Scenic byway may put more teeth in local ordinances

The Brandywine Conservancy will be hosting an informational meeting on the proposed Brandywine Scenic Byway, a concept that could strengthen local zoning ordinances, according to conservancy Senior Advisor John Snook.

Communities have been discussing the byway project for about 10 years and five municipalities — Chadds Ford, Pennsbury, Pocopson, Kennett and East Bradford townships — have members on a byway commission that will establish the basic concepts of the byway, which then gives the municipalities the ability to impose stricter standards along the roads involved.

Snook referred to the commission as effectively a planning commission that will guide the byway project. That project is a way to “nudge projects.”

The Brandywine Scenic Byway begins at Wilmington’s Rodney Square and heads to the border with Pennsylvania. At that point it splits, with one section coming up Route 52 and another coming up Creek Road.

The byway comes up those two roads to Lenape. There it makes a figure eight loop up to Strasburg Road at the edge of West Chester Borough. In all, it covers about 25 miles of Pennsylvania roadway.

It’s a little more than that, however.

“What is it other than a scenic byway? It’s a lot of things in this area because it tells a lot of stories,” Snook said.

It tells five stories, he said. It’s a drive through the heart of the Brandywine School of Art, through the area of the Battle of Brandywine. It’s also the story of the less visible Underground Railroad that was the route for escaped slaves prior to the end of the Civil War.

Snook added that it shows a glimpse of the evolution of the landscape prehistorically, but most notably during the period of European settlement.

“The patterns, the mill dams, the farm houses, the stone houses, the stone roads between fields. And today it’s the story of a suburban lifestyle,” he said.

Snook, who is also a supervisor in East Bradford, said the purpose of the byway is almost in the mind of the individual.

“There is no one purpose. There are different purposes in different people’s minds. The purpose of the byway is to, one, garner recognition and two, in a sense, to establish a platform for nudging projects, or funding projects that improve the quality of the byway, or improve the quality of protection of the intrinsic resources, scenic and historic,” he said.

There is also an element of regulation and ordinance involved in the project. While the commission doesn’t make ordinances for the various townships, it, as a planning entity, gives participating municipalities the ability to enact stronger ordinances within the corridor itself along the roadways involved.

One of the recommendations to date is to prohibit billboards and electronic signs along the byway, but it does not eliminate all signage.

“It will make the sign ordinances consistent as far as they affect the byway through all five municipalities,” Snook said. “Ideally they would have similar standards so you’d have a seamless experience.”

Other recommendations include interpretive signs that tell the various stories and for areas where motorists can pull over to read a sign or take in a view.

“In a sense it manages visitation,” Snook said.

The byway status does not mandate any particular legislation other than the prohibition of billboards.

The federal government and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would also be involved. The federal government establishes the basic framework and mandates there not be any billboards, and PennDOT would fund and enforce the plan once adopted.

While the project would allow for stricter codes if a township deemed that necessary, it would also make it easier for property owners to get involved with conservation easements.

Snook said the byway designation would almost guarantee that the IRS would not be able to challenge the value of the easement.

The June 9 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the lecture room at the Brandywine River Museum of Art is informational in nature and one in which residents can make public comment.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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