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Municipal planners are ‘all in it together’

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Planning Consultant Denny Puko speaks with planners from Warren County, the City of Warren, and Youngsville Borough during a collaborative training Wednesday at the Conewango Club.

Planning commissions shouldn’t be working to maintain the status quo.

They should be looking to the future, promoting change, and adding value.

In order to help the City of Warren, Youngsville Borough, and Warren County improve its planning processes, officials held a collaborative planning training meeting Wednesday. The discussion was led by Denny Puko, a planning consultant who spent 15 years with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Planning commissions occupy a niche in the government. They have a responsibility to look to the future. “No other agency has that as a primary function,” Puko said. “Planning is not needed to maintain the status quo. Promote change. Do different things.”

“The status quo is riskier than change,” he said.

At the same time, commissions should not propose change for the sake of change, but instead add value “to the quality and character of the community, to the quality of the development being reviewed, and for elected officials’ decisions.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, one of the keys was the value of working together — collaboration among municipalities and the county will add value to the plans of each community.

Planning efforts need “more robust communication and collaboration with city, county, borough, and townships in the planning process,” City of Warren Planning Director Vince DeJoy said.

“We are all in it together. Everyone in attendance felt that this is so important for our future successes in planning.”

One of the major tasks assigned to a planning commission is the preparation of a comprehensive plan.

Puko said a planning commission should take a leadership role in creating the plan and continue to act as champion for implementing the plan.

“Focus on real, important community issues, not the municipal planning commission template,” he said. “Create practical solutions with workable action plans. Recruit partners to help devise and implement solutions. Create community excitement and commitment to implement.”

“Denny is the author of the implementable comprehensive plan,” City of Warren Planning Commission member Don Nelson said. “We’re excited to have Denny on the team.”

Planning commissioners are advisory bodies. As such, they have to work with the governing body. The planners have to know what the elected officials who will be making the final decisions want. “Tune in, deliver, add value,” Puko said.

Getting those officials on board is a key step, but it isn’t enough. Implementation takes dollars.

“Keep plan recommendations on the elected officials’ agenda, particularly at budget time,” Puko said.

The City of Warren is in the early stages of developing a new comprehensive plan. Thanks to Puko and the spirit of collaboration, that task is not quite as daunting as it could be.

“After last night’s training and discussion with County Planning and Youngsville Borough Planning commissioners, I am more energized for the upcoming planning process for a new comprehensive plan for the City of Warren,” DeJoy said.

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