Planning Commission

This is the official blog of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Aug 11

Active Transportation

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 9:55 AM by Michael Stokes

Active transportation is a way to get around when the traveler is actually putting a little bit of sweat into the effort.  As opposed to punching the pedal and flying down the highway, the active traveler puts some shoe leather to the sidewalk or pedals along a trail or bike lane to get to their destination.   Over a century ago, active transportation was the only way to get around.  With the dawn of the automobile in the early part of the twentieth century, we conveniently forgot about active transportation.  Yet today there seems to be growing interest in returning to active modes of travel.  Certainly there are many good reasons for this including personal health and environmental impact among others.

Today, walkability is a high priority in deciding where to live.  Communities which are walkable and bike friendly have been able to attract young knowledge-based business workers and the companies that employ them.  Walking is something that many people value making it a big part of their lives for a variety of reasons including physical and mental health benefits.   Our recent Walk Montco Plan explored strategies for transforming our county into a more hospitable place for walkers.  We are actively assisting municipalities in obtaining funding for pedestrian improvements.  Our planners also advise local planning commissions on how to make new proposed developments more pedestrian friendly. 

In the next few months, we will launch a bicycle planning initiative to make it possible for all types of bikers to safely travel through our county.  This effort will include a special look at bicycle accessibility to transit stations, parks, and large institutions such as colleges.  We will also focus on how to make biking more friendly in the communities in the county that are more heavily developed and where several residents may not have access to a vehicle to get to work or to perform errands.  We hope that you will join is in making our Bike Montco Plan a success.

Moving about on foot or on bike can be a social experience

7508678420_252c4a69c9_o (1)
People of all ages can take to the street on a bike

Pedestrians engaged in shopping in Lansdale

Bicycling can be great exercise

Jun 28

Fitting Garages into a Townhouse

Posted on June 28, 2016 at 5:47 PM by Michael Stokes

We are addicted to our cars.  They are convenient and often fun to drive (when we are not stuck in traffic); but they really mess up our built environment.  To store our several ton metal friends we build massive parking lots that add to our stormwater woes and blight our communities. To get to where we want to go, we build wider highways that make walking nearly impossible in many areas.  Cars even make the design of housing more challenging since we need to build garages and driveways to store them.  

Take for instance the townhouse.  As the suburbanized version of the urban row home, the townhouse provides a great housing choice that fits well into many types of properties and is popular for home buyers of all ages.   Since the 1980s, more townhouses have been developed with garages making their design more complex.  Consider the 20 to 24 foot wide townhouse with a 9 x 7 foot garage door and driveway in front of it.   It leaves little room for the front door and front yard and the design gets even worse when a second parking space or two-car garage is added to townhouse property.

Placing the garage in the rear of the house provides several benefits and greatly enhances the look and function of the front of the house.  In that type of unit you could even sit on a front porch, drink your coffee and say hello to the neighbors.   The only problem with placing the garage in the back is that now you have to share the back yard with your car and more pavement is needed to get the car into the back. 

As you can imagine, there are no easy answers for townhouse design when cars need to be accommodated.  Generally we would all agree that townhouses along developed streets in existing boroughs should not have garages in the front.  Yet in other types of townhouse developments, there may be a compelling reason to place the garage at the front of the unit.  In these cases, good architecture, limitations on the size of garages and driveways and effective landscaping are needed to minimize the impact of the garage and maintain a front façade and yard that is oriented to people, not cars.

When you think about it, the townhouse design dilemma is like the 45 records that were a big to some of us in our teenage years.   On those records, one side (the a-side) contained the hit and was fabulous; the other side was often very unmemorable.  That was until the Beatles started putting out some great 45s with two a-sides like the one that contained the upbeat Paul McCartney classic Penny Lane with the dreamy John Lennon masterpiece Strawberry Fields on the other.  Can we do the same for townhouses with two great sides that address community, aesthetic, personal and environmental needs while also taking care of our large metal beasts?   Creative juices need to flow on this one.  Certainly we could do better than we have in the past. 

A nice local street with townhouses

The garages for those townhouses are on an alley at the rear

Six garage doors and five townhouse units

One option is a side loaded garage on a townhouse

The backs of townhouses with garages can be challenging designs

A sea of parking and garages and no front yard is what we should avoid

Jun 22

The Housing Market is Strong in Montgomery County

Posted on June 22, 2016 at 4:50 PM by Michael Stokes

The housing market in Montgomery County is very strong as evidenced by numbers found in two recent reports prepared by our office.  The 2015 Median Prices for Housing publication indicates that the value of housing outpaced inflation over the past year.  The number of houses sold increased substantially in 2015 as well, indicating that there are plenty of home buyers wanting to live in Montgomery County.  On the supply side, the 2015 Housing Units Built report shows that last year was the third straight year that the number of new housing units built increased.  The 1,838 total units built in 2015 was the highest number of units built since 2008.  Many of these units were built in developments that had started just prior to or during the recession that began in 2007.    But several units, particularly apartments, are in projects that have begun more recently.  Apartment units continue to be a hot housing choice in more developed portions of the county including Plymouth Meeting, Conshohocken, Lower Merion, Upper Merion and the US Route 422 Corridor.  Multifamily housing units, primarily apartments, will continue to be the most popular housing choice as many more multifamily apartments are expected to be completed this year and into next year.  Though single family detached units constructed have declined from the numbers produced over a decade ago, new single family detached housing in the right location sells well and is still being proposed in many locations.  Likewise, different forms of attached housing, townhouses and carriage homes, provide attractive housing at more affordable prices in vibrant areas of the county. 

As housing continues to grow in value, home builders will continue to provide new housing choices.  Much of the robust nature of the housing market can be attributable to the quality of life provided in throughout the county that attracts new home buyers.  This attractive quality of life results from good transportation access to jobs and shopping, proximity of desired community assets such as parks and trails, great schools, responsible government and perhaps good planning among other things.  

Cheltenham Townhouses
New Townhouses in Cheltenham on the old Cedarbrook Golf Club

Indigo 301 Apartments in King of Prussia
The Indigo apartment project in King of Prussia promises an interesting housing choice

New Apartments in Limerick Township
New apartments in Limerick are now being leased

A new Toll Brothers community under construction in Upper Providence Township