This week, we continue our 7-part series on land planning in Pennsylvania. Last time, we looked at the Municipal Planning Code and an introduction to land use controls.
Building off of that, our second article will look at the Planning Commission. These “citizen planners” provide a vital service in the land planning process.
Planning Commission Introduction
Did you know more than 60% of municipalities in Pennsylvania have a Planning Commission? Fewer municipalities have municipal authorities or police departments?
So, what is a Planning Commission? The planning commission is an appointed body of citizens. They serve as an advisory to the governing body that appointed them. As an advisory group, the final approval remains with the governing body. There are a few large municipalities and cities where the governing body delegates the approval authority.
The Planning Commission’s roles are outline by the MPC. Though the only mandatory role is the development of the comprehensive plan. The MPC also empowers a Planning Commission to take part in many other actions:
- Make recommendations on official maps
- Prepare, present and recommend amendments to a zoning ordinance and/or SALDO
- Promote public interest in comprehensive planning
- Hold public hearings and meetings
- Municipal Planning Code and Local Land Use Controls
- Planning Commissions
- Zoning and Zoning Officer
- Zoning Hearing Board
- Special Exceptions, Conditional Uses and Variances
- Subdivision and Land Development
- Agricultural Planning
Commission Organization and Operation
A planning commission have between three and nine members. All members must be legal residents of the municipality. The governing body should select a diversified group based on qualifications and interests. The members serve four-year terms, with members having staggered term end dates. A limited number of municipal employees or officers can serve on the commission.
The commission members elect their own officers. Most commissions have a chairman and vice-chairman. The recording secretary is usually a municipal employee. The officer roles need reappointed annually. So, at the first meeting of each year, the commission will hold a nomination and vote on the roles. Additionally, the commission legal representation is the municipal solicitor. This representation is at the discretion of the appointing governing body.
The commission collaborates with other appointed bodies. This includes zoning hearing boards, municipal authorities, and environmental advisory councils. The commissions will hold regular meetings. The meeting date and time requires public advertising. This allows the meetings to include public participation. Finally, the MPC requires an annual report to the governing body.
Subdivision and Land Development Responsibilities
The commission spends the majority of time discussing applications. These applications are for subdivision or land development plans. The township engineer provides a formal review of the application. At the meeting, the applicant presents responses and requests for waivers. The commission can recommend approval of waivers, from the SALDO. Issues with conforming to the zoning ordinance, must go to the Zoning Hearing Board. Once the comments are address, the commission recommends approval to the governing body.
A growing element of planning, relates to stormwater management. The planning commission's role is the development and administration of these ordinances. Pennsylvania Act 167 developed the boilerplate for a larger number of these ordinances. This Act set the standards based on watersheds. The ordinances include requirements for local and state project reviews. The goal is to improve the water quality and return it to the levels from before development began. As such, these ordinances will include decreased runoff rates and increase groundwater recharge.
Finally, like stormwater management, the commission develops ordinances on floodplain management. Zoning ordinances typically include verbiage on floodplain limitations and regulations. The goal is to prevent endangering of life, increased flooding, and damage property. FEMA is the authority of floodplain control. Per FEMA, each state and municipality must have floodplain regulations. These regulations allow the citizens to take part in flood insurance programs.
Who is ACA?
Started in 1992 and located in Chester County, PA ACA has grown to become a full-service engineering firm. Today, we merge professional services with practical knowledge for residential and commercial projects. No matter the scale, from installing a fence, to building a structure or developing land, you need permits. Because the approval process includes many permits and agencies, it can be a headache. Working with ACA’s full-service team saves you time, money, and headaches. Every step of the way, we are here to support you and educate you about the process. Here are some of the basic services we provide:
Construction Management | Civil Engineering | Environmental Permitting | Septic System Testing and Design | Land Surveying | Wetland Delineations and Mitigation
Please feel free to browse our website or if working on a project or need help, contact us at (610) 469-3830.