SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa.- A well-known and experienced Philadelphia land-use economist and strategist told both the South Whitehall Township commissioners and planning boards Wednesday night that land use, planning and overall development in the municipality's future will evolve into something quite different from what was happening prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Managing Principal and President Todd Poole of 4ward Planning Inc., a firm specializing in land-use economies for municipalities, said that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are far reaching for local governments as the virus has turned the lives of the public upside down.
However, he noted prior to the virus' outbreak that traditional brick-and mortar stores had been in a steady decline due primarily to the rise of e-commerce and that the pandemic has exacerbated the downfall.
He also pointed out the pre-pandemic overabundance of restaurants in the region will thin out in favor of cash-rich larger chains that can weather the recession more successfully.
Poole said that the former Kmart store on West Tilghman Street will most likely not be refilled with another large retail anchor, but repurposed into a mixed-use development that may even include residential units. The site may also be redeveloped with a light-industrial tenant thrown into the mix.
With regard to residential planning, Poole said that because of the high unemployment rate and the number of jobs that won't be resumed or refilled, young adults and even those approaching middle age will no longer be renting their own apartments. Instead, he said that multiple generations of families will live under one roof in larger houses to share expenses.
Poole said that South Whitehall home sales also will decline, not only because of record-high unemployment but also because although interest rates will probably remain at an all-time low, mortgage-lending standards with higher credit score and downpayment requirements will keep buyers at bay.
Finally, Poole commented that some former retail sites will be transformed into medical office spaces with the rise of what he called "doc in a box" centers.
And lastly, with regard to recreation, the engineer commented on the likely resurrection of the drive-in theater, which was wildly popular in the middle of the last century.
He said that planners should take into account outdoor entertainment venues will increase in popularity due to social distancing needs and increased technological advances in drive-in theaters.