10 Years of TND in Pennsylvania, Part I

Lantern Hill TND in Doylestown, PA

August 2010 marks the 10 Year Anniversary of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) in Pennsylvania.  That is when the State General Assembly adopted Article VII-A as an Amendment to the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), in hopes of enabling better-designed and more diverse communities, as well as promoting Smart Growth principles. 

TCA was there from the beginning and was an integral contributor to the legislation that was adopted.  Since then, the TCA roster of TND experience has grown to include an array of Ordinances and TND Plans for varied municipalities, including the smallest of villages, like Marshalton in Chester County, PA to the most rapidly growing areas, such as Cranberry Township in Butler County, PA.   TCA has authored 10 complete TND Ordinances that have guided the development of places such as Lantern Hill in Doylestown (Bucks County, PA) and New Daleville in Londonderry Township (Chester County). 

 In honor of this Anniversary, TCA will be highlighting its experience with essential ordinance elements and provisions, and focusing on projects in which we have been intimately involved.  Hopefully our “lessons learned” will assist your municipality or organization to better understand the role of TNDs in creating livable, sustainable places that are highly attractive and functional.

Check back for the next installments regarding:

Part II: Key Design Elements

Part III: Manual of Written and Graphic Design Guidelines

Part IV: TND and Form-Based Codes

Is Your Zoning Ordinance “Green” Enough?

On March 4th, 2010 the Tyrone Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to amend their Zoning Ordinance to permit a wider range of “green energy” uses. And they are not alone. More and more municipalities are joining the movement to encourage the location of clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, within their boundaries. This is especially true where such sources are readily available. Couple this with current State and Federal incentives and you create a mini-boom in the industry. Municipalities are hastening to ensure that they proactively capture some of the job opportunities and other economic benefits by preparing  for potential development applications.  However, Green Energy is not without its challenges.

One of the biggest challenges with green energy is that the technology is constantly changing. There is tremendous experimentation resulting in quieter wind turbines, smaller solar panels, etc.  A municipality that  wants to encourage such uses must have an ordinance that is flexible enough to permit these emerging technologies without the need to repeatedly apply for variances and special exceptions.  Such an Ordinance must also focus on protecting the public health, safety and welfare standards that are the basis for zoning in the first place.

A second challenge is that not all aspects of green energy are clean and low-impact. For instance, some methods of nutrient recovery involve dehydrating agricultural products at high temperatures. Dust is produced and (ideally) captured, but may still cause air pollution concerns and/or misinformation.

A third challenge is that green energy requires a new perspective and aesthetic value. While harnessing solar energy may be the least intensive energy-producing use of a property, solar farms do not have the same scenic quality of a plowed field or grassy meadow.  Wind turbines may be considered a disruption to the view of a ridge or scenic vista.  The best way to balance aesthetic preferences with the benefits of cleaner energy sources will differ from community to community.

In the Tyrone Township case, this agricultural township to the north of Gettysburg, PA, is home to thousands of chickens. Converting the litter into electricity provides the farmer an alternative to storing and hauling the product for resale, usually as a fertilizer. It also helps meet big picture goals, such as helping to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, and preserving prime soils through better nutrient management and nitrogen reduction.

Evolution of Form-Based Code

Ordinances pertaining to Zoning, Subdivision, and Land Development evolved primarily as text documents for over 50 years (1928 to 1978). With the advent of cluster development, Ordinances began to transform to depict place-making through sketches and photographs. Planning and design professionals became more concerned about the form of places and felt that illustrations would be more likely to promote new development modeled after the best practices of admirable places in the U.S. and abroad.

Practitioners who prepare Form-Based Codes like to be prescriptive and provide measurements, dimensions, and spatial clarity to promote the design of places. Street widths, block lengths, building frontages, sidewalk and crosswalk dimensions, and size thresholds for neighborhood and public spaces are graphically portrayed to insure that the built environment has the proportion, scale and size to be attractive, functional and desirable.

Form-Based Codes typically have an overall Regulating Plan to portray the layout of the place being “coded”. Sometimes this plan is referred to as a Development Strategy Plan or an Idealized Built-Out Plan, as seen in the TCA illustrations of Claymont in New Castle County, Delaware and Pine Hall, a Traditional Town Development in Ferguson Township, PA.

Excerpt from Pine Hall TTD Master Plan

 The FBC has a plan for an interconnected network of streets, alleys, sidewalks, and crosswalks. The FBC provides specificity on Block Type, size, depth, and length, as well as Building Location, and Parking Location. The Form-Based Code also informs the Green Infrastructure of a site with a menu of opportunities for Public Space varying from plazas and squares to playgrounds and parks. 

When compared to a conventional code without graphics and illustrations (i.e., text heavy), the FBC is more artistic, illustrative, pictorial, and diagrammatic. Drawings and images take the place of thousands of words.

For additional examples and to see TCA’s work in Form-Based Codes visit our website: www.comitta.com.

Green Innovations in Town Planning & Landscape Architecture

Since the 1860’s when Frederick Law Olmstead helped to design Central Park in New York City, thousands of town planners and landscape architects have helped to humanize the built environment.  Following in the tradition of our forefathers, Thomas Comitta Associates, Inc. (TCA) has helped to advance the art and science of Placemaking.
 TCA has collaborated to create spaces that are attractive, functional and desirable.  We have promoted the general welfare of towns and townships, communities and cities, parks and playgrounds.  We have helped to improve the self-esteem of communities that have fallen on hard times (such as impoverished boroughs, villages, and unincorporated places).  We have helped to beautify streetscapes, landscapes, and hardscapes. 
 TCA is proud to announce that it will be sharing its more than 35 years of experience in its first publication “Green Innovations in Town Planning and Landscape Architecture”, expected in 2010.  Green Innovations will profile the transformation of places and spaces that people inhabit in their “pursuit of happiness”.  It will showcase what our forefathers have taught us, identify best practices in the Greening of America, and offer food for thought on overall Green Innovations in your neighborhood, community and habitat.

TCA receives ASLA Award

On March 6, Thomas Comitta Associates, Inc. and the City of Lancaster received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for their Urban Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan. This comprehensive document addresses the challenges of successful public space utilization, represents an effective private-public partnership to foster community participation and ownership, and exemplifies many attributes of Smart Growth.  Its aggressive strategies guide future open space enhancements within distinctive City neighborhoods to encourage redevelopment, place-making, and connectivity of ‘green’ urban infrastructure. It recognizes that ‘green’ infrastructure benefits the City’s environmental quality, community health, and a sustainable economy through greater community investment.