Pottstown, Pennsylvania, enacted an innovative land-use ordinance

Pottstown, Pennsylvania, enacted an innovative land-use ordinance aimed at reinforcing its historical development pattern. “Several new homes are being built on small lots that had been vacant for decades and we are seeing higher quality proposals” as a result, Planning Commission Chairman Tom Hylton wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pottstown’s ordinance applies to a newly established Conservation District. Among its provisions:

• New construction must be compatible with existing architecture (for example, setbacks must be the same and building size similar).

• Parking spaces can be shared between commercial users during the day and residential users at night.

• Ample shade trees are required along streets and in parking lots, where one tree must be planted for every two parking spaces.

According to Hylton, author of the 1995 book Save Our Land, Save Our Towns, “Experience shows that municipalities do better through voluntary negotiations than heavy-handed regulations. Pottstown has contracted with a design professional to provide free advice for applicants who want to erect a building or modify the appearance of one.”

Charles Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, said the code appears to be “an example-and-precedent-driven document with good use of photos to illustrate good and bad, compatible and incompatible development.”