Tools for Growth Management

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) establishes the authority for municipalities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to undertake growth management efforts. Growth management is generally defined as an effort to manage the location, type and timing of growth which will occur in a community.

It is important for growth management efforts to strike an important balance between managing growth in a manner that will preserve a community’s quality of life, while at the same time ensuring that adequate opportunities exist for a healthy economic climate. In addition, growth management efforts must also be sensitive to the property rights of landowners. The court system has generally supported efforts to manage land use and growth. However, the court system has indicated that land use regulations can not remove all development rights from a private property, and that property owners must be provided some opportunity for a reasonable use of their land.

Following is a brief description of some growth management techniques which have been implemented in the Centre Region.

Zoning is a voluntary technique that can be used by local governments to regulate the way land and structures are used. Through adoption of a Zoning Ordinance, a municipality has the ability to determine where different types of land uses (such as residential, commercial, office, industrial, etc.) can locate within their community.

A zoning program contains two parts: the zoning map and ordinance. Each of these tools are designed to protect the public health, safety and welfare of a community, and to guide future growth in a manner which is consistent with a municipality’s comprehensive plan.

The zoning map identifies the location of zoning districts within a municipality. These districts identify what types of land use activities are permitted in each area of the community. An effective zoning map can ensure that land uses are located in a well planned manner considering issues related to environmental, transportation and quality of life factors. The zoning map can also ensure that incompatible land uses are not located in close proximity to one another. The zoning ordinance contains the standards and technical requirements which are used to regulate the land use activities permitted in each zoning district.

If a municipality decides to implement a zoning program, the rules of the PA Municipalities Planning Code must be followed. As examples, no part of a municipality can be left unzoned. The zoning ordinance must also provide opportunities for a variety of residential dwelling types and nonresidential uses.

As previously noted, zoning is strictly voluntary within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Although there are 2,573 municipalities in Pennsylvania, over 50 percent of these communities have not implemented a zoning ordinance to regulate land use.

Fortunately, all six of the Centre Region municipalities have implemented zoning ordinances. These ordinances are based on the recommendations of the Centre Region Comprehensive Plan. Copies of zoning ordinances and maps for the Centre Region municipalities can be obtained by contacting the Centre Regional Planning Agency, or at each of the Region’s municipal offices.

Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance
Each of the Centre Region’s municipalities have also adopted subdivision and land development ordinances. A subdivision is the creation of new property lines while a land development is typically associated with the construction of public or private improvements.

Subdivision and land development ordinances are designed to regulate these activities by enforcing standards for issues such as parcel design and layout, roads, water, sewer, and drainage, and parkland dedication. These standards ensure that public and private improvements are properly designed and constructed. In addition, a subdivision and land development ordinance can ensure that the way we divide and develop land will be completed in an organized manner, and benefit existing and future residents of the community.

Growth Boundaries
A major challenge for local municipalities is to plan for the future orderly growth of the community. Through the completion of the Comprehensive Plan, municipalities identify areas appropriate for growth, and areas which should be preserved to protect important open space, agricultural and environmental areas.

One technique that can be used to direct growth to appropriate locations and prevent the negative impacts of sprawl is a growth boundary. Growth boundaries are drawn to identify areas in a community which are most appropriate for future growth. These areas can be effectively provided public utilities and services such as public sewer, water and transit service. By encouraging a compact pattern of development, future growth can be accommodated in a land efficient manner, and growth can be directed away from outlying environmentally sensitive, prime agricultural and open space areas.

The growth boundary should contain adequate vacant land areas to meet the future growth needs of the community. Lands within the growth boundary will be zoned in a manner that will direct growth to occur within this area. Properties outside of the growth boundary will be the focus of aggressive agricultural, rural and open space preservation efforts.

Through the update of the Centre Region Comprehensive Plan, the Centre Region municipalities have proposed the establishment of a Regional Growth Boundary. This Growth Boundary is currently under consideration by the Region’s six municipalities (link to Regional Growth Boundary Map).

Agricultural and Open Space Easements
Many municipalities have found the need to supplement land use regulations with voluntary preservation programs which provide a financial incentive to the property owner. One approach is for a government entity to purchase the development rights of a property. This allows the property owner to obtain a financial return for their land while ensuring that the land will remain undeveloped. Some municipalities throughout the country have found it more economical to purchase the development rights of properties, than to provide the needed public services and utilities to support suburban development areas.

This approach has been implemented locally by the Centre County Agricultural Land Conservation Easement Purchase Program. Through this program, the County Program purchases the development rights from property owners that have applied to be included in the program. This Program allows the farmer to receive a financial return for the property’s development rights, while keeping the property in agricultural production.

A map showing the location of properties in the Centre Region which have been preserved through the County’s Agricultural Easement Program is provided.(link to Permanent Open Space Map). This map also shows public properties such as State Gamelands, State Forest Land and municipal parks which are protected from future development.