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Commission gives update on county’s comprehensive plan

LEWISTOWN – A second public meeting of the Mifflin County Planning Commission was held Thursday afternoon to provide an update on the Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan.

Bill Gomes, director of planning and development, said the last comprehensive plan update was in December 2000, and the updates typically occur every 10 years.

“We decided to wait until the most recent census update to start planning the update,” Gomes said. “The last census occurred in January 2012.”

The plan, once adopted, will provide a direction for the county for the next 10 years, Gomes continued to say. The county was assisted by Gannett Fleming Inc., Delta Development Group, LLC, and Vernon Land use when the committee began to start the update process.

Michelle Brummer, of Gannett Fleming Inc., gave the presentation saying the committee is close to the end of the planning process and a draft should be published soon. In 2011 a Quality of Life Survey was conducted in conjunction with the 2012 census. The survey took a look at priorities in population, housing, economy and employment, land use, community facilities and services, cultural resources, environmental resources; and transportation.

Brummer said she looked at the trends and issues of population, and one of the largest changes for the future was the projected increase in older residents and the decrease in younger residents.

“The population of older residents is projected to reach 24.4 percent by 2030,” Brummer said. “On the other side, the population of younger residents is projected to decline to 20.5 percent by 2030. This shows us that more people are going to be leaving the Mifflin County workforce than people coming into the workforce.”

The plan for housing trends and issues revolve around the fact that the county has a slow growth rate when it comes to the number of housing units and a growing vacancy rate in the housing units currently available. Brummer said one part of the plan seeks to encourage the development and/or redevelopment of modern, affordable housing.

“This development of housing will be for seniors and low or moderate income residents,” Brummer said. “The idea of independent, affordable housing makes areas more ideal for people with disabilities on a fixed income or for residents transitioning from youth services to adult services.”

The modern housing, Brummer said, would make the area more desirable for professionals such as doctors or case managers. These may be people who work in the area, but cannot find suitable housing in the county. She also said the plan will encourage municipalities to provide consistent code enforcement, enact rental inspections and maybe even accept or require a range of housing types.

“A municipality can say if you are going to build so many homes, for example 100 homes will be built, then so many of these need to be affordable housing,” Brummer explained.

The economic figures show a majority of the county workforce is in manufacturing, with a majority of them working with fabricated metal. Brummer said knowing the workforce better helps to figure out where the economy and employment plan should go. She also said school-to-work programs need be used more effectively.

“If we can identify and develop local workforce training, we will have more people staying in the area after they are trained,” Brummer said. “Some of these efforts are already underway.”

She continued to say another part of the economic plan is to invest in recreation and tourism development. Brummer said if we offer more attractions, more people will invite out-of-the-area friends who will be tourists and spend their money here, helping to grow the economy.

Brummer said the amount of developed land is only about 9 percent of the total land area in the county, with at least 90 percent considered open land that includes forested areas. This poses the questions of the land development in the future.

“The plan is going to explore the establishment of a land trust or conservancy,” Brummer said. “It will also offer relevant training and model ordinances, for example a model wind energy facility ordinance.”

Brummer said the wind energy ordinance is only in the planning stages, but each township and municipality would decide how to go about adopting it. During the public comment time after the presentation, several area residents asked why if an ordinance on wind energy has to be passed, it cannot just say “no, we do not want it”.

Gomes responded by saying the ordinance is designed to show the wind companies the restrictions and safety measures they would need to work within before they can even build any turbines. Gomes also explained any ordinance that simply prohibits the construction of wind turbines is far more likely to face a legal challenge and be struck down by the courts.

Other elements of the updated plan include:

Encourage use of a municipal fire tax

Support extension of water and sewer service within the planned growth area, where feasible

Update inventories of historic structures and places, especially in areas of development pressure, look to conserve most with current standards, while prioritizing a select few for true preservation

Protect, connect and buffer natural resources

Work with others – Mifflin-Juniata Area Agency on Aging and CATA – on public transportation

The next stage for the planning process is to complete the draft document and to publish the draft plan both online and in print. Following the printing of the draft the public will have 45 days to review it, prior to a public hearing held before the county Board of Commissioners. The final stage is to adopt the plan by the end of this year or early next year, and to put it into action. The full plan updates can be found online at www.mifflincompplan.com.