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  4. Comprehensive Planning in Lancaster City
  5. Introduction



Lancaster City has a long history of comprehensive planning. As one of the oldest inland cities in the country, it is at once a community that honors its past while forging new ground for its future. Since the first adopted City Comprehensive Plan in 1929, efforts to direct development and municipal decision-making have been formalized through plans, studies, and initiatives. While historical plans focused on development patterns and infrastructure, one theme remains constant and embodies the spirit of Lancaster—”higher life [for] each generation” (1929 Plan).

The City’s last Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1993, went beyond the traditional master plan approach to include intangible aspects of modern community life and resident well-being. Social, emotional, and environmental health were integral to Lancaster’s vision in the 1993 Plan, recognizing their relationship to the built environment and impact on quality of life. In 2007, the City did participate in and adopt a multi-municipal comprehensive plan known as Growing Together.

Although it has been nearly three decades since the last Comprehensive Plan update, Lancaster has been far from dormant in planning for its future. From 2015 to 2019 alone the City undertook an Economic Development Strategic Plan, a Strategic Plan to Cut Poverty in Half, a Ten-Year Plan for Public Art, a Complete Streets Guidebook, an Active Transportation Plan, a Housing and Walkability Analysis, and a Climate Action Plan to name a few.

Today, the City is focused on four strategic priorities: strong neighborhoods, safe places, a sustainable economy, and sound government. These priorities were echoed by the community throughout the Plan update process, further validating the administration’s vision for a stronger, more equitable Lancaster. Through this Plan update, it has been the intention of the City to connect past and present planning efforts, establish a cohesive and comprehensive vision, and set forth a means to achieve it. This Comprehensive Plan is intended as a call to action for this generation and the generations that follow.

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

Broadly, a comprehensive plan can be defined as a formal statement of a community’s shared vision for its future. It includes a series of goals and policies aimed at the achievement of this vision. As provided for by Section 301 of Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), a comprehensive plan document is comprised of text, maps, and charts relating to basic elements concerning a community’s future, such as:

  • Land use and development
  • Housing needs
  • The movement of people and goods
  • Community facilities and utilities
  • Compatibility of existing and proposed development locally and with neighboring municipalities
  • Natural and historic resource protection
  • Reliability of future water supply.

Comprehensive plans consider the interrelationships between such elements and evaluate both long- and short-term strategies for success, forming the foundation upon which future land use and policy decisions are based.

Once completed, a comprehensive plan directly or indirectly informs a number of municipal functions and initiatives. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Land Use Regulation: The comprehensive plan serves as the legal basis for municipal development regulations. Regulatory tools such as zoning, design review, and subdivision requirements may need to be updated over time to align with the community’s vision.
  • Budgeting & Capital Improvement Planning: The comprehensive plan can be used as a tool during the development of a municipality’s annual budget. The projects and programs in the plan are often included in the budgeting process to reflect the community’s priorities.
  • Grant Acquisitions: The comprehensive plan helps to strengthen grant application competitiveness. When a municipality formalizes clear ideas for its future, funding agencies are more likely to support initiatives derived from the plan. In practice, a comprehensive plan should be considered a “living document.” Although the chapters of a plan ultimately come together in a static physical form, it is the process undertaken to establish it and continuous efforts to review and implement it that keep it relevant and “off-the-shelf.”

Relationship to Other Plans

A comprehensive plan should be comprehensive in its scope, not its detail. While it is the City’s primary guiding document for land use decisions, it’s important to recognize that other municipal plans, studies, and policy instruments work together to express the community’s collective vision.

Our Future Lancaster plays an important role in bringing together broader themes and principles, but it is not intended to exhaustively address each individual issue or topic area. Rather, the Plan identifies connections to supporting planning efforts and implementation tools. It brings awareness to gaps where additional plans and actions may be necessary. To demonstrate these connections, references to other Lancaster City plans and studies have been provided.

As shown below, a comprehensive plan is an expression of the community’s vision. It provides the framework for development regulations, plans for various systems in the community (such as parks and transportation), and guidance for capital improvements and day to day operations. It is complemented by area plans that provide focused guidance for specific parts of the city.

Comprehensive Plans are an integral part of a community-wide vision for physical development and work in concert with other municipal plans and programs.

Why Update a Comprehensive Plan?

It is recommended, and required by Pennsylvania MPC, that a comprehensive plan be reviewed at least every 10 years. The City of Lancaster 1993 Comprehensive Plan still stands the test of time with respect to “the Citizens’ Vision for… a people-oriented, well-maintained, safe community in which to live, work, and play.” However, what makes a “livable community” has changed over time. With new generations come new trends, technologies, and world events that reshape everyday life.

By regularly updating its Comprehensive Plan, Lancaster is better positioned to:

  • Successfully deal with the challenges of a changing city and world
  • Build community consensus for Lancaster’s future
  • Preserve Lancaster’s positive qualities
  • Address Lancaster’s pressing concerns

The planning horizon for Our Future Lancaster is 20 years. In other words, the vision and policies of this Plan have been developed looking out to the early 2040s. Some of the Plan’s actions are more immediate or short-term, but they lay the groundwork for a long-term vision. All future actions undertaken over the next two decades should be consistent with the direction provided by the Comprehensive Plan. This does not preclude interim reviews and updates based on the changing needs and values of the community.

How to use the Comprehensive Plan

As a legal instrument of policy adopted by City Council, the Comprehensive Plan should regularly be referenced by elected officials, City staff, and review bodies as part of their decision-making processes. Referencing the Plan helps the City to be proactive, rather than reactive, in addressing future challenges and opportunities, and establishes a common thread that connects actions shaping the physical form of the city. In this manner, future investment and municipal actions should be evaluated on their ability to advance the Plan’s objectives and approved only when found to be in alignment with the overall community vision.

Outside of City government, there are many users that may find this Plan to be a valuable resource. The Plan is an expression of the community’s voice for the future. Residents and stakeholders are encouraged to take ownership of the Plan and assist with the realization of its goals. The public may also hold the City accountable by citing the Plan when providing feedback on future policies and development actions. Lastly, the Plan serves to communicate to local, county, and state agencies the values and priorities of the Lancaster community for consideration when undertaking their own plans and projects in the Lancaster area.