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Hempfield seeks input on comprehensive plan

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Hempfield Township has resumed work on the development of a comprehensive plan, but this time around officials are taking a different approach to the planning process.

Rather than look only within its own borders, the township will ask its neighbors to weigh in on the project.

Rob Ritson, township manager, said Adamsburg, Hunker, New Stanton and Youngwood are among the communities that will be asked to participate. All four are separate municipalities, but each is part of Hempfield Area School District.

Input also will be sought from the school district.

"They're such a big factor in future development, we feel bringing them in will only be beneficial to the entire area," Ritson said.

Supervisors want to include some bordering communities in the plan because each is affected by changes that occur in Hempfield, Ritson said, adding that projects that incorporate multiple communities also stand a better chance of receiving state grant money than do those involving just one municipality.

Hempfield's planning commission had been spearheading development of a comprehensive plan prior to supervisors recently taking a more direct role in the process.

Bob Regola Jr., supervisor chairman, said although the board is taking the lead on the project, the planning commission will continue to be involved. He said supervisors are taking a hands-on approach because he, Kim Ward and Doug Weimer had promised during their election campaigns to address growth in the township.

Joseph Volpe, chairman of the planning commission, said a 21-person committee had met for eight months and had published its results when supervisors stepped in and took over the project. The committee included representatives from various backgrounds, including the school district, Volpe said.

That report, as well as others that had been published previously, will be considered as the plan is developed, Ritson said.

"We're not scrapping any work that was already done," Ritson said. "We're just opening it to a bigger picture."

The new approach is "better than nothing," Volpe said, but he also wanted the larger bordering communities of Unity and North Huntingdon townships to be asked to participate. Those communities won't be included because they are not part of the Hempfield school district, Regola said.

Volpe also expressed concern over the length of time it will take to complete the project, especially considering it has been on hold for several months.

"If they get this going, that will be good," Volpe said. "My concern is the time frame: When are we going to get this done?"

Planning could take up to 18 months, Ritson said.

Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County, a private, community land-use advocacy group that deals with growth and quality-of-life issues, will assist Hempfield in its effort to draw neighboring communities into the project.

"We're extremely excited that Hempfield is taking the initiative to think beyond its boundaries," said Alexander J. Graziani, Smart Growth's executive director. "If it's successful, it could be a model to other communities for good, long-term decision-making."

Supervisors will hire an outside agency to prepare the comprehensive plan.

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