As Manheim Township embarks on an update of its comprehensive plan, one key area of focus will be the area around the Amtrak train station along the border with Lancaster city.
“The potential for the area is incredible,” said Anthony Vallone, Manheim Township’s Community Development Manager.
Earlier this year the Lancaster County Planning Department released a “small area plan” for the train station, analyzing the land use around it and proposing the redevelopment of the neighborhood into a dense, transit-oriented hub that mixes shopping, dining and apartments.
Michael Domin, project manager for the county planning department, said, “We are looking to create a community that has energy and vitality, a community you would want to stop in and potentially live in.”
Domin said planners are looking at potentially extending the Lancaster city grid of streets into the area. He explained the idea of a “complete street” with traffic calming features and room for bikes.
Ideally, Domin said, the area would allow for a full range of transportation: Walking, public transit, biking, ride-sharing.
“It’s designed in a way that takes pressure off of families to have two or three cars to get places,” he said.
As for challenges, Domin talked about how current zoning codes in both the city and Manheim Township do not allow for some of the building types proposed in the county’s redevelopment vision.
And then there’s parking: Currently, Manheim Township’s zoning requires residential units to have multiple parking spaces. Reducing that to one space per unit would allow more density, reducing sprawl and making walking and biking more feasible, Domin said.
Vallone said the township is open to looking at issues like height maximums that may be too low, and alleviating some parking regulations that might be an undue limitation.
He pointed out that most of the land around the station is privately held. He also said the township will have to work closely with Lancaster city as the municipal border in the area is “choppy.”
Blended codes, he said, could promote mixed-use projects.
“It depends on how much stomach people have for development,” he said. “The (current) market is strong.”
“I think that the township is way ahead of the game,” he said of Manheim Township’s planning process. “We’re on the right track … A lot of things are already set in motion.”
Lancaster city, for its part, is endorsing the county’s vision in its draft comprehensive plan, which calls for working with the county and Manheim Township to make the train station area “a cohesive and well-designed urban gateway neighborhood.”
PennDOT is in the process of building a parking lot on the train station’s north side. Domin said county planners hope that at some point, a parking garage could be built. That would be a big help in allowing a denser and more pedestrian-friendly community to take shape.
“It would be for residents and visitors, and users of the train station, and would allow for better mixed-use planning on a smaller footprint,” he said.
“It’s down the road a little bit … We’re not there yet, but we would be able to redevelop portions of the existing lot.”
He emphasized that the ideas, layouts and renderings in the county’s train station analysis aren’t set in stone: They are a starting point, intended to suggest possibilities and stir discussion.
“It’s one alternative of many,” he said. “There are a hundred ways to build this.”