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Penn Twp. officials considering development committee

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Penn Township commissioners mean business.

Seeking to stimulate business growth in the township, commissioners are debating whether an economic-development commission would help to market the community and identify incentives or changes to infrastructure that might attract businesses to expand or relocate here.

The idea of a development-oriented commission comes at a time when township officials are preparing to update the zoning map and zoning ordinance so they will be more “user-friendly” for developers.

And it comes a month after commissioners revised the township manager's job description so that the person they hire next year to succeed the retiring Bruce Light will be in charge of designing a program marketing Penn Township to businesses and developers.

Commissioner Larry Harrison, who proposed the creation of a commission, said he thinks the township has been “more reactive than proactive” when it comes to attracting development. He said he'd like to change that.

Such a group could discuss with business owners what Penn Township officials would need to do to entice growth, particularly regarding infrastructure, he said.

“There's a lot of things that we need to get in place before we can truly sit down with someone who wants to come in and build a new plant, for example,” Harrison said.

His colleagues are split on the suggestion and chose not to take any immediate action after a discussion at the Dec. 11 meeting.

Commissioner Ed Sullivan, who helped craft the manager's revised duties with Harrison, said he thinks it's a good idea, but Commissioner Jeff Shula said he isn't sure a commission is necessary. Chuck Horvat, whose term expires at the end of the year, advised that commissioners wait until after commissioners pass the new zoning map.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Paul Wersing said that the liaison role already is part of the community-development director's duties. Besides, he said, the timing might be premature because the staff will be going through a transition with Light's departure.

Wersing also said he thought it would be hard to find volunteers who would want to stay on a development commission and suggested that the township might try to work closer with the Penn Township Business Association.

“I just think it's going to be too cumbersome,” he said.

Harrison said he can envision a committee that would “encompass a broad breadth of the community,” perhaps including a representative from Penn-Trafford School District, along with the township manager and business leaders.

He also said township officials need to talk more about the possibility of offering tax abatements to lure businesses. If municipality doesn't, he said, “you're shooting yourself in the foot.”

Township Solicitor Les Mlakar also said that an abatement program — along with less-restrictive zoning and good infrastructure — makes a community “friendly” to businesses and industries.

“Without a tax-abatement program, you're not going to draw anybody here because they can go other places and get that,” Mlakar said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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