An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Planning Commission formally recommends new comprehensive plan

In this Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2023, file photo, the Lancaster Planning Commission reviews the city’s draft comprehensive plan. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Lancaster’s Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the city’s new comprehensive plan on Wednesday, formally recommending to City Council that it be adopted.

“I look forward to this plan coming to fruition,” commission Chairman Nelson Polite Jr. said.

Introduced to the public in May, the comprehensive plan, titled “Our Future Lancaster,” is to replace a predecessor plan adopted in 1993. The new document refreshes city policy on a wide range of issues: Housing, economic development, transportation, the environment, neighborhood engagement and support. It incorporates a future land use map that will guide zoning and land planning, influencing the types of development allowed in each block or neighborhood.

The commission’s vote keeps the plan on track to be introduced at City Council’s Oct. 2 committee meeting and voted on at council’s regular meeting on Oct. 24. Both meetings are open to the public.

While the vast majority of the plan’s content has been finalized, city staff are continuing to make minor text edits, correct typos, adjust photos and graphic elements and so on, Chief Planner Douglas Smith told the commission.

Additionally, city staff and a delegation of commission members will consider whether to adjust the southern edge of the “urban center” defined in the plan’s future land use map. Commission member Amos Stoltzfus suggested the review in light of the development pending at the corner of South Queen and Vine streets — namely, Willow Valley’s Mosaic senior high-rise and the history center planned at Thaddeus Stevens’ former house and law office.

This section of the comp plan’s future land use map shows the southern boundary (red) of the map’s “urban center” zone. Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Lancaster)

Public engagement

The motion to formally recommend the plan came from Maxine Cook, who served on the comprehensive plan committee, an advisory group of stakeholders and community members.

Maxine Cook, a member of the comprehensive plan committee, comments on the group’s work during a presentation unveiling the plan at the Ware Center in Lancaster on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

To set the stage, she described the committee’s work, and its efforts in conjunction with city staff and consultants to encourage as much public participation as possible in the plan’s development.

As Smith told the commission, those efforts resulted in some 14,000 individual interactions — an unprecedented number. Still, Cook said, she would have liked to see more.

Overall, Cook said, the outcome was exciting and rewarding and she’s proud to be a part of it. It leaves her hopeful, she said, that Lancaster will make itself a city where all residents have access to essential amenities: “Safe, affordable housing, economic opportunity, essential public services and green space.”

Identifying growth areas

Wednesday’s action completes the commission’s formal engagement with the plan, which began with a presentation by Smith in July, followed by a review and discussion earlier this month.

Comments made at that meeting on Aug. 2 prompted a couple of revisions in the document, Smith said: The addition of a policy calling for collaboration with the School District of Lancaster on long-term planning; and a paragraph noting the city’s plans, already under way, to develop and deploy a digital platform for land development plan submissions and permit applications.

The comprehensive plan’s economic development map. Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Lancaster)

Commissioners quizzed Smith Wednesday about the commercial corridors and hubs identified for development in the plan’s Economic Development Map and how those areas were selected. Stoltzfus noted that they appear to be concentrated north of King Street — potentially raising equity concerns, given the history of disinvestment on the south side.

The city worked closely with the Lancaster City Alliance, which oversees Lancaster’s Building on Strength economic development plan, Smith said. In part, the sites reflect on-the-ground reality, he said: There are no large, consolidated sites like Park City Center or the Northwest Gateway on the south side, he said.

The goal on the south side is to encourage commercial investment that complements the surrounding neighborhoods, he said, through mixed-use zoning and greater density. The city also sees the revitalization of the Conestoga River corridor around environmental and recreational uses as being a major economic driver for the south side, he said.

Allon Lefever, chairman of the Landis Communities board, asked Smith about affordable housing and intermunicipal planning. Both are top city priorities, Smith said.

The two other public comments came from Dr. William Stephan, vice president of the Lancaster Downtowners board, and retired city Chief Planner Paula Jackson. Both lauded the comp plan process and its result.

Before City Council’s vote in October, there is a 45-day review period for the School District of Lancaster, the Lancaster County Planning Commission and neighboring municipalities to offer comment on the plan.