On Tuesday the West Chester Planning Commission is scheduled to review plans for a new development at 410 S. High (Burger King property), a topic that has generated a lot of public interest. However, before any building can begin, developers must first make a stop before West Chester’s Planning Commission. To understand why exactly and to get a better understanding of what we can expect next week, I reached out to Planning Commission Chair Jason Birl for a little background on what the Planning Commission does and how the meeting will run.
First off, what exactly is a Planning Commission and what do they do?
The technical role of the Planning Commission is to advise Council on planning and zoning matters. This seven member board is intimately familiar with the Borough zoning code which spells out what is possible at a specific location. For example, in the case of the Burger King property, which is zoned Town Center, the site could be used for residential, commercial, or mixed-used purposes. It cannot, however, be used for student rentals based on existing Student Rental guidelines. The code also dictates how high the building can be – in this case no higher than 45 ft – and how many parking spots it must have.
The commission also looks at whether or not a project meets the community’s long-term vision for itself. For this, they often reference the Borough’s Comprehensive Plan, as well as, Landscapes3, Chester County’s comp plan. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s the Commission’s role to encourage dialogue – between developers, governmental officials, and the community.
“Another main purpose of the Planning Commission is to allow public comment,” says Jason. “It is very important for the public to come to meetings.” Without public input, the Commission is limited to the information it is provided on a project which comes primarily from technical experts.
How the meetings are run – and when the public gets its say
So, if you are among those who are planning to make the trip to Borough Hall room 232 on Tuesday evening here’s what you can expect.
The meeting will start with a call for comments regarding items not on the agenda (if you are here to speak on the Burger King property this is not you) and the approval of previous meeting minutes, after which the Planning Commission will review the Burger King property.
The first thing you should know is the Planning Commission reviews each set of plans twice through a preliminary and a final review. This is the preliminary plan review for the project.
The second thing you should know is that in addition to the Planning Commission, each project is reviewed by a variety of experts each of whom focuses on a separate component of the project and provides their advice to the commission. These include the County, Borough engineers, Borough planners, West Chester Sustainability Advisory Committee, and West Chester Tree Commission.
The project review will likely start with a brief introduction by Jason as committee chair. This will be followed by the applicant presentation. The developer will review how the project meets code expectations and highlight areas he or she believes will be of interest or concern to the commission. This is followed by presentations from each of the above experts. (You can review the reports ahead of the meeting here.) Finally, the Planning Commission members will share their thoughts and take public comments.
Due to the complexity of this project, it is unlikely that the Planning Commission will make a recommendation on Tuesday. However, it is always a possibility and if it doesn’t happen at this meeting expect a vote at the next one. The Planning Commission is regulated by state law to make recommendations within a predefined timeline.
West Chester Planning Commission meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in room 232 of Borough Hall. You can find updated meeting information on the Borough website.
Originally published, Mar. 24, 2022
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