After attending many meetings of the planning commission and supervisors over the past two years, it was a bit unusual to hear "the plan" referred to in both meetings Monday evening during discussions of a rezoning issue. It has been mentioned before, though rarely, but Monday's references by both planning commission alternate member Susan Sprague and supervisor Fred Shunk, were even more unusual because both put special emphasis on the plan as though it is a document with some unique authority or precedence that must be followed. With all of the deference given to this document, I thought it was time to see what was in it.
What authority does the plan have?
I obtained a copy from North East Township, though it should be noted, it applies to North East Borough as well, and began reading. In the very beginning, as I read through the introduction, I found this passage:
It is important to understand that the Comprehensive Plan, and its various elements, is not a legally binding document, and it does not take the form of an ordinance. When a community decides to adopt a comprehensive plan, it is accepting by resolution that the recommendations within the plan are the guidelines for future development and related government actions of municipal officials . The various elements of this Plan should be reviewed on a periodic basis in the future , and revised when unforeseen conditions occur which reflect on the social, economic and physical makeup of the North East Area and its immediate adjacent area. (emphasis added)
So, what does that mean?
In other words, it offers recommendations, that elected and appointed officials can use as a starting point, then, along with their knowledge of the issues and the specifics of the case before them, they can make an intelligent decision about how to proceed. Based on the stern lecture delivered to attendees at the planning meeting Monday evening, it was easy to get the impression that this document had significance far beyond what it actually does.
It's important that taxpayers and voters in North East Township and North East Borough understand what this plan says because local officials are referring to this document and basing their decisions on its contents and justifying those decisions by making it appear they had little choice except to decide as they did. In fact, their decisions are their own, the outcome is not predetermined and we must ask questions and expect our elected and appointed officials to explain why they made the determinations they did.
We'll be posting this document section by section in the coming days with an analysis of each. This is public information and it is yours to see and understand. It is your responsibility to know what publications like the "comprehensive plan" really say so you're able to evaluate how your local officials are doing their job when deciding issues that affect you and everyone else in our community.
To see a complete list of the plan's table of contents showing what it contains, who was involved in its creation, when it was put together along with an introduction, just click on the link below:
North East Area Comprehensive Plan - Introduction