#PAGov Candidates Ignoring the Biggest Environmental Issue

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Candidates have taken some conflicting positions on demand-side issues. A few, notably Schwartz, touted their support for “sustainable communities.” All, however, tripped over themselves to endorse the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning a law regulating natural gas drilling, on the grounds that the state inappropriately curtailed municipalities’ powers to protect themselves from unwanted land uses through zoning.

All of the candidates agreed that local zoning powers are sacrosanct and must be respected by the state. But while it’s true that hyper-local zoning is a pro-sustainability force in the case of natural gas drilling, this may be the only instance in which state deference to 2,562 different municipal zoning codes serves Pennsylvania’s environment well.

In other cases, the supremacy of municipal zoning over Metropolitan Planning Organizations’ non-binding regional plans tends to exacerbate suburban sprawl, as state municipalities compete with each other for tax base and Big Box interchange developments.

A state intervention giving MPOs the legal teeth to override local zoning statutes that snub comprehensive regional planning goals has been an emerging political issue in some exurban townships that were inundated with sprawl in the 1990s, and would certainly advance climate and sustainability goals.

Will the gubernatorial candidates be more reluctant to support such a policy change, now that they are on record denouncing state interference in local zoning powers? These are powers, after all, that the state granted municipalities in the first place.

This entry was posted in Environment, Governor, Land Use.

2 Responses to #PAGov Candidates Ignoring the Biggest Environmental Issue

  1. Sean Kitchen says:

    So I think the fact that local zoning laws are “sacrosanct” is complete bullshit, and the ruling on Act 13 will make reforms harder even though Act 13 was a really really really shitty law from a planning point of view. The buffers between buildings and natural gas pads were horrendous, and should have been struck down on the grounds of protecting one’s environment.

    I think the best way to tackle sprawl is to do it on a county by county level, and or offer some sort of incentives for communities to preserve open space, knock out strip malls, have setbacks to where houses are no more than 15-20 feet off the street in suburbs, have smaller lot sizes and have houses clustered to where it preserves open space, sort of how English towns have their communities set up.

    If you want a horrendous example of urban sprawl, Warminster, which is just north of Horsham on 611, would be example number one in my book. They’re allowing this old farm land to be redeveloped, something like 20-30 acres worth, into sub developments, cookie cutter houses, and some commercial zoning. Then the allowed a developer to place an over 55 retirement home on a 14 acre parcel of open space. Instead of putting in a park or open space in these areas, Warminster completely screwed it up. On the other hand, Horsham is opening the the Willow Grove AFB to development, and out of an 800 acre parcel of land, they’re place a museum in there, a main shopping district that’s walkable, dedicating 15-20% of the plot to open space or parks, and are doing much more to it. Lastly, they’re going to put 3-4 roads that cut through the AFB and connect Horsham road to 611, which will alleviate a lot of traffic in my area. It’s amazing how one township can do something so well then the township right next to ours can keep shitting the bed.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Tradable Development Rights banks at the county level seem like a good idea to me. Basically take all those development rights counties are buying up, and let developers buy them in order to get density bonuses in urban areas. Not sure how this would look in your area, but for example in Bethlehem you’d have Northampton County buy up all the development rights to farmland around Freemansburg Ave and in Forks Twp and Lower Nazareth where people currently want to build more sprawl, and then you’d create a special TDR zone on Southside Bethlehem near the Steel land. Currently the height limit there is 200 feet. With some of the tradable development rights though, you’d be allowed (by-right) to build up to like 400 feet on an individual parcel. There’d be no net loss of developable square footage, it’d just get moved into the air in cities.