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Pennsylvania municipalities *should* update their zoning ordinances to reflect societal changes. In the United States, one of the most significant societal changes of recent years is the rise of e-commerce and the expansion of the logistics industry (the part of the supply chain that includes acquiring, storing, and shipping goods to their final destination).
How to Manage Big Commercial Development
As online shopping has become a major source of retail goods in the 21st century, logistics industry practices have changed, and so has the industry’s demand for land. Even though they are commonly called “warehouses,” today’s logistics facilities are not the long-term-storage-based warehouses of the past — they are massive distribution and fulfillment centers with the potential to generate far-reaching traffic, noise, aesthetic, and environmental impacts unanticipated by zoning ordinances drafted long before this development pattern was even a remote possibility.
Municipalities cannot ignore this new pattern of development and cannot simply ban distribution and fulfillment centers from within their borders (this would be unconstitutional). They must proactively plan for the day when distribution and fulfillment centers come to town by adopting ordinances that reflect the reality that these land uses differ significantly from traditional warehouses.
A Powerful Tool for Local Governments
These are the reasons why PennFuture has created a Model Logistics Zoning Ordinance. Zoning ordinances are the most powerful tool municipalities have to control how land is used and to ensure that community growth is orderly and reasonable and does not outpace a community’s ability to provide adequate water, sewer, school, recreational, and public safety services and employment opportunities. Zoning is also a way for municipalities to preserve valuable natural resources such as forests, waterways, wetlands, aquifers, and floodplains by directing development away from these areas and/or imposing restrictions on development that may impact these resources. Zoning also provides a predictable regulatory environment for developers and the public.
PennFuture’s Model Ordinance gives municipalities a template for updating their zoning ordinances to address the modern reality of the logistics industry and its impact on communities and the environment. The Model Ordinance provides updated definitions for logistics uses and divides them into three categories based on their size and ability to generate traffic. It also imposes restrictions based on these characteristics. For example, under the Model Ordinance, logistics facilities that generate significant truck traffic must be located within a half-mile of an expressway, install signage to direct truck drivers away from local roads, and provide overnight truck parking and amenities for drivers. Large facilities (over 25,000 sq. ft.) must have buffer yards to separate them from neighboring properties and must plant trees and shrubs to lessen their visual and noise impact.
All logistics facilities, regardless of size, must incorporate certain environmental protections such as a minimum 100-foot wide buffer zone around all waterways, lakes, and ponds and a limitation on woodland disturbance. All facilities are also eligible for impervious pavement credits to mitigate the negative impact of the vast impervious surfaces they generate. Finally, PennFuture recommends that all but the smallest, least impactful logistics facilities be designated as conditional uses or special exception uses, regardless of which zoning district they are in. This provides municipalities and the public the opportunity to review and comment on proposed facilities during a public hearing to determine whether they are appropriate for the proposed location.
PennFuture urges municipalities across Pennsylvania to review their existing zoning ordinances to determine whether they adequately address the modern logistics uses and the significant impacts that these massive facilities generate. If they do not, PennFuture urges municipalities to adopt its Model Logistics Use Ordinance before it’s too late.
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