The Scranton-Abingtons Planning Association’s Comprehensive Plan establishes an overall vision for our future and a roadmap for reaching it. It sets policies, guidelines, and standards for land development, conservation, and economic initiatives.
The Scranton-Abingtons region has many wonderful qualities that we have come to appreciate, which are reinforced by the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan helps us maintain and enhance our sense of place and provide for the creation of more special places. It establishes a framework of lasting value for communities and allow us to integrate new development into established communities while maintaining their character.
Funding for various aspects of the SAPA planning comes from the 11 member municipalities, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Willary Foundation and the Scranton Area Foundation.
In the year 2000, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 67 & 68, making it possible for communities, on a voluntary basis, to form joint Comprehensive Plans with their neighboring municipalities (called “multi-municipal planning”).
When a municipality in PA does not enter a multi-municipal plan, it must abide by the older law in PA, which states that each and every municipality, whether urban or rural, must provide/zone for “enough” land for each and every type of land use. This older law had been contributing to abandonment of existing urban areas, and contributing to urbanization of rural communities, even in ones where urbanization was not desired. With multi-municipal planning, existing older urban areas can be designated as targeted growth areas, with the goal of helping to regain population, commercial, and employment uses, while helping rural areas to retain their rural character if that is their desire. Other areas can also be designated as growth areas.
Several small groups of communities in the Abingtons wanted to work together on such plans. The leadership of the communities gathered for serious discussion about a more effective approach. The idea came up to ask Scranton and perhaps other valley communities about inclusion in the plan. Those involved met with the PA DCED (Dept. of Community & Economic Development, the agency working with such planning groups) in July of 2005.
The Abington Council of Governments invited all municipalities in the county to an August 2005 educational meeting with DCED, about multi-municipal planning. DCED was pleased to see the interest from Scranton in joining a planning group; DCED felt it would be a stronger plan with the City in it. (Also, in 2003, the “Brookings report”* about Pennsylvania had recommended that rural or suburban communities and their neighboring cities and older boroughs should ideally work together in multimunicipal plans, for quality of life and the revitalization of urban areas.
In order to join such a group, participating municipalities must either be contiguous or in the same school district. A participant must also be willing and express interest; otherwise it will not participate effectively in the planning process. The result of those meetings was that nine of the Abingtons communities and Scranton, wanted to join. No other valley community contiguous to Scranton expressed interest. (Old Forge expressed interest, but was not contiguous.) The Scranton-Abingtons Planning Association (SAPA) was officially formed in January 2006. Dunmore Borough later became interested, and joined the group in April 2006.
The groups of municipalities should not be too large, so that representatives can meet and make decisions together, and so coordination needs aren’t overwhelming. SAPA, with 9 municipalities currently, is one of the largest of the many multi-municipal planning groups in PA. The City of Lancaster is part of an 11-municipality planning group, also one of the largest in the state. Williamsport is also part of a multi-planning group
*Back to Prosperity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania
Land Use Plan Map and Comprehensive Planning:
Communities that zone need to have a Comprehensive Plan.
The SAPA Plan is the Comprehensive Plan for each of the communities that created and adopted it. A Comprehensive Plan is intended to show a general view of what a community’s public and officials would ideally like to see in their community in the future. It includes sections on general land use, transportation, historic preservation, environmental protection, and more.
A Comprehensive Plan map has been described as a “loose shirt”. It fits quite well, but there is “wiggle room”. The SAPA map is drawn with a broad brush; it doesn’t show relatively small single uses such as one or two small existing commercial shops among a generally rural area, for example. Usually, a Comprehensive Plan’s reach exceeds its grasp. It is understood that a community might not be able to achieve everything stated in its Comprehensive Plan, but nonetheless, the goal is that it represent the community’s ideals, so that it can be used as a guide for decision-making, and to cite on grant applications.
