Comprehensive planning in Damascus
>By ERNIE MATERN
>Damascus Township in Wayne County, PA is currently reviewing its Comprehensive Plan. It is a process the Commonwealth requires through its Municipalities Planning Code. The code demands that every community with a plan in place review it at least every 10 years, or more frequently if needed. Damascus Township first adopted a Comprehensive Plan in the early 1970s, with a major revision adopted in 1995.
>The process that we have begun has included the formation of two planning commission sub-committees (manned by planning commission members and four very dedicated local citizens). The first is charged with developing a survey that will be distributed to the townships residents. The other is working on coordinating a multi-municipal comprehensive plan and securing grants or other funding to help pay for this process. Both committees have moved steadily ahead in achieving their goals. Sources of some funding have been identified and the process of choosing a local consultant has been completed.
>We have held two public meetings to explain to interested residents the comprehensive plan process, and to get input from them as to their concerns and possible objectives that could be included in the revision. Both meetings were well attended, and the input gathered was extremely valuable and insightful. We will be scheduling more meetings in the near future.
>Damascus has also recently met with neighboring townships to have them consider participating in this process. The response has been very favorable with Manchester, Berlin, Oregon and Buckingham townships showing interest in joining us.
>To our south, Pike County has put on the ballot a bond issue to fund planning to help preserve remaining open lands. I believe the same is true of Orange County.
>Our Comprehensive Plan should have as one of its objectives the task of examining this concept now, not 20 years from now when we may be scrambling to find funds or methods to push back the creep of over-development. The plan process can allow us to identify sources of funding to accomplish these goals and lands that may be suitable for preservation.
>The Damascus Township Planning Commission is also in the process of amending our Zoning and Sub-division and Land Development Ordinances. A major component that is proposed is a method to allow developers to conserve open space. If this option is chosen, the developer can realize a slight increase in density of units in exchange for increased open space (50 or 60 percent of the tract, after removing unsuitable land). While not mandatory at this time, we hope that the availability of this Conservation Sub-division Overlay District within the township can reduce the impact of major sub-divisions if/when they occur here.
>We are fortunate in Damascus Township to have a Board of Supervisors that is very involved in this process. We have a Planning Commission willing to tackle this job with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. We have a very dedicated core of citizens willing to give of their time to help us reach these goals. Without these efforts the task would be much more difficult.
>It is my hope that the townships looking to join with us in a multi-township Comprehensive Plan can find the support and funding they need from their respective boards and citizenry. Also, I hope that the people living and working in Damascus Township will continue to be involved in this very important process. More and more, planning needs to take on a more regionalized approach, and this is one way we can accomplish that.
>[Ernie Matern is currently the chairman of the Damascus Township Planning Commission. He is employed in the IT department at the Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon. He resides in Damascus Township with his wife, Tina, and son, Michael.]