Cumberland County Courthouse

Cumberland County Courthouse is located on the Square in Carlisle.

Following months of research and citizen surveys, Cumberland County has released a draft version of its proposed comprehensive plan update for public review.

The 2017 plan revision can be viewed at www.ccpa.net/planning. The county’s planning department will take public feedback on the draft through Aug. 31, according to a county news release.

Comprehensive plans are maintained by many levels of government, and are typically long-range guides and projections of the area’s needs in terms of housing, education, infrastructure and other concerns. Such plans typically inform policy decisions, particularly when it comes to zoning ordinances and land development requirements.

While Pennsylvania law requires such plans to be reviewed and revised every 10 years, Cumberland County has done updates on a more frequent basis, with the last revision approved in 2014.

The new update centers on a citizen survey conducted by the Center for Land Use and Sustainability at Shippensburg University.

The county mailed out 6,200 cards to random residents asking for feedback, garnering 399 responses. But another 2,593 people completed the survey on their own volition after hearing about it online or in the media.

“We did look separately at the random sample versus the total responses, but there was very little difference between those two groups,” said Dorlisa Minnick, a professor of social policy at Shippensburg who conducted the survey.

The responding population did, however, represent a somewhat specific demographic. The average age of respondents was 51. The average age for the county as a whole is around 41, according to the latest US Census update.

The group of citizens interested in responding to the survey also skewed better-educated. Roughly 70 percent of respondents had a college degree or higher, even though Census data shows only 33 percent of county residents overall have such education.

“It was clearly a higher-educated group that took the survey, which is interesting in itself,” Minnick said.

Survey results

The bulk of the survey asked residents to rank land development and economic needs on a scale of one to five, with one being unimportant or unnecessary, and five being the most critical.

Reuse of existing development sites scored highly, with 95 percent of participants ranking it a four or five. Yet only 58 percent ranked the item “providing grants and financing opportunities to businesses” similarly high, indicating a mixed view on redevelopment stimulus efforts.

Questions about the county’s housing situation also painted a contrasting picture. While 83 percent of survey participants ranked it important to preserve and rehabilitate the existing housing stock, only 58 percent said it was important to provide housing for all income levels.

Further, the perception of how much housing was needed varied with the type. Only 17 percent of respondents said there was too much single family housing in the county; 29 percent said there were too many town homes; and 40 percent said there were too many mobile homes.

Minnick said, however, that the average density of mobile homes in Pennsylvania is 4.1 percent, an average that includes urban areas that have none. For a relatively rural area, Cumberland County’s’ number is not much higher, with 4.8 percent of the housing stock in mobile homes. A truly rural county like Perry has 12 percent of its housing in trailer units.

“The point is that people’s perception is far worse than reality when it comes to lower-tier housing,” Minnick said. “They believe there is way too much whereas statistically we’re just slightly higher.”

The draft of the comprehensive plan notes some of this conflict, pointing out that the county has an undersupply of smaller housing units compared to large family homes.

“As average household size continues to decline, this issue will become more significant,” the comprehensive plan says. The draft plan also says 46 percent of county renters are unable to afford the average market rent for a two-bedroom unit of $845.

Survey results also show a predictable view on what commercial land use the county does and doesn’t need. Approximately 65 percent of participants said there is too much warehousing, and 4 percent said there is not enough.

Conversely, 47 percent of survey respondents said there is too little manufacturing, and 54 percent said there was not enough agriculture. Further, 81 percent said they would support contributing additional county taxes toward farm preservation, at an average of $10 in additional tax.

The comprehensive plan draft identifies “promoting landscaping, screening, and buffering to mitigate the effects of intense development” as a key strategy to address concerns over warehousing encroaching on the benefits of open space and farm preservation.

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