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The Hermitage Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee got down to business Dec. 11 with a discussion of the plan’s focus, branding and goals, seeking to distill the varied expertise and experiences of the committee members into a vision for the city’s future.

The plan will project what the city should look like in the future, and set a framework for getting there, said Amy Wiles, lead senior planner with Mackin Engineering Co., the consultant hired to formulate the plan.

The plan is not legally binding, but will be a guide for elected officials, staff members and advisory board members to follow in making decisions about land use, recreation, development and other concerns, she said.

“It’s policy,” Wiles said. “It is laying that foundation for other legally binding ordinances.”

Ordinances such as the zoning ordinance, which will be amended as part of the plan process.

“That’s the most effective way of implementing” the plan, Wiles said of amending the zoning ordinance.

The plan is not about what city officials want or Mackin wants, Wiles said. It’s about what city residents, property owners and business owners want, she said.

The committee members are tasked with talking to people they know and organizations they belong to, getting a handle on the issues people want addressed, and bringing them back to city officials to be discussed as part of the plan, said Dan Gracenin, a member of the committee and executive director of Mercer County Regional Planning Commission.

Committee member Tom Kuster said the committee members will have to do a sales job in the community.

“There’s going to be skepticism out there -- ‘What exactly are they trying to do now?’” he said. “That’s what we have to get over.”

Committee member Chris Gill, Hickory High School principal, said he wants to read the 1993 comprehensive plan the city is working to replace. Kuster, retired city solicitor, said he wants to read the zoning ordinance and its amendments, and asked city officials for a chronology of the amendments.

The plan should be highly focused, guiding a number of issues onto the same path, said committee member John Hudson, president of Hudson Companies of Hermitage.

“That one focus could probably cover a dozen items in a comprehensive plan,” he said.

Hudson added that he hopes the city follows the lead of Lawrence County, which is seeking to create a “healthy community,” and larger, growing cities such as Austin, Texas, where people are always out walking and biking, and taking in the plethora of restaurants available.

“When I go to Austin, it’s very vibrant,” he said.

Committee member Eric Brown, chief financial officer of Gilbert’s Risk Solutions/Synergy Comp Insurance Co., said the city should look at the growing technology community in Pittsburgh, and seek to capitalize on the natural gas cracker plant under construction in Beaver County.

Hudson suggested the hashtag #Plan2030 as an example of something that could reach young people and easily give folks an understanding of what the plan hopes to accomplish.

Speaking of younger people, Committee Member Meg Grober of the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission suggested getting the eCenter@LindenPointe, the technology incubator created by the city, involved, and Hudson piggybacked on that idea by saying Hickory High School students could help with the social media aspects of the plan.

Other areas of interest for committee members include reusing and repurposing the Shenango Valley Mall property; balancing the need for growth with maintaining the city’s rural areas; setting tax abatement policy; and quality of life issues.

Committee member Matt Liburdi of the Hermitage Planning Commission asked about the useful life of the plan.

“Is the intent of this plan to be relevant for 25 years?” he said.

The goal is 10 years, but the committee should look beyond a decade, Wiles said. Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Coxe said you can never predict all changes with the city, such as land availability, but the plan should be useful for unexpected events.

“It’s more of a living document,” he said.

Joe Pinchot, 12/18/2017

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