Planners authorize city comp plan committee | News, Sports, Jobs

The Altoona Planning Commission this week ordered the creation of a steering committee to guide development of a new comprehensive plan for the city.

City Council last month authorized the commission to work on the plan.

The state’s Municipalities Planning Code requires all community planning agencies to update their comprehensive plans every 10 years, and Altoona’s was last updated in 2013.

Due to major changes since the last plan, including the city’s passage through the state’s Act 47 distressed municipalities program, the upcoming version ought to be called a new, rather than merely updated plan, according to Community Development Director Diana White.

In a memo to the commission, White recommended 17 individuals as potential candidates for the steering committee, representing business, education, real estate development, health care, local government, housing, nonprofit organizations, the religious community and transportation.

The government agencies that could be represented include the commission itself, City Council, the Altoona Redevelopment Authority and the Altoona Water Authority.

The commission’s authorization gives White the go-ahead to start contacting potential members.

“Start beating on people to join,” said commission Chairman Randy Isenberg.

The steering committee should be in place by October, according to White.

In preparing to create the comprehensive plan, city officials will be working with the Blair County Planning Commission and its director Dave McFarland, who is a former Altoona planning director.

That assistance is available because the city pays an annual fee to the county commission.

“It’s a good deal,” White said.

The state’s code requires municipal plans to deal with:

– The location, character and timing of future development.

– The “amount, intensity, character and timing of land use.”

– Housing needs for present and future residents, with information on dwelling types, neighborhood densities and housing for residents of varying incomes.

– Transportation.

– Community facilities.

– The environment, energy conservation, fiscal and economic development, natural and historic resources, including their social significance.

– The plan’s compatibility with plans of contiguous municipalities and the county.

Completing a comprehensive plan normally takes about 18 months, White said.

The city will be hiring a consultant to do the bulk of the work.

The cost is likely to be between $150,000 and $200,000, according to a memo White wrote to council. The city can pay the cost with Community Development Block Grant administrative funds.

McFarland may be able to obtain help from Penn State Altoona on compiling initial statistics to be used as the basis for the new plan, at little or no cost to the city, White said.

A community survey in early 2023 will likely be part of information gathering.

It will be important for the survey questions to be “neutral,” so survey takers answer questions honestly, according to White.

The commission ought to try for an “implementable” plan, said commissioner Dick Haines, who recommended a book for White to consider that argues for such plans, “Off the Shelf and Into Action” written by a pair of Pittsburgh-area consultants.

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