The SAPA Land Use Plan map is the centerpiece of the Comprehensive Plan. To create this map, the planning team listened to the SAPA Committee representatives from each municipality to get an idea of the continuing desires of each community, along with comments by officials and public. They also studied an Existing Land Use map (current conditions on the ground rather than a zoning map), made from aerial photos and parcel usage information, and referred to maps of natural features such as steep slopes, floodplains, farmland, etc. These maps are also in the plan document.
The SAPA Plan looks 20 years into the future, so there are some features on the map that are not present now. One example: The green-colored roads to indicate pedestrian and bicycle-friendly routes were noted because SAPA representatives wanted their communities to be more bicycle-and/or pedestrian-friendly in the future.
When future work is done on those roads/streets, the municipalities may use the Comprehensive Plan to say that the work needs to include a sidewalk or path, etc., in order to achieve that goal. A Comprehensive Plan looks 20 years into the future, but it should be reviewed/updated approx. every 10 years. The planning firm has stated there is enough of each use indicated on the SAPA Land Use Plan map (i.e.. commercial, industrial, office, etc.) to last the SAPA group for more than 20 years.
Targeted Growth Areas:
Since our region is fortunate to have urban and rural areas in close proximity, and since the urban areas have the desire to regain population, commercial, and employment uses, most of the SAPA Plan’s targeted growth/investment areas are in the existing older urban areas. In the nine communities of SAPA, the following mixed-use targeted growth areas are proposed:
- Scranton City Center (magenta on map)
- Scranton’s City Center Extension (light pink).
- Borough Centers (pink) in each of the four boroughs
- To a smaller extent and scale, two Village Centers (orange).
- Employment Centers in Scranton and Dunmore (red). See p.109 and fold-out Matrix on p.197 of Plan.
- Mixed-use corridors: Five in Scranton, and an area along Rt 6/11 in the Abingtons (pink & gold striped).
The areas above are targeted by the SAPA Comprehensive Plan for new and upgraded infrastructure, new development/ redevelopment, and other tools. Thus, on grant applications for improvements to these areas, the SAPA Plan can be cited to show that these areas are intended for new/upgraded infrastructure, development/redevelopment, etc. Communities in Multi-municipal Comprehensive Plans such as SAPA receive added points on grant applications from most Pennsylvania agencies.
City Center incorporates adaptive reuse of existing buildings and “infill” of new buildings into the existing block structure. The emphasis is on mixed-use activities, with ground floor retail shops, restaurants, and services, and offices and/or residences above. The City Center provides a high level of transit service. Pedestrian accessibility, safety and amenities are emphasized, through provisions for traffic calming, landscaping, lighting, and appropriate street furniture. Development and redevelopment occurs with sensitivity to historic resources. Civic squares, parks, and urban green space are part of the use mix. The City Center designation applies to downtown Scranton.
Borough Centers are community focal points and hubs of mixed use activity that support residential, retail and office uses. Borough Centers contain traditional building forms and uses and new and infill development compatible with the existing character of each community. Centers incorporate pedestrian amenities and accessibility to public transportation. Civic open space, pocket parks, and green links to adjacent areas are also present. Borough centers are focused areas within Clarks Green, Clarks Summit, Dalton, and Dunmore.
Village Centers are relatively small in scale and include village-scale housing and limited non-residential uses focused primarily on services for people who live in the village and nearby. Examples of village centers include the Red Barn Village area in Newton Township and Waverly in Abington Township.
Urban Neighborhoods are primarily residential areas that may also include some supporting retail, office, and institutional uses. These areas have maintained and improved existing housing stock and a high rate of owner-occupied dwellings. In cases where demolition is required to promote public health and safety, infill development occurs that is compatible with the context. Urban greening is part of these neighborhoods and include parks, green linear connectors, and urban gardens, the latter emphasized in areas where demolition has occurred. Examples of urban neighborhoods are found in Dunmore and Scranton.
Mixed Use districts include moderate- to high-density residential development, retail, and office uses, often structured as ground floor retail shops restaurants and services, with offices or residences above. These districts also offer live-work structures, attractive to artisans for the co-location of residences and studios and to other individuals and families as well. These areas include adaptively-reused buildings and new infill structures, all completed with sensitivity toward historic resources and fitting within the existing context. Examples of mixed use districts are found surrounding the City Center in Scranton.
