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Planning Commission

This is the official blog of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

May 02

When the Sidewalk Ends

Posted on May 2, 2017 at 5:05 PM by Michael Stokes

Montgomery County is a suburban county with 61% of the all roadways containing no sidewalks.  Most walking trips in our county involve areas where the sidewalk ends, if even for a few hundred feet.  Closing these gaps is a difficult and thankless process that needs to be done.  Even though sidewalks are simple structures to build, the decision about where they are needed can involve many variables, primarily population density and how people need to get around.  Actually getting the sidewalk built depends upon persistence and successfully using every opportunity.  Certainly when properties are developed in areas with current or future pedestrian needs, sidewalks should be installed with the development- no debate.   In other areas, municipal leaders may need to get creative to fund the construction of sidewalks.  Creating a suburban environment where walking is safe and pleasant is not easy, and it will take time.  Let’s all work hard on this issue so that someday the sidewalk (or trail) will not end before our journey is over.  

Limerick_II_Sidewalkends
Sometimes when the sidewalk ends we encounter a barrier

End_Sidewalk
Or an annoying sign

Plymouthsidewalkends
Or we have to make our own trail

Sidewalk_ends
There may be a few barriers to get around

Sidewalks
Sometimes even builders can't figure out how to
connect sidewalks

Limerick_Sidewalk
But when they get it right as they did here in Limerick
Township, a sidewalk extension can be a pretty
picture.  

Apr 11

Banking in a World of Mobile Communication

Posted on April 11, 2017 at 8:50 AM by Michael Stokes

The expansion of communications technology has created dramatic changes in the way we manage our finances.  Secure online access to our banks enables everyone to perform a variety of financial transactions at any time, and in any place.  Bank of America estimates that their active mobile banking users have grown from about 12 million in 2012 to over 21.6 million in 2016.  No doubt that number will be even higher in years to come.  They further estimate that deposits at their banks have dropped by 50% over the past 5 years due to mobile access.  Mobile banking enables people to not only check account balances, but also allows clients to receive notifications, actively manage their investments or get loans with a few clicks of remote devices.   In the future even more mobile banking options will be available.

With all of this remote access to handle our financial needs, the question arises: “ Do we need banks?”  Ironically over the past few years, several new bank branches or financial centers as they are now called have been proposed in the county.  Many of these new financial centers are taking on a refreshed image, far different from cold, monolithic, and marble-floored banks of the past.   These financial centers are designed to be open, modern, vibrant and colorful spaces with various client friendly amenities.  Some financial institutions are even including non-traditional features such as coffee bars in their financial centers to attract patrons.

Financial centers are also being designed to integrate into other commercial environments such as grocery stores and larger retail spaces.   These co-located financial centers are designed to blend into existing retail spaces and work seamlessly with other retail and service providers.

Despite the changes in our financial world brought about by new communications technology, it appears that there will still be places in our communities where people work to ensure that the financial needs of local residents and businesses are well managed.  The bottom line here is that the old definitions of banking may no longer apply, and the past design standards governing financial institutions may need to be rethought.   But even with all of the communications technology, financial institutions will continue to have a physical presence in our communities, yet, there will be changes in the way they look and function.
IMG_5718
Banks of the past, cold and unfriendly

PNC Bank II
New banks are more inviting and incorporate sustainable design

West Norriton Citadel Bank
New banks use unique architectural design to attract attention and welcome clients

Feb 07

Fitness Center Growth in Montgomery County

Posted on February 7, 2017 at 6:22 PM by Michael Stokes

The fitness center growth in Montgomery County has been significant over the past decade.  Now every resident has a variety of fitness centers to choose from located near their home or place of work.  As a result, maybe this will be the year that we all fulfill our new year’s resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle.

Fitness centers largely grew up out of an exercise revolution that started in California in the late 1930’s.  Early recreation pioneers such as Jack LaLanne first opened exercise gyms for the public.  Now fitness centers are proposed in all shapes and sizes tailored to meet the exercise needs of everyone.

Basically, the fitness center is a health, recreational, and social facility geared towards exercise, sports, and other physical activities. It may be a for-profit commercial facility or institutional center such as a YMCA.   

The fitness center enables individuals to work out on their own or be part of an organized, group instructional program such as spinning classes, yoga, martial arts, or team sports.  Most facilities offer trainer services to help individuals safely achieve fitness goals.   A fitness center may provide outdoor activities with features such as a running track, swimming pool and sport playing fields.  In addition to providing ways to improve physical fitness,  a fitness center may also provide for social needs with seating areas, non-workout classes, a juice or snack bar, sport spectator seating, saunas, hot tubs, and day care services.  Physical therapy providers can also be collocated within a fitness center.

Fitness center buildings vary in size and design. Small facilities may only include a single room fitness area and locker rooms with a small support/administrative area.  Large facilities include gymnasiums, racquetball courts, indoor and/or outdoor pools, running tracks, food service and retail spaces, and child care.

Fitness centers are generally viewed as commercial uses located in retail districts, shopping centers or business parks so that they are convenient to their patrons.  Some fitness centers are located in repurposed industrial or retail buildings, though most large fitness centers are in new specially designed buildings.  Many fitness center users make short visits of about an hour, typically during the early morning before work, or the evening after work.  Saturday use is typically very high at most fitness centers.  To accommodate the lifestyles of their members, most fitness centers operate with long hours, seven days a week.

Local planning issues to consider in reviewing proposed fitness centers include:  traffic, building height and size, setbacks and buffers, outdoor use impacts to surrounding properties, lighting due to their often lengthy hours of operation, and accessibility by non- motorized traffic.

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A former elementary school was transformed into a fitness center in
Plymouth Township

LA_Fitness
Fitness centers are open long hours to help us all keep in shape

Retro_Fitness
Some fitness centers occupy retail space in shopping centers

Spring Valley YMCA III
Montgomery County has several excellent YMCA facilities providing a
variety of services