New comprehensive plan aims to make Hermitage more walkable

JOHN ZAVINSKI | Herald

Hermitage’s new comprehensive plan puts a priority on encouraging mixed-use, walkable development along East State Street in the city center from Hermitage Road, shown here, west to Buhl Farm Drive.

HERMITAGE -- With Hermitage commissioners set to approve the new “2030 Comprehensive Plan,” city officials are looking at how to best address the needs and goals covered in the document.

“Do we have a plan of what the implementation is going to be and what the priorities are going to be,” said Commissioner William McConnell.

The answer to that, in short, is “yes,” said Commissioner Duane Piccirilli.

“We don’t have a schedule but we have a plan that we want to get going,” he said.

Piccirilli and city Manager Gary Hinkson said the top priority is spurring mixed-use, walkable development in what city officials refer to as the city center, along East State Street from Hermitage Road at the Shenango Valley Mall west to Buhl Farm Drive.

Improving that would, according to the comprehensive plan, would help give Hermitage a community identity that it now lacks.

The city, with assistance from outside entities, has taken several steps on that front. PennDOT is working now on a project to add sidewalks along East State Street from state Route 18 into Sharon, with work to be completed by early next year.

A paved walking trail, built by the city, now runs from Shenango Valley Mall north through the Hickory High School campus to the city building,

However, the effort to promote a walkable community and establish an identity-building city center faces significant obstacles, according to the comprehensive plan. Hermitage doesn’t own or control any property in that city center to serve as a community gathering place.

A municipal park, like the one that anchors Brookfield’s town center, would change that, but it would also require taking a piece of prime residential real estate off the development market.

“One of the challenges will be finding the right developer(s) that are willing to work with the city,” according to the comprehensive plan.

Hermitage adopted its most recent comprehensive plan in 1993, but has adopted targeted projects to improve city infrastructure with work such as the sidewalk project.

Some projects from the previous plan have been carried out, including improvements to recreational facilities in Buhl Park and Hermitage School District, widening Route 18 and development of a business and entrepreneurial park at LindenPointe.

The 2030 plan includes developing a central WiFi-enabled gathering place where residents would go to work, relax and gather in small groups and encouraging entertainment and cultural events.

Under the plan to be approved this week, Hermitage officials want to decrease vehicle dependence for residents to take advantage of local amenities.

Adoption of the comprehensive plan also could clear the way for tweaking municipal ordinances, including zoning regulations. Piccirilli said the commissioners have no plans to change zoning boundaries or make significant alterations to Hermitage’s ordinances, but staff – including Marcia Hirschmann, the city’s director of planning and development – have a list of things that have come up over recent years.

As an example, Hirschmann cited an ordinance allowing people to own chickens if they own more than about 2 acres of land, but that the measure is unnecessarily vague.

“If you have 2 acres, you can have 100 chickens,” she said, “If you have 1.9 acres, you can have zero chickens.”

Hirschmann said she wants residents to have full use of their properties without infringing on the neighbors’ use of theirs.

“The idea is to let people use their property in appropriate ways, but not in a way that is detrimental to their neighbors,” she said.

Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at epoole@sharonherald.com