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Behind the list with Joel Snyder

By , - Last modified: May 11, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Joel Snyder is managing principal of RGS Associates Inc., a Lancaster County-based landscape architecture, land planning and civil engineering firm with a second location in downtown York. Photo/Amy Spangler
Joel Snyder is managing principal of RGS Associates Inc., a Lancaster County-based landscape architecture, land planning and civil engineering firm with a second location in downtown York. Photo/Amy Spangler

managing principal of RGS Associates Inc.

Q: What type of work does RGS Associates Inc. perform and for what types of clients?

A: A large portion of our work is for nonprofit continuing care retirement communities, such as Willow Valley (Retirement Communities), Mennonite Home (Communities) and Garden Spot Village.

We also do a lot of work with churches like LCBC (Church) and Worship Center.

We do a lot of work with private developers, such as High Associates (Ltd.) and RJ Waters (& Associates Inc.).

And we do residential subdivision work. We’ve done a lot of work with Keystone Custom Homes.

That has not been a large portion of our work with housing being off the way it has. More recently we’ve done more work with multifamily (projects).


Has there been renewed interest in land planning and development projects in the last year, two years? Why?

We’re just beginning to see that. In 2007 through 2009, we were working through a backlog in projects already under way. We were fortunate.

Last spring, we began to see a little bit of a spurt, but it quickly stopped. It was grinding along from June until the end of the year. The turn of the year this year we have seen renewed interest in projects. We’re seeing more activity (in the early stages of development) than in the past several years.

I think to a certain degree there are always people looking for opportunities. I think in the first stages of recession, people were very much in a defensive mode. Maybe we’ve reached our limits and opportunistic developers have turned the corner.

Things have bottomed out and there are signs of improvements. Now is the time to get out there. How long do you just sit back? I think a lot of people maybe got tired of sitting back.


Talk about the size and scope of projects you’re working on today. How do they compare to projects five years ago?

Since the beginning of this year, we’re just starting to see some renewed interest in some of the larger projects. Some of the stuff we’re working on is on a much smaller scale than projects in the mid-2000s.

Projects (then) included tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space. Today the more common size has been 3,000- and 4,000-square-foot commercial buildings on two-acre parcels, small subdivisions, small building additions and infill type projects.


What emerging trends are you seeing across Central Pennsylvania within commercial and residential real estate development? How do they affect your business?

I think clearly there has been a trend as single-family housing has tailed off in the last few years of the recession. Renting became a much bigger part of the housing market. There has been a renewed interest among developers in rental housing. I think there have been some real opportunities to create new communities for a modern generation of renters.

When we look at our business, that (rental) market sector has been one that has been increasing.

The continuing care retirement communities have continued to be fairly strong for us. The difference is that portions of their campuses or communities are older cottages or apartments. The next generation, the baby boomers, have a different expectation on types of amenities that a community provides.

We’ve seen a lot of repositioning. From a lifestyle standpoint, we need to begin to look at the types of amenities we’re providing — like outdoor patios, interior changes to the dining and community-type changes, like the landscaping on the campus. It’s almost more of a hospitality mindset.

One other trend we’ve seen is renewed interest in more urban areas, the downtowns. We’ve seen more projects in Lancaster and York, both residential and commercial, more mixed-use projects.

I think there has been a real push to renew the downtowns. We’re in that cycle again. Maybe generationally, people seem to think there’s an attraction to downtowns for younger generations right now.

We’re involved in some mixed-use and streetscape projects, infrastructure projects.


What will be the biggest challenges for your company moving forward?

I think part of it is continuing to adapt and remain flexible to the changes. I think we seem to be in an economy of a lot of unknowns and things continuing to reinvest themselves and how do we stay on top of that.

Changes in technology and the technology we use to design and deliver projects, the way we communicate with clients and one another, just staying on top of that, are real challenges.

Technology has allowed us to do more with fewer people. We also have entered an age of real expertise. It’s harder to be a generalist and be as successful. We need a firm of experts in a variety of areas to continue to have a competitive edge.


What do you like most about your job?

I think the fact we design places people live, work and play — to know we have that kind of impact in communities we live in is really kind of neat when you step back and think about it.

About Joel Snyder

Snyder has worked for West Earl Township-based RGS Associates Inc. for about 17 years. He has been managing principal for about 18 months. The firm has 25 employees between its offices in Lancaster and York counties.

The 44-year-old graduated from Penn State University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. He and his wife live in Manchester Township, York County.

In his spare time, Snyder enjoys playing tennis and golf, traveling and dinner with friends.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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