Planning and Development- A Community Approach
Posted: July 30, 2012
Along with the biggest industries of tourism and agriculture is a population that seeks high skilled employment and schooling opportunities as well as entertainment and increased comforts. The Adams County Comprehensive Plan- Land Use Map shows small boroughs surrounded by medium and low density residential areas dispersed among agricultural and park lands. The challenge ahead is how to continue population and economic growth without breaking up our profitable parks and agricultural lands.
Nick Colonna, Director of the Office of Planning and Development in Adams County, is preparing the county for this challenge. As he sees it—“we’re a rural, agricultural community. Everyone wants economic development, but we need to figure out what we want and what that looks like in the context of our community. Planning has to link the community and should respect who we are first.”
His office is currently working on revamping the comprehensive plan, which he believes should be more of a visionary plan. Adams County is split into 34 municipalities of which thirteen are boroughs and 21 are townships. Pennsylvania County Offices of Planning and Development serve as a guiding body for the municipalities, but have no authority over them. With this in mind, a comprehensive plan is usually created as a recommendation for municipalities who create their own plans and zoning ordinances based on those plans, a top down approach.
With planning control at the municipal level, Nick Colonna and his staff are working with municipalities to create regional plans which can be supported through a county wide comprehensive plan, a bottom up approach. The office is currently going through a review of all plans in the past 20 years and aims to include the community in figuring out “our capacity, impact on natural resources, industry needs and the comfort level of our community in what we are prepared to compromise,” in terms of economic growth and development. This approach of bringing together governing bodies in planning is not typical, but Nick Colonna hopes that a “visioning plan will put in place policies of the respective municipalities, so when [development] does pick up it’s a fabric of the community and it means something to us in the context of who we are.”
Robin Fitzpatrick of the Adams County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC) says that the majority of their loans are within the ag industry, more than in tourism or manufacturing. Fitzpatrick believes the “most successful and mature economy is diverse. Ag is one of our strengths and building upon it and developing that is what I think is important.”
ACEDC has been in operation for 22 years beginning with a focus on loans for manufacturing. Since then ACEDC has directly created over 500 jobs and brought industries such as Pella Corporation to Gettysburg. About 15 years ago, ACEDC began emphasizing the importance of agriculture in Adams County. “A Department of Community and Economic Development representative visited Adams County and went back to Harrisburg saying ‘have you ever thought of a tree being a piece of equipment?’ because that’s what the farmers were saying” explains Fitzpatrick. This gave a broader view than just manufacturing to economic development. Since then ACEDC has been working closely with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and other ag lenders such as Ag Choice Farm Credit to support existing, new and innovative farming.
The majority of ag loans are provided to small farms, usually run by a family or to packing facilities that serve multiple family operations. Kaycee Kemper, Director of Business Development at ACEDC, was involved with a project to build a new cold storage facility for Bream & Bear Orchards. This was the first loan in the state to use Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA) funds for an ag industry project. Kemper believes that “ag has fared well in the scope of the economy, our ag loans are strongest in the books. They make their payments no matter what.”
Yet the question remains, what kind of business retention and attraction does Adams County need to retain its strong agricultural character. Currently the Office of Planning and Development is working on an Economic Development Survey which will bring together a view on development from residents, school districts, businesses and government. Colonna says that “strategically we need to sustain business that is productive and attract what we’re missing versus one outdoing the other.” His office, since the merger with Ag Land Preservation and Environmental Services, is working on creating a target map to identify lands for preservation to complement the visionary plan. Colonna has seen “urban and suburban growth budding with agriculture and Agland Preservation helps to drive growth where it should be.” The merger of the target map with the land use plan allows for designated growth areas (residential, borough, mixed use) to concentrate development in areas which already provide services such as sewer or water and leave agricultural lands with space for production.
Fitzpatrick brings up an important issue when she says, “it’s a very interesting time―we have more people living here than ever, how are we going to successfully blend agricultural and residential development?”
Both Colonna and Fitzpatrick are involved in a community Broadband Initiative to improve technology access and demand in the county. Colonna emphasizes that “Adams County has a lot to sell and having access is something we need to overcome. Communication is regional, national and on a global level. It’s important for us to be competitive.” Agriculture has already seen the limits a bad digital infrastructure has had as businesses stop at the Maryland border. As this initiative improves transfer of information, “it will help all industry,” says Fitzpatrick.
“Farming is interlinked to our lives; we want it to be part of the fabric of our community. Building on our agricultural heritage, we may have new industries we never thought of” says Colonna.
A number of municipalities have already completed a Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan or regional plan such as Franklin, Menallen, Butler and Mount Pleasant, Union and Germany. Ten others are currently underway or completing drafting. With an outdated 1990 comprehensive plan guiding Adams County now, it is time to look to the future, not just for agriculture, but all development in the county.
Sladjana Prozo is the Ag Innovations Program Manager at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271 or (888) 427-0261, email AdamsExt@psu.edu.