I recently held a conversation with someone who is holding a position on a township planning board here in Lancaster County. This person is also an architect, a proponent for the values of a community concept of developing. This development concept focuses on not just single family homes, but an integration of those single family homes and mixed use developing. The time that he spends on the board and the projects that he votes on, shows him how much the general public does not understand the concepts that he and many others around this country support.
It appears that the moment that a developer or builder brings up the concept of a mixed-use development, the public sets into a ‘tunnel vision’ mode which will not allow them to absorb the positive characteristics of these communities, not just for the residents, not just for the township, but for the community as a whole. The public sees three main negative factors of the mixed use development: Increased Traffic, Increased Density, and Too Many Units per Acre.
Several years ago, a Lancaster County township voted down a mixed use development that would have become the beacon of hope to not just this one township, but the whole of Lancaster County. This development would have contained single family homes, live-work apartment buildings (Limiting the commute of the owner/employees of the store to a flight of steps.), mixed-use apartment buildings (Designed to accommodate the storefront feel of many towns with the functionality of having apartments and condos over the stores.), commercial structures (including grocery stores, banks, and even a train station - connecting to the Amtrak rail line which runs between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.) Due to the very nature of this kind of development the value of this community would have created a unprecedented amount of new jobs for the township, as well as, create a large tax base, which would allow the schools to then expand to fit in the new residential units as they are put in over the next ten to fifteen years. People would have been able to walk to the grocery store, walk to school, walk to a pizza shop in the evening, limiting the wear on their cars while, at the same time, increasing the chance for fostering relationships with those around them.
Doesn’t this sound like a wonderful environment for your kids to grow up and know their next door neighbors, for your teens to work in and/or hang out on a Friday night, or even for your grandparents to grow old in? The township board did not approve this because all they could see was Traffic, Increased Density, and Too Many Units per Acre. Where and how will we ever create and encourage the type of community that our country lacks when compared with many other nations around the world? The only thing that happens now is the development is killed by the planning boards, and a community that could have blossomed remains only the subject of dreams.