Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rep. Freeman, Champion for Smart Growth and Urban Revitalization

I had the opportunity to sit down with Rep. Robert Freeman last week. He is the state representative for the Easton area of our region. I found out very quickly that Rep. Freeman is very yp-friendly. His two biggest issues are smart growth and urban revitalization, so he gets it. He serves on the board of Renew Lehigh Valley, and authored the Elm Street bill. The Elm Street program provides funding for areas surrounding downtown main streets for things like facade improvements and greenscaping. We blogged about Bethlehem and Tamaqua taking advantage of this program.

He introduced House Bill 1280, to promote traditional neighborhood development as an alternative to sprawl, was approved unanimously in the House of Representatives and now is sitting in committee in the Senate for review.

“Traditional Neighborhood Development is an excellent alternative to the type of sprawl development that consumes vast amounts of farmland and creates traffic congestion nightmares,” Freeman said. “TNDs are a more compact form of development that use less land, are pedestrian-friendly and provide for a mix of uses and housing options that foster a greater sense of community than conventional suburban developments. A TND creates an actual village or neighborhood rather than a subdivision.”

In the 1999-2000 session of the legislature, Freeman authored the Traditional Neighborhood Development provisions, known as Article VII-A, to the state’s Municipalities Planning Code. Since then, a number of communities pursued the TND alternative, but provisions in the 2000 law proved somewhat cumbersome to implement.

Freeman said H.B. 1280 would make significant changes to the TND provisions to make it easier for municipalities to use as an alternative to sprawl. Under current law, a TND that is in the form of a new development must be in the form of an overlay zone rather than a designation “by right.” The bill would allow municipalities the option of either designating a TND “by right” or to continue to offer the overlay zone approach.

“By allowing municipalities to make an outright TND designation in their zoning codes, it would be a lot easier to create TNDs,” Freeman noted. “Municipalities could ensure that this more compact form of development would be utilized, rather than simply suggesting it to a developer as an alternative. With this added tool in their planning toolbox, local officials would be in a much better position to manage growth more effectively, preserve more open space and reduce people’s dependency on the automobile for everyday needs.”

The bill also would allow municipalities to incorporate a design guideline manual for TNDs as part of their zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances in order to ensure quality design.

Rep. Freeman is just one of many legislators I meeting with in coming weeks. I encourage you to contact me about issues you care about, and more importantly engage local government as I am to help them understand yp issues.

Your president,

Vanessa Williams

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