Thinking Big-Picture with Multi-Municipal Planning

Thinking Big-Picture with Multi-Municipal Planning

Aerial view of Pennsylvania town in the summer time.

While land conservation has always been at the core of the Brandywine Conservancy’s mission, early on we also recognized the importance of complimentary approaches in protecting and conserving the land, water, natural, and cultural resources throughout the Brandywine-Christina watershed. One approach has been to offer municipal planning through the Conservancy’s Municipal Assistance Program.

Acknowledging that not every acre can be conserved, Brandywine’s municipal planning efforts offer services that provide long-term guidance and regulatory tools to ensure that development within a community is compatible with other land uses and occurs in a manner that is sensitive to our shared natural and cultural resources. Within Chester County, residents have been fortunate that the Chester County Planning Commission (CCPC) advocates for and supports wise planning, and through its Vision Partnership Program (VPP) provides cash grants to help municipalities to complete planning projects and achieve greater consistency with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, Landscapes3.

Providing the legislative framework that empowers municipalities to plan in our state, the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code outlines the planning tools at our disposal and how they may be enacted. One such tool is the Comprehensive Plan, which examines all aspects of municipal management and administration, including land use, regulatory ordinances (that can be used to provide for the protection of natural and cultural resources), and the provision of community facilities, services, and infrastructure. Completed every 10 years, the Comprehensive Plan provides a blueprint for municipal policy regarding future land use and preservation.

While a municipality can choose to plan on its own, there are advantages to planning with its neighbors in a multi-municipal capacity. By planning cooperatively, municipalities can share the responsibility of providing for their fair share of development in areas that are best suited; consider preservation efforts at greater geographic scales; and provide for the efficient and cost-effective provision of facilities and services, including recreation and public safety.

Planning Together for Future Growth

For the Brandywine Conservancy, two key regional planning efforts are significant in that they not only provide tangible benefits to the municipalities involved, but they also serve as key areas for our mission-related work. They have also both benefited from funds awarded through the County’s VPP grant program. 

In the headwaters of the Brandywine, with the assistance of our Municipal Assistance Program, the municipalities of Honey Brook Township and Honey Brook Borough have planned together for many years. This cooperative long-range planning effort provides synergy in ensuring that development occurs within the Borough, promoting its revitalization and ensuring its vitality for both Borough and Township residents. In turn, this permits the Township to focus its attention on protecting its agricultural heritage and active farmland, a much-cherished resource and crucial element of the local economy.

In the three municipalities that make up the Unionville Region, which represent a good portion of the conserved King Ranch lands, the Brandywine Conservancy is currently finalizing an update to their joint Comprehensive Plan that, like the example above, maintains a focus on allowing for development in areas best served by the transportation network, while protecting the rural lifestyle and landscapes of the greater King Ranch area. This cooperative effort enables the municipalities to work together to prioritize the protection of the area's important natural resources.

A Model for Success

The CCPC’s Community Planning Division has a long history of working with multi-municipal planning groups. From the Federation of Northern Chester County Communities (nine municipalities in the northern tier) and other multi-municipal groups throughout 1980–early 2000s, to more recent activity in the Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Oxford areas, regional planning has always been a high priority.

In 2007, the six communities that make up the Oxford Region, including Oxford Borough, East and West Nottingham, Upper and Lower Oxford, Elk, and East Nottingham Townships signed on to develop a Multi-municipal Plan. David Ross, a Supervisor in West Nottingham Township when the Plan development began, said “We were in the middle of revising our West Nottingham zoning ordinance to implement the goals of our own recently adopted Comprehensive Plan. In doing this, we realized that the effectiveness of the zoning districts we were contemplating depended critically on what was going on in the surrounding portions of the region. Having some sort of process for addressing pressures on the region as a whole is just common sense."

While working through the regional planning issues took additional time, it was worth the extra effort when in 2012 all six municipalities adopted the Plan and signed an Implementation Agreement to ensure that local planning would honor the adopted Multi-municipal Plan policies. As a result, the Oxford Region Planning Committee (ORPC) was established and has been working together ever since, meeting monthly to discuss and address planning issues impacting the region. In January 2024, the ORPC began work on an update to their Plan and look forward to expanding the level of coordination and cooperation that began nearly two decades ago. 

Municipal planning is just one of the Conservancy's many approaches to achieving our mission. Along with the work of our colleagues in Land Conservation, Land Stewardship, Community Services, and Environmental Education, the Municipal Assistance Program plays a key role in ensuring a healthy environment and vibrant communities for future generations.

Brandywine Conservancy would like to thank Mark Gallant, Senior Community Planner at the Chester County Planning Commission, for his contributions toward this article.