Fu­ture plans for county pre­sented

The Colonial - - FRONT PAGE - By Os­car Gam­ble

About a dozen people gath­ered at the Cen­tre Theatre on DeKalb Street Feb. 4 for a pre­sen­ta­tion by the Mont­gomery County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion about the county’s 25-year com­pre­hen­sive plan, ti­tled “Montco 2040: A Shared Vi­sion, The New Com­pre­hen­sive Plan for Mont­gomery County.”

The plan, a 220-page prospec­tus of the county’s fu­ture, uses de­mo­graphic trend­ing to gen­er­ate mod­els of civic im­prove­ment de­signed for con­tin­ued pros­per­ity and liv­abil­ity.

Plan­ning com­mis­sion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jody Holton kicked off the dis­cus­sion, which fo­cused on the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of the county and how the com­mis­sion plans to deal with is­sues of in­fra­struc­ture, trans­porta­tion and open space.

Af­ter a brief in­tro­duc­tion to fa­mil­iar­ize at­ten­dees with the com­mis­sion’s mis­sion, Holton turned the meet­ing over to plan­ning sec­tion chief Brian O’Leary, who pro­vided an in-depth anal­y­sis of the 25-year plan, com­plete with a slideshow graph­i­cally il­lus­trat­ing the changes the county has un­der­gone in the last half-century and the pro­jected shifts in age, eth­nic di­ver­sity and land us­age ex­pected by the year 2040.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion’s re­search, Mont­gomery County, with a cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of 800,000, is ex­pected to gain nearly 100,000 additional res­i­dents by 2040. In that year, the se­nior cit­i­zen pop­u­la­tion

tion will have in­creased by 50 per­cent to nearly 120,000. The com­pre­hen­sive plan places spe­cial em­pha­sis on en­hance­ments de­signed to at­tract young pro­fes­sion­als and mil­len­ni­als to the area and to en­tice them to stay.

In the 1960s, 89 per­cent of county res­i­dents lived in sin­gle- fam­ily homes. To­day, that per­cent­age is down to 60, a trend that is pro­jected to con­tinue as apart­ment liv­ing and shared space be­come more prac­ti­cal and palat­able for an older, more tran­sient pop­u­la­tion with smaller fam­i­lies, O’Leary said.

O’Leary stressed the com­mis­sion’s de­sire to ex­plore plan­ning ini­tia­tives that of­fer more walk­a­ble neigh­bor­hoods, ac­cess to healthy food choices, af­ford­able hous­ing and ur­ban re­vi­tal­iza­tion, among other qual­ity of life con­cerns. He men­tioned the Route 202 ex­pan­sion and Lafayette Street ex­ten­sion as two trans­porta­tion projects de­signed to al­le­vi­ate traf­fic and spur eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the heav­ily trav­elled Nor­ris­town/ Up­per Me­rion cor­ri­dor.

Af­ter ex­ten­sive re­search on where the hous­ing mar­ket has been and where it’s headed, the com­mis­sion found that at $255,000, the county’s me­dian home price re­mained af­ford­able when mea­sured against that of com­pa­ra­ble sub­urbs.

Cur­rently, how­ever, 25 per­cent of res­i­dents spend more than 35 per­cent of their in­come on hous­ing, and the fig­ure continues to rise, threat­en­ing in­creased poverty and po­ten­tial property de­val­u­a­tion.

The com­mis­sion en­vi­sions a re­nais­sance in ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and sees en­cour­ag­ing signs in nascent down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion trends, O’Leary said, cit­ing West Mar­shall Street in Nor­ris­town as a prime ex­am­ple. Ac­cord­ing to plan­ning com­mis­sion records, the now bustling thor­ough­fare has re­bounded af­ter suf­fer­ing a high in store­front va­can­cies of 40 per­cent 20 years ago.

Long known as a mecca for shop­ping, Mont­gomery County leads the re­gion with 64 square feet of re­tail space per res­i­dent and is ex­pected to main­tain its sta­tus as a re­gional shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

With a grow­ing work­force em­ploy­ing more than 500,000 people, the county is also pro­jected to re­main at­trac­tive to busi­ness and in­dus­try.

Anne Leav­itt-Gru­berger, the com­mis­sion’s prin­ci­pal plan­ner, presided over the lat­ter part of the work­shop and handed out a sur­vey that sparked a lively ques­tion-an­dan­swer ses­sion re­volv­ing around land use is­sues.

The sole Nor­ris­town res­i­dent at the work­shop com­plained that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was suf­fer­ing from a lack of vi­sion when it comes to deal­ing with is­sues of pop­u­la­tion den­sity. She sug­gested that cur­rent prob­lems with trash dis­posal, park­ing and clean wa­ter should be re­solved and take prece­dence over at­tempts to in­fill va­cant space with additional commercial or res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion.

An­other res­i­dent in­quired about plans to ad­dress lan­guage bar­ri­ers and cul­tural as­sim­i­la­tion is­sues con­cern­ing the county’s grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion, which dou­bled to more than 34,000 res­i­dents be­tween 2000 and 2010.

Leav­itt-Gru­berger also fielded ques­tions and lis­tened to sug­ges­tions on a va­ri­ety of county plan­ning is­sues from so­lar ini­tia­tives to a pro­posed com­mu­nity park project.

The event wrapped up with clos­ing com­ments from Leav­itt- Gru­berger and O’Leary, both of whom touted the use­ful feed­back gar­nered from the sur­vey that res­i­dents can com­plete on­line at www. mont­copa. org/ 2040Comp­Plan.

The work­shop, spon­sored by the Nor­ris­town Area Com­mu­ni­ties That Care for Youth and the Nor­ris­town Vi­o­lence Preven­tion Ini­tia­tive, was the lat­est in se­ries of com­mu­nity dis­cus­sions about the com­pre­hen­sive plan slated for adop­tion by the Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers by year’s end.

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