Mixed Use Corridors are linear activity concentrations and include a mix of moderate-to- high-density residential development with retail and office uses. These corridors are a destination for adjacent residential neighborhoods as well as for a broader area. Activities along these corridors are compatible with adjacent areas, although the corridor itself may be more intensely developed than neighborhoods alongside. Pedestrian access both to and from the surrounding areas and along the corridors is a hallmark, as is public transportation along the corridor. Examples in Scranton include portions of North Main Avenue and Providence Road, South Main Avenue, Pittston Avenue and Cedar Avenue. Examples in the Abingtons include portions of the 6/11 corridor both north and south of Clarks Summit.
Employment Centers are concentrations of commercial, industrial and some office development, with flex space to accommodate low-impact light industrial development, assembly, and high technology ventures. These centers are highly accessible to the transportation network and include areas where low intensity developments have been succeeded by higher-intensity structures of multiple stories that may include structured parking. Examples of Employment Centers are found along the Keyser Avenue Corridor in Scranton and along interchanges with I-81 in both Scranton and Dunmore.
Agriculture, Open Space & Limited, Very Low Density Residential areas are for the practice of agriculture and forestry and to be maintained as an open landscape. Limited, very low density residential development may occur in the form of farmettes that present a low impact on the natural or agricultural landscape.
Resource Conservation exists throughout the SAPA area and overlays other designations. The overlay provides the basis for policies that protect natural features. The resource conservation overlay is comprised of the following elements:
- Rural wooded areas;
- 150-foot buffer along all surface water features (ponds, lakes, waterways), and wetlands;
- Steep slopes.
Residential – Low Density development is characterized by pre-2008 single-family detached dwelling units located on large lots. Post-2008 development is highly clustered, with disturbance of land for dwelling construction relatively limited (sometimes referred to as “conservation development”) and a high rate of permanent open space and natural resource protection occurring in conjunction with land development. Residential – Low Density development is found in some of the more rural locations in the SAPA area.
Residential – Low/Moderate Density areas are located around the Borough Centers in the Abingtons and extending beyond into the surrounding townships. These areas are strongly residential in character and offer road, sidewalk, and trail connections to their local centers and green corridor links to larger open space areas. New development is compatible with existing neighborhoods.
It is important to remember that the Land Use Plan Map includes several conservation components throughout the SAPA area, consisting of the following elements:
- Recreational lands, including playing fields, parks, public and civic space and golf courses;
- Environmental resource protection, storm water management, natural areas retention and conservation, including surface water, floodplains, wetlands, steep slopes, and woodlands;
- Networks of trails;
- Agricultural and natural land preservation;
- Deed-restricted permanently undeveloped lands secured as part of land development approvals;
- Bicycle/Pedestrian network linking the different parts of the SAPA area and providing non-motorized access to open space and recreational resources as well as to schools, shopping, and cultural facilities;
- Buffers between incompatible land uses where feasible.
Principles of the Plan:
Eleven local municipalities in Lackawanna County have decided to develop a multi-municipal comprehensive plan that will let them work together to accomplish common goals while also meeting individual needs.
Taken together, the Scranton-Abingtons Planning Association encompasses land uses ranging from rural agriculture and forestry, to boroughs and suburbs, to city. While very diverse in landscape, the planning area municipalities, face issues including a shifting population, development pressure on rural lands, highway and transportation needs, and demands for community facilities and services.
As a result, the municipalities must work together to manage growth and change in order to provide for a future that maintains and improves their community’s quality of life.
The SAPA Comprehensive Plan addresses development and conservation initiatives from a regional perspective.
Inventories of demographics and land use are the basis for physical and policy plans regarding land use, housing, infrastructure, recreation, facilities, resources, and natural systems.
Custom products have been developed for the SAPA Comprehensive Plan, such as a web-based clearinghouse of existing information and mapping. The Plan provides an example of successful multi-municipal planning to help foster municipal and regional cooperation.