes3, the next comprehensive plan, they are looking at many factors, including the relationship between housing and jobs; growth and preservation; and trails and public health. The Chester County Commissioners launched a Landscapes3 public survey last month in an effort to gather residents’ input. More than 4,500 people have filled out the survey to date.
Alonzo believes all the Landscapes3 topics – housing and jobs; growth and preservation; and trails and public health – are interrelated.
“I agree they are all interconnected because when you have people who love living in the county because of how great downtown West Chester or Kennett Square or Phoenixville is, but also have the ability to drive a few miles and be in the middle of rural Chester County … and see horses, rolling hills and farms and be in this amazing place that is beautiful and scenic,” he said. “That’s why Chester County is one of the No. 1 places where people want to live.”
Alonzo — the co-chair of the Landscapes3 steering committee along with Matt Hammond, chairman of the Chester County Planning Commission, and Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands — said Landscapes3 needs to balance the county’s vibrant growth with its scenic landscapes so that the county can continue to be a great place to live and raise a family.
“We have people who want to have businesses here, live here and enjoy open space,” he said. “Balancing that growth with that amazing sense of place is a challenge.”
Survey results to date have showed that open space and environment continue to be top priorities for county residents. As a result, embracing place will be a critical part of the Landscapes3 plan.
“Please keep as much open space as possible,” wrote one of the survey respondents. “The reason our county is one of the most popular places to live is because the towns are vibrant and the country living still feels like country: trees and streams and fields.”
Over 27 percent of the county, or 131,570 acres, have been preserved to date, according to county officials. Of that amount, 92,000 acres have been preserved over the past 20 years — since the adoption of Landscapes, the original award-winning comprehensive plan for the county.
Alonzo noted that agricultural businesses need to be economically viable so that open space contributes not only to our sense of place, but also to our economy. Agriculture is the county’s leading industry, and Kennett Square is considered the “Mushroom Capital of the World.”
From a growth perspective, the need for housing options and transportation choices are seen as important in Chester County. Enhancing choices in how and where people live, work, and connect will be an important part of the Landscapes3 plan.
“We need to have growth that is appropriate and planned,” said Alonzo.
Alonzo said there is a need to provide affordable housing to people of all income levels. He wants people of all occupations to be able to call Chester County home – not just a place to work.
Survey respondents made similar comments about the need for affordable housing choices.
“The need for more affordable housing in Chester County is the top priority in my opinion,” wrote one of the survey participants. “Many people are being ‘priced out’ of Chester County due to the majority of the housing being built (rental and for sale) is vastly overpriced especially in Phoenixville and Kennett Square.”
When it comes to future growth on a countywide scale, there are currently about half a million residents in the county, and a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) report indicates there will be 146,000 new residents here in the next 30 years. There are about 310,000 jobs in the county, and the DVRPC estimates we will add 87,000 in the future. There are 185,000 housing units in the county now; there will be about 55,000 more in the next three decades.
Addressing this growth is a concern for some survey participants. “The upcoming generation will pick a place to live and then a place to work,” wrote one of the survey respondents. “Let’s figure out how we can move our communities together rather than having to rely on cars to get anywhere.”
After the survey closes, the county’s Planning Commission will evaluate residents’ feedback, and pull together other background information that has been gathered over the past year. The Landscapes3 steering committee will start meeting this fall to help guide the plan, update and create the plan’s vision and goals. The Planning Commission’s staff will develop the plan’s content based on the steering committee’s guidance and the continued input of the public and municipalities.
The message from the Chester County Board of Commissioners, Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell, is unanimous: “Landscapes3 will serve as the blueprint for Chester County for the next 10 to 20 years. We are grateful for all the residents who have taken the time to fill out our survey and we invite anyone who hasn’t done so to participate now, prior to the close of the survey. We value residents’ input as we plan for our future.”
Residents are invited to share their input on issues that will be addressed in Landscapes3 such as managed growth, open space and the environment, modern infrastructure, transportation choices, the economy, healthy lifestyles, and housing options. Join the discussion by filling out the survey at: http://www.chescoplanning.org/survey.cfm.
The survey is scheduled to close at the end of June.
In addition to taking the survey, residents can stay involved and informed by signing up for future updates on the plan’s progress here: http://oi.vresp.com/?fid=a746e437ec and visit http://www.chescoplanning.org.
Original article from http://www.dailylocal.com/general-news/20170622/chester-county-officials-urge-residents-to-take-survey-guiding-future-growth?source=most_viewed