Submitted by: Patrick Shattuck, Chair, Wilkinsburg Planning Commission & Council Member, Wilkinsburg Borough
I was always a bit of an odd child. From my earliest days I spent time on construction sites and in the midst of development. My grandfather was a realtor and brought me along to tour new subdivisions and visit the latest greatest developments. My father was a civil engineer specializing in hydrology, so my weekends were spent walking through culverts, sizing bridge piers and dams as well as checking runoff and flooding. As a result, I spent my Sunday mornings in church, coming up with ideas for adaptive reuse and ways to convert the great vaulted spaces into condominiums. While my elementary school recesses spent on the playground with graph paper, scales and mechanical pencils generated strange looks from the other kids (and probably parents and teachers too), it positioned me well for my future role in municipal planning and my position as the Chair of the Wilkinsburg Planning Commission.
For some of us, the ability to envision the potential in a building or our municipality comes naturally and that drives us to community service and appointments to local planning commissions. Having vision, ideas and commitment are excellent attributes to bring to a planning commission, but along with that, there is a definite need to understand the formal roles, technicalities and rules associated with local planning in Pennsylvania. Land use planning is a critical function of Pennsylvania local governments and planning commissions play a vital role in determining the course of their community’s land use, economic development, natural and historic resources and in how their community will be shaped for future generations. Because of the importance of the planning commission in the community development process, Local Government Academy is offering a comprehensive three-evening course, designed specifically for appointed members of the municipal planning commission.
In Wilkinsburg, many of our Planning Commissioners have taken advantage of the Local Government Academy’s training opportunities and the valuable information we have garnered has helped us in our commitment to plan for Wilkinsburg’s future. We spent two years crafting a Comprehensive Plan followed by another year of developing a new zoning ordinance and Official Map – and are actually working to follow and update those tools annually and make recommendations to Council on their implementation. As a result of our work, we have a surplus of interested new Commissioners and even expanded our Commission to the maximum size allowed by the MPC. Most rewarding is hearing from developers that the considerations we made make it more likely that they will choose our community over another when considering where to develop.
If you are a Planning Commissioner – new or seasoned, and want to find out more about the actual duties you are responsible for and the potential you can help your community realize – I urge you to register for these sessions.