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Planners talk process to develop plan for city

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Consultant Denny Puko walks the City of Warren Planning Commission through a discussion on the comprehensive plan process on Wednesday morning.

City officials know they need public participation in a comprehensive plan process that could have profound impacts on the future of the city and the county.

But how will they get it?

That was the focus of the City Planning Commission Wednesday morning.

“(We are) very excited to get this process going,” Brandi Rosselli with Mackin Engineering, a consultant brought in to help facilitate the process, said. “It’s really a community driven process.

“We want this plan to come from the city,” she stressed, “the residents, the elected (and) appointed officials, the staff.”

The end result of the 18 to 24 month effort is a comprehensive plan for the future of the city that is implementable – specifically that it identifies projects, timelines, responsible entities and possible funding streams. The idea is that this is not a plan that sits on a shelf because the state says one is required. The city’s zoning ordinance will also be re-crafted in this effort.

While a relatively small steering committee will be established to push this effort forward, the main crux of the public participation effort will be two workshops in the wake of a summit event as well as a digital platform for people to be able to provide input.

“Denny Puko, a planning consultant who brings 15 years with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to this process, said the public input will focus on three “particular outcomes”– the main issues to be addressed in the plan, goals and strategies to get there and then an action plan to implement.

“Through these three events, we can accomplish an awful lot of meaningful public input,” he said.

Discussion then shifted to whether or not the sessions should be open to non-residents of the city who may have a stake in the future of the municipality. City Manager Nancy Freenock said she was concerned about inviting out-of-the-city voices because of the effect those voices had on throttling the hotel project last fall.

“We lost the deal,” she said. “That is the only space we have where a hotel can be developed. I’m a little leary about bringing any township residents into this simply for that reason.”

Puko said the summit wouldn’t be open to the public. It would focus on a group of 25 to 40 people with the two public workshops following in the wake of that event.

He noted that Warren is a larger community than what is within its political boundaries.

“That’s a fact,” he said, explaining that the workshops need to be open to the public.

Freenock acknowledged the plan can’t be completed “in a vacuum” but highlighted recent EMS challenges as reason for concern in this area. She said the city tried “to work a deal out” with township supervisors and volunteer departments to help cover EMS costs “and that has basically failed.”

Freenock said there is a certain level of “animosity” between the parties even though it is “patently unfair” for city taxpayers to subsidize response into the townships.

“You may be walking inadvertently into a landmine,” she told Puko. “(You) need to be aware of the political landmine right now. That is a very big issue.”

“I have no problem with anyone that has a business or relationship with Warren,” Commission member Mike Suppa said. “There has been in the past a tendency of some of the townships… to utilize Warren in order not to develop the services themselves.”

“This issue is not unique to Warren,” Rosselli said. “(We) really try to hear what people are saying but not to dwell on it or keep coming back to that issue.”

“I think this is a good time for bridges to be built,” Vince DeJoy, the city’s planner, said, “for collaboration. That is the key to success in just about every endeavor, trying to work together to solve problems and plan for the future.”

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