Contemporary “Ponzi scheme” development patterns are fueling a financial crisis for municipalities, and future patterns will have to be sharply different, but codifying the needed changes in an appropriate manner will be challenging, Lancaster County's chief planner told a gathering of planners and municipal officials on Thursday evening.
"The heart of the debate is, how are we going to make this happen?" county Planning Commission Executive Director James Cowhey said.
Cowhey's comments came during a meeting held as a follow-up to planning guru Charles Mohnton's "Curbside Chat" presentation in January.
Mohnton, the executive director of the nonprofit Strong Towns, argued forcefully that car-centric suburban development requires too much expensive infrastructure to be economically feasible, forcing municipalities to green-light new development just to earn enough revenue to finance the upkeep of existing stock.
When development opportunities ebb, municipalities face out-of-control costs and spiraling debt, Mohnton argues.
Lancaster County has handled sprawl better than many communities but will have to do more to channel growth, Cowhey said.
Planners will have to figure out how to specify what counts as sustainable development, he said. He and audience members engaged in a lively discussion on how that could be done.
A county comprehensive plan would likely be the best vehicle for promoting sustainability, Cowhey said. He counseled against a project-by-project approach, noting that municipalities do not have the authority to regulate fiscal impact at the permitting stage.
Developers need to know a municipality's expectations going into a project, he said.
Here are tweets from the Business Journal's live coverage of the meeting.