HERMITAGE — Though the titles, departments and coworkers have changed over time, Marcia Hirschmann sees her 43-year career with the City of Hermitage as a pleasure.
Whether working with her fellow city employees or interacting with local residents, developers or business owners, the director of Hermitage’s Planning and Development Department said the vast majority of her career has been a good experience — which will ultimately come to an end later this year, when she retires.
“It’s been a great place to work, and the people that I’ve worked with over the years,” Hirschmann said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful they’ve been to me.”
A 1977 graduate of Penn State University with a degree in landscape architecture, Hirschmann moved to the Hermitage area with her husband and took a job with the city as an engineering technician.
At the time, Hirschmann worked in the engineering department and eventually became the engineering supervisor, a position she held for 12 years. Though her school background provided knowledge on topics such as site design and land grading, working for the municipal government meant learning about the legal side of development as well, Hirschmann said.
“I had a degree in landscape architecture, so I knew how to draw, but I learned more about planning and zoning and how local government works,” she said.
Although the former Hickory Township changed its name to “Hermitage” in 1976, the transition from a township to a city took place 1984. During that period, the engineering department became the modern Planning and Development Department, Hirschmann said.
Having been a home-rule municipality prior to becoming a city, the transition to “Hermitage” did not cause a substantive change in how the municipality was run. However, becoming the director of planning and development — a position she held for 28 years — meant looking at a larger picture than just individual projects, Hirschmann said.
This included projects such as pedestrian sidewalks and paths that could be used by local residents, or landscaping requirements to help improve a site’s appearance or provide an important function, she said.
The shift has not just been confined to Hermitage, but across the state and country, as more requirements look at environmental factors such as how to better manage stormwater on site instead of simply piping the water somewhere else. Projects by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have also taken on a more holistic approach, looking at environmental needs and the nearby community during planning, she said.
“Engineering is generally more about nuts and bolts, and how things work, and the physical components of the community,” Hirschmann said. “With planning, obviously you take those things into consideration, but you’re trying more to craft a vision of the community and make it a reality.”
One of the first projects to incorporate all of those factors was the Walmart supercenter on North Hermitage Road. The complex was built in the early 2000s and included features such as tree islands in the parking lot to both provide scenery and help manage traffic, she said.
Other projects are on the way for Hermitage, including the updated comprehensive plan that was approved by the city’s board of commissioners last year. Out of that plan will come changes to the city’s zoning regulations. Hirschmann hopes to have a new zoning ordinance in front of the commissioners within two to three months.
“It won’t be radically different across the city, because the residential areas will still be residential and the commercial areas will still be commercial,” she said. “But in some areas we’ll have different zoning districts than what we have now.”
Hirschmann said the most enjoyable parts of her career have been her creative freedom — whether working on a design with a developer or the city — as well as being able to help residents who come to the city with issues or concerns.
“When you’re able to work through something and see it resolved, that’s rewarding,” she said.
In a press release, Hermitage City Manager Gary Hinkson said Hirschmann would be greatly missed, both as a fellow city employee and for her contributions to the city.
“She has been a driving force for quality development and long-range planning during her career in Hermitage,” Hinkson said.
However, there will be someone to take Hirschmann’s place after her departure.
Jeremy Coxe has worked for the city since 2006 and alongside Hirschmann for the past eight years as the assistant director of planning and development.
A 1998 graduate of Slippery Rock University with a degree in geography with an emphasis in planning, Coxe worked for the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission from 1998 until 2006. Originally hired as a community planner, Coxe said his role as assistant director involved grant writing and grant administering, as well as working with PennDOT on its projects.
Other duties include taking calls for garbage and recycling, as well as managing the housing rehabilitation program. Though sometimes challenging, Coxe said his work can also be rewarding.
“There’s a lot of working with the community and trying to balance a lot of things that are going on when doing an infrastructure project, or when you’re writing a grant, making sure the grant meets the needs of the public and the needs of public officials and state and county agencies that we work with,” Coxe said.
Upon Hirschmann’s retirement, Coxe will fill the position of director of planning and development, while the city begins searching for a replacement assistant director immediately, the press release states.
However, Coxe said he expects the transition to be a smooth one, due to his familiarity with the Hermitage staff and Marcia’s experience working with the city and community.
“She’s been a great resource – she has vast knowledge of planning and development and architectural standards, and she’s been here a long time, so she knows the ins-and-outs of everything in the community,” Coxe said of Hirschmann.
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