N. Whitehall seeks comp plan feedback
By SARIT LASCHINSKY
Special to The Press
North Whitehall recently released a public opinion survey to gather information for the township comprehensive plan update.
The survey will be available thorough Aug. 11 electronically via a link or QR code, and paper copies are available at the municipal building, 3256 Levans Road.
Completed paper copies must be returned to the township before close of business on Aug. 11.
To provide additional information on the survey and plan update, township Manager Chris Garges and planning commission Chairman Brian Horwith spoke with The Press after the July 12 supervisors’ meeting.
Garges explained that per the Municipalities Planning Code - the state law governing how municipalities are run - the township’s comprehensive plan must be reviewed approximately every 10 years.
Horwith added the township’s last plan update was passed in 2009 and adopted in 2010.
The comprehensive plan is a long-term plan which helps to guide future growth in the township, and includes various items to assist with planning out development.
“It looks at zoning. It looks at demographics, resources such as water and sewer, traffic, natural features and then just what’s trending,” Garges said.
He said the township is approximately two- to three months into a roughly 12-month update process.
A tour was recently done of the township looking at “special and unique areas,” and areas of concern, which would be included in the comprehensive plan study, Garges explained.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes mapping work being done right now, land use stuff, those types of things,” he said.
Areas of interest, Garges said, include natural resources, agricultural areas which North Whitehall would like to preserve, and unique and historic places such as Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre.
Regarding the survey, Horwith said the township had engaged an outside consultant, Gilmore and Associates, to help guide them through the review process.
“The big part of the survey is to solicit as much input from the residents as we can,” Horwith said. “Who are they; where do they live; how long have they lived here; are they legacy residents or are they new residents?”
Horwith added the survey includes numerous questions about a resident’s quality of life, “What do you really like about the township? What don’t you like about it? Or. what do you think we’re lacking?”
Other questions in the survey cover travel routes, traffic congestion, different categories of development, and township amenities and services, among other topics.
Horwith said public feedback will help the township and consultants with outlining how the revised plan will be written.
“Where do we want to steer development? What kind of development do we want to encourage or, if we can, to the extent discourage anything? What should the restrictions be, lot sizes, requirements for water and sewer systems, etc.” he explained.
Horwith also said once the comprehensive plan is completed, reviewed and adopted, it will also help with making adjustments to the township’s zoning ordinances, and removing potential inconsistencies.
“We’ve experienced that in the past, you write a comprehensive plan, that’s all well and good, but that’s just a guidance document,” Horwith said.
“The zoning ordinance is what dictates what an applicant does with a parcel of land they own, so we need to have an alignment.”
Garges said the township will be looking at historical trends to see how interests and project types have changed over the years, noting that 10 years ago there were fewer building, housing, land and development uses as there are today.
Horwith was asked whether any feedback has already been received for the plan update.
He said there has not been much solid input yet, but noted whatever emerges will need to be a balance of expectations.
“I believe some people’s first theme is ‘everyone wants nothing new to be done.’ That’s a starting point, but it’s an unrealistic starting point, so the idea is to do the best we can to guide responsible development,” he said.
Once the survey closes and participants’ feedback is received, Garges said the next step will be compiling the data and analyzing the results, which he will be largely discussed at planning commission meetings, the next of which is 7:30 p.m. July 27.
“The meat and potatoes’ of what’s going to happen is all going to be talked about at the planning commission meetings, so we would encourage people to just follow the township’s Nextdoor app, Facebook and website for more information on those,” he said. “That’s when we’ll really be looking for public input because the more people we have here to weigh in, the better.”
Horwith also said the commission and township have considered setting up smaller working groups to analyze specific aspects of the comprehensive plan update.
This is a step taken by several local municipalities including Forks and South Whitehall townships during their comprehensive plan updates.
Horwith said those meetings may be scheduled outside of the regular, monthly cycle of planning commission meetings.
Garges added that an advertised steering meeting will look to break down the update process into more focused groups.
Furthermore, he said supervisors are already committed to proceeding with the zoning ordinance updates once the comprehensive plan is finalized.
“We’re going to roll right into the zoning ordinance update. We’re not just going to let that plan sit on a shelf. We’re going to get working on that,” he said.
The comprehensive plan update is expected to be completed around March 2022. Zoning ordinance updates will likely be completed a year later according to Garges, around March 2023.
For the online version of the survey, interested individuals can visit surveymonkey.com/r/WP8FVQ3 until Aug. 11.
Nonresidents are also welcomed to participate.