The city of Hermitage's 20-month process of creating a comprehensive plan ended June 26 when city commissioners unanimously adopted the plan.
“Now, the heavy lifting begins,” said Commissioner William J. Moder III. “At least we have a plan.”
The 102-page document of the city's vision and values for the next decade or more replaces one completed in 1993, when the city, and the surrounding community, was a far different place. While the plan is not legislation, it sets policy and priorities for city officials that could turn into legislation. It also will be used in setting priorities in funding and staff time.
During the planning process, city officials hired consultant Mackin Engineering of Pittsburgh, created a steering committee to help guide discussion and offer thoughts on specific issues, and sought public input through public meetings, focus groups and a survey.
“I would just like to thank the comp plan committee that spent a lot of time – it was volunteers, and there was over 20 people that gave up a lot of time to meet with staff,” Moder said. “We also had outside consultants, and I would like to recognize their efforts and thank them for the work.”
The resulting plan sets goals of creating a vibrant city center, maintaining prosperous neighborhoods, working toward improving the health of the residents, helping promote the already prosperous economy, and developing complete corridors that make sure city streets are attractive and conducive to walking and biking.
The plan also looks at current land use, identifies “character areas” based on land use, and seeks to maintain those character areas by preserving rural aspects where they exist, promoting the health of neighborhoods and allowing flexibility of use within zoning districts.
Commissioner William G. McConnell Jr. said he was miffed at recent press coverage that focused on sidewalks and making the city more friendly to walkers.
“This is a comprehensive plan,” McConnell said. “There is much more to this plan than just the idea that we're gonna put more sidewalks here in the city of Hermitage. As I understand the vision statement, it's about having a vibrant city center, walkable city center. I think the emphasis should be on the vibrancy of the city center and not so much on the walkability.”
The heavy lifting Moder talked about is implementing the plan.
“This is going to be a massive undertaking,” said Assistant City Manager Gary M. Gulla. “It's going to be an intense process.”
The first implementation effort will be amending the zoning ordinance, which Mackin will stay on board for. Early zoning items to be looked at include signs, buffers and chickens – yes, chickens, which now are not allowed in most areas.
“Marcia's got a whole list of issues we've been addressing over the years,” Gulla said of city Director of Planning and Zoning Marcia A. Hirschmann.
There also are likely to be proposed tweaks to the permitted uses in the zoning districts to allow developers more flexibility, which was recommended in the comprehensive plan.
Hirschmann said officials are looking at adopting all of the zoning ordinance amendments at one time, but that could change. The commissioners will be able to advise the board how they want to proceed “once we have a handle on what that might look like,” she said.
“We could, theoretically, do the whole thing by early next year,” she said.
City Manager Gary P. Hinkson said officials are putting together an implementation report that will be distributed the week of July 8 to the commissioners and members of Hermitage Planning Commission. Members of both boards were invited to contribute issues for inclusion in that report.
“That distribution will describe the process and schedule, to which we will be regularly updating the board and the planning commission and also requesting input from the planning commission members and each of you on the board of commissioners,” Hinkson said. “We will regularly be providing information as we move forward through the process and seeking your input and questions.”