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Forging an identity for hermitage

-Joe Pinchot

The Hermitage Comprehensive Plan is supposed to help forge an identity for the future of the city. Comp plan steering committee member Matt Liburdi was having a hard time pinpointing the city’s current identity at the committee’s Feb. 26 meeting.

Hermitage doesn’t have a downtown like Sharon, historical buildings like Mercer, or a lasting nickname like Pittsburgh’s “the Steel City.”

“What is the answer we’re seeking to this question?” Liburdi said. “Is it culture? Is it environment? Is it things?”

At a focus group held earlier in the day, Hickory High School students struggled with the same question, said Amy Wiles, lead senior planner with Mackin Engineering Co., the lead consultant for the comp plan project.

As the steering committee worked through what the city does have – the county’s leading commercial sector; varied housing opportunities; growing recreational offerings; a strong industrial sector; an often forgotten, but important, agricultural component; and a steady population – things started to coalesce for Liburdi.

“That’s what Hermitage is about right now -- this whole mixed thing,” he said.

Committee member Meg Grober worked on a concept that would describe “this whole mixed thing.” In a word, the city is vibrant, she said.

“We want people to think that of Hermitage,” she said. “Younger people want something that’s vibrant. Older people want something that’s vibrant.”

City officials are starting to reach out to the Hermitage community to get people’s thoughts on this issue and many others. The focus group, which attracted about 40 people, also included a few members of the business community and representatives of the eCenter@LindenPointe, the business incubator in the city. Officials were left encouraged about how the process will be received.

“The students, in particular, are very engaged,” Wiles said. “They had a lot of good things to say.”

More focus groups are planned with more young people, members of city advisory boards, developers, real estate agents, members of the disability community and senior citizens, among others, Wiles said.

The city has created a web site, hermitage2030.com, which provides information about the comp plan process, and gives people a way to make comments.

The city will support the online effort through its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and use the hashtag #hermitage2030 to help foster interest in the project and monitor social media traffic.

A survey is being prepared to collect information on specific issues: “What factors contribute most to quality of life? What type of development does Hermitage need more or less of? What should the city be spending its money on?

City officials can run as many surveys as they like, Wiles said, as they try to answer the central question of the comp plan:

“What does the community want?”

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