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Steering Committee Endorses Draft Plan

by Joe Pinchot

Meg Grober, member of the Hermitage Community & Economic Development Commission, considers the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan to be a compromise, and that's a good thing.

It means that the plan takes into account a wide range of opinions and perspectives, she said. In preparing the plan, the Steering Committee, city officials and Mackin Engineering Co., the consultant for the plan, heard from high school students, senior citizens, business people, healthcare professionals and members of the general public who attended a public meeting, filled out an online survey or sent comments.

“Everybody had an opportunity to have a say,” said Grober, also a member of the plan's steering committee, which endorsed a draft of the plan Jan. 14.

A comprehensive plan is a municipality's statement of its vision, goals and objectives, and acts as a guide for future development and helps set priorities for city officials.

The plan – which soon will be presented to the Hermitage Planning Commission, the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission and Mercer County Regional Planning Commission before ultimately being acted on by city commissioners – is 100 pages long and talks about the city's history and recent development trends and noted the recommendations from the previous comprehensive plan, from 1993, that have been implemented.

The new plan is “much more detailed and it covers a lot more things than I anticipated,” said steering committee member & Hermitage resident Kolten Hoffman.

But, that detail is not overwhelming for the reader, said steering committee member Dan Gracenin, who is executive director of the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission. The plan is “clean” and has “less verbiage” than he is used to seeing, he said.

The plan sets five core values: creating a vibrant city center, encouraging a healthy city, maintaining thriving neighborhoods and a prosperous economy and establishing complete corridors.

Within those values, the plan sets goals such as increasing walking and biking options, permitting nontraditional housing, streamlining the development process, improving the attractiveness of gateways and corridors, and establishing concepts such as conservation subdivisions, which allow new growth in the rural and agricultural areas without diluting the character of those areas.

“I think the content is right on point to what is important to the general public right now, especially with the city center and some of the big-ticket items that everyone is concerned about,” Hoffman said. “I think there is a lot of emphasis on those, and the public can know that the city will be focused on those over the next decade-plus.”

The plan spends a lot of time on the future of the Shenango Valley Mall and creating a city center. The plan recommends defining a city center through signs, trees, benches and related items; establishing a public green space; opening up the section of Indian Run that now runs under the mall parking lot; helping businesses in the area market themselves; establishing new activities and building on those that already exist, such as the Hermitage Growers and Artisans Market; and improving the ability of people to walk there.

Angela Palumbo, a member of the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission, said big things will be in store for the city if the mall property can be repurposed or redeveloped.

“If that can change, then I think that's going to explode growth in the city of Hermitage,” she said.

Aside from seeing the plan through the approval process, city officials will start working on a strategy to implement it, said Amy Wiles, Mackin's lead senior planner. Grober said she would not want the job of setting priorities, but Wiles said the city will be looking to enlist partners – individuals and organizations – who could help get elements of the plan in motion.

“It's unrealistic to expect any city or municipality to implement a comprehensive plan on its own,”Wiles said.

The plan also will act as the jumping-off point for zoning ordinance amendments.

City Manager Gary Hinkson thanked the committee members for the time they have put in over the course of a year.

“This truly is an important document for the city,” Hinkson said. “This will guide us over the next 12, 15 years. Your time and input is greatly valued.”