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Karen Busby, Special to the Local News 07/27/2004

PENN -- Citing a skewing of its original intent, supervisors have voted unanimously to begin the process to remove from the township’s zoning code the cluster option for the residential one-acre zoning district.

The only cluster that will be permitted in the township will be in the community institutional district, where there is public water and sewer.

According to supervisors, the reasons are multifaceted.

In the 1990s, cluster was "a plausible alternative to cookie-cutter developments" said Supervisor Harold Bram, who was a Penn Planning Commission member when cluster was adopted.

At the time, he said, there was a major real estate recession, Penn had no development and wanted to offer some incentives to encourage development. Cluster was promoted by Chester County’s Landscapes as a means to enable communities to have diversification in development -- more flexibility, interesting designs and a tool for preserving prime farmland, according to Bram.

The township engaged John Snook of the Brandywine Conservancy to write the township’s cluster ordinance. While Bram said the township’s first planned residential development, Penn’s Greene, ultimately worked out to about one house per acre, he believes the overall cluster concept has not been a perfect fit for Penn.

"The unspoken thing out of all of this is that the developer is ultimately in charge," said Bram at the board’s July 7 meeting. "We now have more development than we need and cluster is an encouragement for development. The board has been in discussion over this for well over a year and we have decided to return to use by right development."

Supervisors’ Chairman Curtis Mason had stronger words for the township’s move. According to Mason, cluster started out as an effort by county planners to preserve our agricultural heritage.

"Cluster was a good idea that was twisted by the developers. It ended up that good land has houses and the bad lands are open space," he said. "All the problems townships have -- retention basins, failed sewer, common area use issues, homeowners associations, too small lots and contaminated water supply -- are all due to cluster.

"We created the need for public water and public sewer, opening the door for massive development," Mason contended.

"For age-restricted (developments) in Penn Township, cluster is wonderful," Mason continued. "Public water and sewer is available, seniors prefer to live in close proximity to one another and services such as the hospital or shopping. The original intent was good, it just got skewed."

Now said Mason, "All you are doing is helping the developer and increasing the costs to the municipality and the residents." For example, because of the proximity of the units, cluster developments often save developers in the cost of lesser amounts of roads and curbs.

Mason said that local planning is a much more effective tool than county or state planning.

"This is the right thing for our community. I do not want the state or the county or any other entity doing our planning for us," he said. "Real open space to me is an operating farm -- food, tree or sod. Any other open space is just a burden to the taxpayer. I’d like to see the township approach farmers and try to help them secure funding to keep going."

Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Bill Fulton said in a telephone interview that while he hasn’t seen the township’s change, it is more likely an evolution or rite of passage for the township, which is now experiencing a development boom.

"Our philosophy doesn’t equate to a growth management tool. ... Cluster is traditionally a means of consolidating single-family dwellings to preserve open space or sensitive areas. Eliminating cluster is not necessarily going to slow down development."

Regarding the premise that cluster is developer-friendly, Fulton said, "Developers usually argue that is not the case. They say they could develop more without it."

Fulton said it is important that township cluster ordinances be well-written to extract the sensitive areas and "good" lands for preservation off the top.

"A lot of municipalities prefer one-acre zoning because there is less municipal responsibility involved," said Fulton. Coincidentally, he said, even with cluster ordinances in place, the county has noted that most cluster developments are averaging one house per acre.

Bottom line, said Fulton, "Growth is coming whether you like it or not. It’s just how you manage it."

Mason agreed, "Penn is at the helm. A lot of townships are experiencing the same thing, they just haven’t done anything about it yet."

İDaily Local News 2004

Reader Opinions: 

Name: Lem Mason                                                                                           

Date: Jul, 27 2004

The pornography industry is the same as the 'development' industry. Both legal, they shamelessly profit off of exploitation and degradation. Isn't it a shame such sleaze determines our quality of life ? The Penn supervisors are to be commended and used as a model of how local government should work. Instead of the usual "let's see what I can get out of this" mentality that pervades the smaller township supervisors who sleep with the carpet-bagging developers, Penn has chosen to set an example of decency, honesty and doing the right thing. Again, a huge thank you to Penn supervisors and please don't be dissuaded from your mission by the Chester County Planning Commission, whose relationship with the local developers is no different than the sycophant supervisors of most second and third class townships. Remember, Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.

Name: Margaret Dernier                                                                                           

Date: Jul, 27 2004

At last, there really is some intelligent life out there. The cluster idea is a bad idea. I am recently from San Diego, where they have "clustered" the bejeesus out of all the land. My sister bought in a cluster next to "open space". But then Ryland talked (as in $$$$$$$) to the local official/township and the open space was rezoned and turned into another cluster development. Plus the cluster development concept looks bad. When I have my relatives and friends from San Diego come visit, they are always so impressed with Chester County and that the homes are on such big lots and that there are so few cluster developments. The better thing may be smaller homes on big lots, and get away from these giant Monopoly Hotel type looking homes such as Newlin Greene, Olmstead.

 

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