Boroughs are a significant, yet often overlooked, asset in Lancaster County. As the county seeks to accommodate growth while maintaining Lancaster’s unique identity, reinvesting in boroughs makes great sense and can be fast-tracked if residents and small businesses see these important places as opportunities.
There are 18 boroughs in Lancaster County, geographically well-distributed and ranging from the smallest borough, Christiana, with a population under 1,500, to Ephrata, the largest, with almost 15,000 residents. Collectively, more Lancaster County residents live in a borough than live in Lancaster city.
A key selling point of the boroughs is that they boast the infrastructure to support a higher density of residents while serving as regional centers for employment, entertainment, culture and education.
The existing infrastructure and higher density also promotes walkability. New and planned trail connections linking these anchor places provide opportunities for recreation and commuting, lessening the need to drive.
Each of Lancaster’s boroughs has a unique identity that reflects the character of the surrounding area, historical events or institutions.
For example, the railroad draws people to Strasburg, and the underground railroad has a history in Christiana. Columbia and Marietta share both a trail and the Susquehanna River. Millersville and Elizabethtown have large educational institutions that are strong economic drivers.
While these communities have served as regional anchors for some time, more recently they have started to attract private investment. Several current projects are helping to underscore the potential untapped value boroughs offer.
Consider the conversion of the former Wilbur Chocolate factory in Lititz to condos, commercial space and a hotel, or the repurposing of a truck dealership to a bakery, restaurant and marketplace in Manheim.
In Columbia, a historic market house is being reinvigorated, with additional plans to convert a former potato chip factory to a hotel. The Declaration House project in Denver is an excellent example of a public-private partnership, transforming a nuisance property into a mixed-use, social service hub.
Small towns, big opportunities
Reinvestment and redevelopment in boroughs are directly aligned with the county’s recently adopted comprehensive plan, “Places 2040.”
The county seeks to create even greater local places building off existing infrastructure and density. The plan also advances the creation of character zones to reflect the different regions of the county, with boroughs at the core. Furthermore, it highlights the need to concentrate growth in already populated areas, lessening the pressure to expand into open space.
Small professional service businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations are wise to consider setting up shop in a borough. With available storefront spaces, generally lower rents, good accessibility and visibility and proximity to residents, nearly every borough boasts opportunities. These types of businesses are foundational, increasing daytime traffic by bringing in customers and clients.
Similarly, boroughs offer a unique combination of the walkability of a city and the lower-key nature of the suburbs, providing a great place to live. The higher density and smaller size of boroughs often leads to tight-knit communities with residents that know each other, care about their communities and support ways for individuals to get involved in civic affairs.
Additionally, several boroughs offer quick access to transportation with Amtrak stations or close proximity to major roads.
Like the initial resurgence of Lancaster city in the early 2000s, there are leaders with a vision for many of the boroughs who are creating momentum.
Volunteers in borough governments, managers, business owners and borough residents are all stakeholders who play a part in navigating good growth and investment.
These positive signs of growing momentum in many boroughs, combined with changing demographics and increasing development pressure in Lancaster County, make now an important time to support even stronger investment in the 18 local boroughs.
• Ezra Rothman is manager of economic development strategies at Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.