The last month or so has been busy for me. Holidays, projects, rehearsals, clients, weather that wouldn’t cooperate with my plans to winterize the camper or put the garden to bed, and a 92 year old friend who needed help moving to assisted living filled my days and evenings. So on the nights when my calendar read “Township meeting,” I was tempted to either do something else (and there’s ALWAYS something else), or to just not show up. After all, the agenda looks dull, I never seem to be getting anywhere voicing my concerns over Council’s tendency to spend time on things like public hearings about ordinances related to digging holes in our backyards or asking endless questions revolving around a simple proposal to enclose an existing patio at Giant Eagle’s RIDC facility rather providing opportunities for two-way communication with residents regarding the Guyasuta VFD. And when the Council once again seemed to take their ongoing “review” of the Township’s Long Range Comprehensive Plan with little seriousness at the October 11 meeting, I really was ready to decide that my premise of continuing to show up until someone besides myself started to pay attention was really not worth the trouble.
But I showed up again for the November 1 meeting. As usual, a lot of time was spent on things that probably could have been dispatched more quickly. The pleasant surprise was that I wasn’t one of only two residents in attendance: a group of ten or so Mews residents were present. They were interested in answers about the response to back-to-back fire calls October 29 and 30 in the absence of Guyasuta VFD. A lively and useful discussion ensued, and everyone’s concerns were respectfully and completely addressed.
What happened next was what was even more interesting. Having concluded the fire safety discussion, Council President Bob Smith joked that the Mews residents could leave, or maybe they’d like to stay for the discussion about sewers. They were about to leave when I commented that they might like to stay for the discussion about the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan. “Oh, that’s next week — we’ll be here!” they said. “Actually, it’s on the agenda THIS week too — just as it has been for every workshop since May,” I said. They stayed…all the way to the very last item on the agenda, which is where these “review” sessions have been landing on the agenda.
I love it when a larger group of residents attends a meeting: the Council changes its whole demeanor, taking the time to really engage with concerns of residents. So instead of a pretend discussion of the Plan, what we heard was much more interesting. First, the 2010 census data has not yet been integrated into the proposed Plan. All of the analysis and commentary and questions so far have been based on a proposed Plan that is based on 2000 census data. Township Manager Julie Jakubec advised that the revised data and a few other items will be inserted into the proposed Plan during the week and updated pages provided to the Council. I asked who would be reviewing the new data and revising the analysis. Julie replied that the Township’s consultant had advised that such a review was not needed. Am I the only one in the world who thinks that it’s a little bit crazy not to ask the Planning Commission to review the revised proposed Plan and update the analysis as necessary? Yikes! I didn’t even think to ask how the public was going to be able to review the revised proposed Plan before the public hearing, but I probably should have. And it’s probably a violation of some statute or other to hold a public hearing without providing the public with time to review the actual Plan being discussed.
But that wasn’t all. The discussion continued with questions about the process for approving the proposed Plan. Julie’s calendar called for a public hearing before the Council’s next regular meeting followed by a “first reading” vote at that meeting. I probably don’t have to say that I was ready to speak in opposition to that suggestion, but for once I didn’t have to. Bart Bodkin decided to speak up to say that he wasn’t comfortable with some aspects of the proposed Plan and that if it was going to act as a template for the next ten years of ordinances in the Township, he wasn’t ready to vote on it. He also asked whether the proposed Plan could be modified after the hearing and a first reading vote. Of course it CAN be modified after a hearing…but not after a first reading unless the Council goes back and has a second public hearing and re-votes on the first reading. Believe it or not, it took the Council and Township Manager almost ten minutes of confused discussion on this before I finally piped up to point out that they could hold a public hearing next week, but delay the first reading until next month or even later if necessary. That’s what they finally decided to do.
Now about that public hearing. I’m sure you’re all wondering when it’s going to take place so that you can be sure to be there to direct your Council regarding the long-range issues they SHOULD have considered over the last six months in the time they spent paging through a boilerplate report constructed by a professional consultant and pretending to discuss it. Next Tuesday, November 8, is Election Day: there will be no Council Meeting because the Township office is a polling place. So the Council has rescheduled the regular Tuesday meeting to Wednesday, November 9. The public hearing for the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan will be first on the agenda at 7pm. I know the folks from The Mews are going to be there to express their thoughts on potential rezoning of the Margery Drive area: they are concerned that rezoning to “mixed use” (an undefined term) will mean significantly increased traffic, noise, pollution, and general disruption of their community, not to mention a degradation of their property values. That’s fairly ironic, actually, as one of the reasons cited in the proposed Plan for re-zoning that area is to ensure that certain other residential properties have their values increased. I don’t recall that I’ve ever received a promise from the Township or anyone else that the value of my home would always go up, so I find it rather curious that the Planning Commission would assume that it’s the Township’s job to attempt to ensure that for particular properties.
But Mews residents are not the only ones affected by something that is included in (or left out of) the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan. There’s a proposal to significantly revise the Fox Chapel Rd/Freeport Rd/Old Freeport Rd intersection included in the Plan. There is no discussion at all of real long-range issues like how the Township should address creating a robust information infrastructure that will encourage more telecommuting citizens to take up residence in O’Hara rather than somewhere else when the price of gas doubles sometime in the next ten years. There is only superficial discussion of what it means to be a Township that has only limited land for new development: once the Saxonburg corridor is built-out, all future development will be re-development. Howard Hanna recently purchased one large tract of land below Country Club Lane, and it occurs to me to wonder what they have in mind for that potentially difficult-to-build property.
What’s your vision? What does it mean to be a “sustainable” community? What kind of information infrastructure should we encourage and how do we go about establishing it? What should we be doing to ensure that we’ll continue to have robust fire and ambulance services at a reasonable cost into the foreseeable future? What else can you envision for our Township that’s not included in the proposed Long Range Comprehensive Plan?
And most of all: do you think it’s appropriate for the Council to approve a Long Range Comprehensive Plan based on census data from 2000 without sending it back to the Planning Commission for re-analysis? If I had been sitting on Council for the last six months, I would have been advocating that all discussions of the Plan be tabled pending the update to 2010 data and re-analysis of the Plan by the Planning Commission based on the new data. Council can still choose to do that, but only if some residents from all over the Township show up next Wednesday at 7pm to explain their feelings in no uncertain terms.
Hope to see you there.
P.S. For those who would also like to look at the maps (not posted on the Township web site), they can be found here.