The primary existing official document for guiding land development in Pittsfield is its Zoning Ordinance adopted by the city in the year 1972. The zoning ordinance stands alone, without being supported by a policy or a vision document like a Comprehensive Plan. Consequently, it has not been able to guide development in Pittsfield in a very coherent fashion. This is reflected in the existence of numerous variances in zoning within the city and sprawling development into agricultural land at the fringes. Moreover, such a zoning ordinance, which is not based on a comprehensive plan, has less credibility in the courts of law making the position of the city vulnerable in the case of a land-use dispute.
The current zoning ordinance of the city is conventional; dividing the city into several ‘use districts’ (Figure 3.1) that separates out residential from other uses, even small businesses such as a corner store or a café. Conventional zoning methods that create single use areas segregating areas where people live and work and shop for their daily needs is contrary to how development has historically taken place in Pittsfield. This kind of zoning makes the city very auto-dependant; different uses are zoned out from the residential areas and therefore are too far to be walked to. While the downtown and the city center are accessible on foot or by bicycle from most of the surrounding neighborhoods of Pittsfield the strip development along the eastern and western fringes of Washington Street are accessible only by car. If this pattern of strip development continues unhindered it would seriously limit the mobility of people without a car or of people who cannot drive.
From a planning perspective both the distribution and the percentage of the elderly population within the city are important as the elderly are often less mobile and hence face the negative consequences of sprawling development more than most other age groups. A comparison of the population pyramids of Pittsfield and Illinois in figure 3.2 show that Pittsfield is a relatively older community in the state of Illinois. While only 12% of the people in Illinois were over the age of 65 in the year 1990, over 25% of Pittsfield population were 65 years or older. Figure 2.2 also shows the spatial distribution of the elderly population in Pittsfield in the year 1990 (based on census block data). The elderly are distributed all over the city with a greater concentration on the eastern parts of the city. However the trend of commercial development in recent times in Pittsfield along the western fringes of town is moving daily amenities further and further away from the residents of the city.
Figure 3.3 compares two alternatives for growth in Pittsfield. Further strip development on the fringes of the city along Washington Street would lead to lesser accessibility, a disruption of the historic compact structure of the city and indiscriminate encroachment of farms or open space. However contiguous development allows the city to grow in a natural, environmentally conscious, sustainable manner that allows greater accessibility to all the residents of the city.
The analysis shows that Pittsfield needs a guiding document to direct future growth in a way that enhances the quality of life of its residents. The present zoning ordinance of Pittsfield merely regulates the use of new development. It does not provide a vision as to how Pittsfield should grow. A major goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to maintain and enhance the historic physical character of Pittsfield through the future land use plan.