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William Dungee is one of the younger members of the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, but the married father of two believes his background in finance and management will be an asset to the committee.

“I’m pretty excited to be a part of this, looking forward to the future and ways to develop the city of Hermitage,” said the director of business and finance at Penn State Shenango in Sharon.

Dungee was one of the members of the committee who participated in an Oct. 30 kickoff event. City staffers took members of the committee on a tour of the city, gave them a brief history lesson, highlighted the street improvement and recreation projects of recent years and shared plans for future projects.

For many on the committee, the tour opened their eyes as to just how big the city is. Initially developed from land grants to Revolutionary War soldiers who were owed wages the federal government couldn’t pay, the former Hickory Township now stands at 30 square miles. “Square” is an odd term to apply to the city as it lost land when Sharon, Sharpsville, Wheatland and Farrell were chartered, leaving it a confusing mix of land masses that don’t all touch each other.

The city’s borders and those of its Shenango Valley neighbors are hard to comprehend, even for people who have lived in the valley for a long time.

Dungee, the former business manager for Farrell Area School District, said he never understood the lines between Farrell and Hermitage. Kolten Hoffman, account executive at Gilbert’s Risk Solutions and a four-year resident of Hermitage, said he didn’t realize that part of North Water Avenue is in Hermitage.

“When you golf here,” Assistant City Manager Gary Gulla said as the Shenango Valley Shuttle Service trolley drove past Avalon Country Club at Buhl Park, “you shoot holes 1 and 2 in Hermitage, golf the next 14 in Sharon, and end in Hermitage.”

Largely rural for most of its history, Hickory Township was home to the bustling village of Neshannock at the time of the Civil War, when the southeastern part of the township provided coal that fired industrial furnaces in Sharon and Sharpsville, said Marcia Hirschmann, city director of planning and development. Little if anything is left of the village that housed a blacksmith shop, a saloon, two butcher shops, a bottling works, a hotel and a clay factory.

Although what is now the city of Hermitage – Hickory Township became the city of Hermitage in 1975 -- maintains agricultural pockets, it also boasts Mercer County’s leading commercial corridor, an industrial sector that has expanded in recent years and slow but steady housing growth.

As much as possible, city officials have planned for this growth. They have participated in numerous studies, alone or in cooperation with neighboring communities, to address specific topics, such as the Route 18 and East State Street corridors, and recreation.

What officials believe they are lacking now is a comprehensive plan, the last of which was adopted in 1993.

A comprehensive plan is a municipality’s official statement of its vision, goals and objectives, and a guide for future development. It looks at how the city has changed since the last plan, and establishes priorities in housing, recreation, business development and land use, and guides officials in setting budgets and adopting legislation.

“We want to know what you think, not what you think we want you to think,” City Manager Gary Hinkson told the committee members. “The city really appreciates your involvement in this project.”

Eric Brown, chief financial officer at Gilbert’s Risk Solutions/Synergy Comp Insurance Co. and a married father of two, said he did not have a firm grasp of what a comprehensive plan is and was “still kind of foggy,” after the kickoff event, a sentiment Dungee said he shared.

Hoffman, the Gilbert’s account executive, said he understands comprehensive plans from a business perspective.

“Certainly, there’s a lot more public involvement (in a municipal plan) than there is in a private business plan,” he said.

Hoffman said he appreciated the background the tour provided.

“I grew up in West Middlesex,” he said. “It’s not very far away; far enough to not know the history of Hermitage.”

The committee members will be asked to think about issues that do not have easy answers, such as zoning and sanitary sewer expansions, and which can provoke neighbor disputes. That thought gave Lisa Evans pause, but it did not discourage the eAcademy Program Director for LindenPointe Development Corp.

“I’m learning,” said Evans, a married mother of three. “It will be an interesting process. I’m excited.”

Joe Pinchot, 11/14/2017

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