The main reason I like the idea of county-level local government is regional land use planning and zoning. Moving zoning powers to the county or bi-county level would bring order to the Lehigh Valley’s growth, by designating where new housing and offices can be built and which areas should stay preserved as open space.
The other reason to prefer regional zoning though is that the state forces every municipality to provide for every use, no matter how small the municipality is. It’s not a stupid policy – zoning has historically been used by white suburban folks to keep low-income folks and minorities out of the neighborhood, through restrictions on multi-family housing, and by requiring large lot sizes for homes. By requiring all municipalities to zone some areas for higher density housing, the state law is designed to prevent this kind of exclusionary zoning.
The other reason for the state law is that municipalities try to use zoning to keep out locally-unpopular land uses (LULUs) like sewer plants, landfills, drug rehab centers, prisons, etc. If each municipality had it their way, none of them would approve any of these uses. So the state has to force each to designate a zone where these things are allowed.
The trouble with this is that PA has 2562 municipalities. Does it really make sense to require each one to provide for all possible uses? Bethlehem Township is now having to zone for a prison after getting in trouble with the state. But it’s kind of stupid because nobody would actually want to build a prison in Bethlehem Township.
Regional zoning would improve the situation, since you would only have to provide for all uses at the County level, not the municipal level. The regional plan would allow people to zone for these uses in places where it actually makes sense to build them, rather than forcing everybody to come up with someplace in their small land area to put landfills and prisons, even if that doesn’t make any sense.