In his lavishly illustrated 1995 book “Save our Land, Save our Towns,” author Thomas Hylton pointed out a striking paradox: Even though Pennsylvania’s population experienced only modest growth following World War II, it had consumed more than four million acres of farmland to build suburban homes, shopping centers, office parks, and related new development during that same period.
That’s an area larger than the combined sizes of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The long-term prospects for maintaining that infrastructure, particularly without a corresponding surge in the state’s economy, are scary. The long-term social impact of creating sprawling, automobile-centered communities where residential neighborhoods are overwhelmingly stratified into homogeneous income brackets also is dismal, he noted.
Not long after his book came out, Hylton paid a visit to , which was then just beginning to take charge of its own explosive growth. Apparently, he couldn’t see the early results of the township’s growth management efforts, so his comments about Cranberry were less than charitable.
But he had a point: Greater density of housing, better pedestrian access, more diversity of housing types, and less segregation of land uses can produce a community that’s less expensive to maintain, easier to police, less prone to local traffic jams, and more culturally vibrant.
Fortunately, Hylton wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Consumer demand for more compact living arrangements, which included townhouses, upscale rental apartments, and other multifamily structures featuring shared recreational amenities, also was starting to grow. As a result, the influence of shifting home-buying patterns gaveHylton’s crusade the force of a marketplace imperative.
And Cranberry’s officials were listening.
The result was a new concept of zoning, known as Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND – an approach to land use development that draws inspiration from such well-established traditional towns in the region as Zelienople and Sewickley.
It provides for much smaller lots, a mix of different housing types, service alleys, on-street parking, sidewalks, apartments over small businesses, increased use of masonry in construction, better streetscapes, and other features that result in an early 20th century hometown feel.
Cranberry’s board of supervisors adopted its first TNDzoning ordinance six or seven years ago to accommodate the innovative Park Place development as well as its neighbor, Bellevue Park. Since that time, different variations on the Traditional Neighborhood theme have been formulated for parts of Cranberry with different characteristics, including residential, mixed-use, town center, and corridor areas.
They specify the permissible densities of living units, share of commercial operations, minimum open spaces, maximum paved areas, allowable building heights, and certain other features. They’ve been adopted as overlays – an approach meaning that while land development can still be authorized under the previous zoning regulations, if it satisfies the TND requirements, it can be developed more intensively, and perhaps more profitably, by using the overlay rules.
That development flexibility also is fundamental to the comprehensive plan Cranberry adopted in 2009, and now it’s gradually being extended to other areas throughout the township.
Later this month, Cranberry’s board of supervisors will hold hearings on two that would apply the concept to Cranberry Woods Business Park, Cranberry Commons, and several smaller properties along Route 228.
Another would amend the ordinance that regulates single-family neighborhood developments to facilitate the creation of rental units, infill development, and higher core density by adjusting the
Cranberry may never look like a traditional Pennsylvania community, but over time it’s likely to acquire more of the hometown charm and character that people speak of with such nostalgia.
And it will be much less likely to burn itself out from unsustainable development practices.