Chester City is preparing a new zoning ordinance in hopes of making way for more development in the central business district and possibly spurring a budding arts community, so it reached out to local business leaders and area artists earlier this month to explore what development possibilities the creative community would like to see.
“I made sure we had this meeting because of the work we’ve been doing over the course of the last year and a half in Chester,” said Ricardo Soto Lopez, Chester’s Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) fellow. “How do you integrate arts culture and history as far as economic development? These are the tools to figure out how to integrate the arts and culture of Delaware County.”
The city Planning Department hosted the meeting inside the conference room that sits snuggly next to the City Council space. Color coded maps of Chester’s landscape lay on a huge table where visitors gathered around. About 25 or more people packed the room.
Chester Arts Alive, Hedgerow Theatre, Art on Avenue of the States, the Yes We Can Achievement & Cultural Center, Widener University and a number of property owners were represented and eager to share what they thought needed to happen to help Chester thrive “once again.”
“Our main purpose of having you here is to hear your ideas,” said Charles Schmel, a Bethlehem-based urban research development consultant. “We’re working on preparing a new zoning ordinance and some other company development regulations in the city.”
Zoning policies regulate the use of land and buildings through designating different land properties/parcels in the city as “commercial”, “industrial”, “residential” or “recreation.” Each of these designations limit properties to a specific type of use, often to avoid creating conflicts between different types of usage. Zoning can also control heights of buildings and signage as well as parking. All of these regulations can arguably help or hinder further development.
“Don’t think that zoning is going to create miracles. It cannot create a market,” cautioned Schmel. “It can allow for a wide range of activities in certain locations.”
A question about the future of Deshong Museum was raised by Helen Whittington, president of the Edgmont Apartments Resident Council. She and a number of senior residents have been successful in moving the city to reopen the park for permit-issued recreational use by residents.
“Are we trying to figure out what we’re going to do with Deshong Park among the whole lot?” asked Whittington. “We want to know whether you’re going to take away some of Deshong and make it a business or are we trying to say that we want Deshong to stay a park?”
Schmel said Deshong’s future is just one property in question in respect to the overall redevelopment of the city. He and others also stressed that, by court order, whatever is done on the property has to generate revenue that will help pay for the park’s upkeep.
Also discussed was how to connect Chester’s general residential community to the waterfront.
“When you talk about (I-95) and how (it) bi-sected the city into two sections, it’s the same way (Route) 291 is now,” explained Bill Payne, Chester City planner. “(Route) 291 is so wide that it kind of separates the city from the waterfront and I’ve always felt that the waterfront, the river, is a real urban amenity so people should be able to have easy access to that.”