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Proven strategies can help prevent sprawl, Pulitzer winner tells Franklin County audience

May 08, 2008|By DON AINES

MARION, Pa. - Franklin County might never resemble Davis, Calif., or Bath, England, but planning and preservation strategies used in those cities could help revitalize borough and village life here while preserving farmland, according to Thomas Hylton.

Hylton, a 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winner for editorials advocating land preservation, was the keynote speaker at Wednesday's Franklin County Municipal Summit. The Pottstown, Pa., resident and author of "Save Our Land, Save Our Towns," reviewed strategies used around the world to limit sprawl and revive "traditional towns."

Great Britain, facing starvation in World War II, created "greenbelts" around cities such as Bath to preserve farmland in case of a future crisis. The greenbelts "saved the cities and towns because developers have no place else to go," Hylton said. Instead of building out from cities, redevelopment occurred within, he said.

The result was that two-thirds of retail business occurs in traditional "Main Street" settings in Britain, compared to 4 percent in the United States, Hylton said.

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While population density in The Netherlands is about 1,000 people per square mile, 83 percent of the country is open space, Hylton said. People live in villages, towns or cities, but are never more than a 20-minute bicycle ride from the countryside, he said.

"To the Dutch, a bicycle is a transportation system," Hylton said. Similarly, Davis, Calif., packs 60,000 people into 10 square miles, but has 100 miles of bike paths for commuters, shoppers and students.

"Kids aren't embarrassed to go on a date on a bicycle," Hylton said.

The high price of fuel, smaller families and 77 million Baby Boomers waiting to retire are factors that will influence future development and help Americans "rediscover the merits of town life," he said.

With 1.3 million Chinese and 1 billion Indians entering the car market, the demand for gas and its price will continue to rise and people will want to live within short distances of work, shopping and entertainment, he said.

In Pennsylvania, however, municipalities, not counties, have the power to enact zoning ordinances and other planning tools to channel development, said County Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski.

"It's unlikely the legislature is going to give the counties that power," he said.

"Given the laws you have, you can do multi-municipal planning," Hylton said. Local governments can work together in charting future growth, he said.

Waynesboro and Washington Township are engaged in joint planning, but getting all the entities to agree on projects is not always quick, Washington Township Manager Michael Christopher said. Several years ago the township and Waynesboro received a $250,000 transportation grant to build a walkway to from the borough to Renfrew Park, he said.

By the time all the parties approved the project, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had changed the concept, tripling its cost and killing it, he said.

As for bicycles, Allen Porter of the Waynesboro Planning Commission said Davis, Calif., has the climate and the terrain for year-round bicycling.

"Every place they talk about using bicycles is flat," said Franklin County Area Development Corp. President. L. Michael Ross.

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