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Pennsylvania Sets Agenda for Sound Land Use
by George H. Willis, PE, Urban Engineers, Inc.

Quoted from the Pennsylvania Constitution Section 27 (Adopted May 18, 1971)

"Natural Resources and the Public Estate:
The people have a right to clean pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people."

In June 1997, Governor Ridge established the 21st Century Environment Commission to recommend methods and policies that would improve environmental quality in the Commonwealth. The intent was to enhance economic and social progress. Among the Commissions specific recommendations, one gave top priority to the challenge of promoting responsible land use.

Existing trends nationwide and in Pennsylvania showed communities struggling to manage rapid growth as a result of the economic prosperity of the times. Land was frequently committed to new uses, often in ways which would not enhance our environment nor the long term regional economics. Pennsylvania's problem was very specific. From 1992 to 1997 the Commonwealth was converting cropland, forests and other open space to development at the second highest rate in the nation.

In January 1999, Governor Ridge issued executive order 1999-1 citing the Pennsylvania's sound land use policy objectives. Following, in February of that year, the Governor proposed the "Growing Greener" budget initiative designed to refocus environmental spending to promote sound land use, enhance natural resources and to implement a watershed approach to protecting Pennsylvania's environment. This initiative became law in December 1999 providing funding of nearly $650 million for the next 5 years to preserve farmland, create greenways and trails; and protect open space.

The power to plan for development and regulate land use is primarily vested in the local municipal entities by the Municipal Planning Code (MPC). The State agencies also play a role because so many projects are reviewed for funding, regulatory approvals, or permits.

To help develop the Governor's land use policy in Pennsylvania a series of 53 public land use forums were held statewide in the summer of 1999. Input was received from the public on current practices, problems; and included significant general discussion. Concurrently the Governor appointed representatives from across Pennsylvania to the Sound Land Use Advisory Committee. This committee was charged with producing an inventory of Land Use in Pennsylvania, demonstrating various practices and tools.

In Pennsylvania, the Governor's Center for Local Government Services ( is the primary agency responsible for land use assistance and monitoring. Utilizing the forum information, the inventory, and other resources, the Governor's Center in January 2000 made three primary recommendations, which were successfully implemented in 2000.

1. Changes to the MPC relative to locally designated growth areas, multi-
municipal transferable development rights, and promoting general consistency. Act 67 and 68 of 2000 provided these changes.

2. Promote Land Use education and training under a stateside program including an inventory of educational opportunities. Statewide Growing Smarter Courses are offered and Center maintains a website.

3. Promote Planning Assistance through increased funds and technical support. Specifically $3.6 million through LUPTAP Grants and Technical Assistance.

Of significance to the Pennsylvania Transportation Industry are some of the effects from implementation of Acts 67 and 68 to the MPC. The first State agency to respond was the PaDEP. A September 2000 correspondence to local Government officials from DEP Secretary James Seif, noted the DEP will now require municipalities and developers to submit with all permit applications, information on consistency or conflicts with county land use ordinances and comprehensive plans. Quoting from the letter "These steps affect permit applications reviewed by DEP for new facilities - buildings and structures - and infrastructure - transportation, water, wastewater, storm water, energy, and communication services." Community growth must now be consistent with the Commonwealth "Grower Smarter" initiative. The reality of this statement is, that the DEP, in concert with local municipalities, now has the option to deny a permit application that conflicts with local land use ordinances. This ability brings a new set of controls to the local community for managing growth.

The smart growth initiative will have far reaching consequences throughout Pennsylvania. If you would like more information check the website at:

To quote from the Governor's Center 2000 Annual Report on Land Use, "There is great promise in the number of individuals and communities working together to support and promote land use planning." This is the nations leading edge in responsible land use planning which will drive revitalization in Pennsylvania."

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