Bi-partisan support in Harrisburg for zoning changes could lead to more and different types of housing in Conshohocken, Whitemarsh, and Plymouth

Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg are in agreement that there needs to be legislation that would drive the construction of various types of new housing in local communities that are viewed at having restrictive zoning laws. Democrats believe the legislation will positively impact affordable housing and be more equitable. Republicans believe it will increase the rights of property owners. The end result is the same. It would take local control of zoning at least partially away from municipalities.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on March 21st titled “Pa. zoning laws are strangling home construction, and lawmakers want changes” about the issue.

Legislation that is about to be proposed by State Sen. John DiSanto (R., Dauphin) will do the following as outlined by the Inquirer’s article:

The legislation he is introducing includes reducing parking requirements, which add prohibitive costs to many apartment developments, to limiting minimum lot size requirements that make it very difficult to build more affordable housing in many municipalities by requiring that individual units be built on large parcels.

The legislation also would legalize duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in single-family zones, depending on a town’s population size. For example, in towns with a population of at least 5,000, duplexes would be allowed in single-family zones. In towns with a population of at least 20,000, developers could build up to a fourplex. Manufactured homes and accessory dwelling units — an apartment above a suburban garage or in a standalone tiny house — would be legal in any place zoned for single-family-detached housing.

So locally what is the impact? West Conshohocken would not be impacted at all as it does not have 5,000 residents. Conshohocken has over 5,000 residents. Whitemarsh and Plymouth townships, are both approaching 20,000 with just below 18,500 residents in 2020 according to the U.S. Census.

Borough of Conshohocken
The one zoning district in Conshohocken that would be most impacted by the proposed legislation, when it comes to what would be required based on population, is Conshohocken’s BR (Bedroom)-1 District. That district currently allows only singles and twins (unless its grandfathered in). The requirements of the proposed legislation wouldn’t be that noticeable as it would only require the addition of duplexes. Duplexes are indistinguishable from twins in appearance. The difference is that duplexes sit on property with a single owner. BR-1 is shown in yellow in the zoning map above.

In regards to Conshohocken, one thing that is not known is whether the legislation would impact a historical overlay that was adopted across the borough in 2018. The overlay puts a layer of protection over single family homes that are detached and more than 50 years old (so with each year, more homes become protected). The overlay prevents a property owner from knocking down one of these homes unless it can be shown that it is structurally unsafe.

When the overlay was created, the intent was to “maintain established densities and development patterns,” which is directly in conflict with the purposed of the proposed legislation. You could see this challenged.

Plymouth Township (view zoning map)
Plymouth Township has four zoning districts (A, AA, B, and C) that only permit single family detached homes. With the population over 5,000 currently, the proposed legislation would result in duplexes being allowed. If the population increased by about 1,500 to 20,000, up to fourplexes would be permitted.

Whitemarsh Township (view zoning map)
Whitemarsh Township has six zoning districts (AAAA, AAA, AA, A, B, and C) that only permit single family detached homes. With the population over 5,000 currently, the proposed legislation would result in duplexes being allowed. If the population increased by about 1,500 to 20,000, up to fourplexes would be permitted.

So What Does This Mean?
Please note that this article only uses what is proposed by Republican State Sen. John DiSanto. There is a similar version in the state house, by the Democrats. They will have to negotiate a final version together, which may alter the details (for example, the population requirements) outlined in this article.

But if it passes with these requirements, what could you see? In impacted residential districts, it could bring more housing and increased density (just the things the local municipalities have been trying to prevent for the most part). While more density and housing wouldn’t be very noticeable in Conshohocken, because there is already a mix of housing types on most blocks, it would be quite noticeable in Plymouth and Whitemarsh. Imagine two large single family homes with a quadplex between them in a newer neighborhood.

We are going to stay on top of this proposed legislation and once is formally introduced, report on whether state representatives are for or against it.

UPDATE – On April 5th, DiSanto’s proposed bill was referred to state’s senate’s urban affairs and housing committee.