Clearfield County Planning Department: Who They Are, What They Do

CLEARFIELD –  “To provide appropriate planning services and to develop leadership so that all Clearfield County municipalities can begin to plan for their future.”  That is the mission statement of the Clearfield County Planning and Community Development Commission.

Jodi Brennan, Director of the Clearfield County Planning and Community Development Commission

The Planning and Community Development Commission is comprised of a four-person staff; Director Jodi Brennan, Planning Specialist Rob Thomas, Administrative Assistant Margaret (Bonnie) Buzzanca, and the newly added Planning and Community Development Specialist Lisa Kovalick.  The primary job of the staff is to support the nine-member voluntary board which is appointed by the commissioners.

The county is broken up into nine areas, with a member of the board representing an area.  Currently there is one vacancy.  The following are members of the board for the Planning and Community Development Commission:

Paul Winslow, Chairman, Moshannon Valley area

William Yost, Vice Chairman, Clearfield area

Rita Bass, Secretary, Clearfield area

William Clouser, Glendale/Harmony area

Kenneth Leonard, Bradford area

Chad L. Diviney, West Branch area

Darryl Lashinsky, Philipsburg/Osceola Mills area

Victor Ordonez, Curwensville/Grampian area

The board is responsible for a plethora of tasks related to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and County’s Comprehensive Plan.  Primarily they are responsible for the comprehensive planning efforts and providing technical assistance to the 57 municipalities in the county.  They provide preliminary review and comment to the 18 county municipalities that have individual Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances.  They also provide education and training to the municipalities.

The comprehensive plan is a guiding tool for the board.  As Brennan put it, “That’s one thing about a comprehensive plan, it has no teeth. It’s just a guiding tool, a vision.  The teeth come when you pass an ordinance, like the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.”

The comprehensive plan is updated every 10 years, with the last update occurring in 2006.  Brennan explained that the plan was developed with the input of stakeholders and the public.  If they were talking about housing, they brought in all stakeholders having something to do housing in.  They also advertised for residents to call in with their ideas.  The plan is comprised of goals and objectives.  One such goal is to preserve historic and cultural resources.  One objective for that goal is to provide incentives to encourage restoration and historic resources.  Another goal is to support efforts that assure an adequate supply of housing with one objective being to promote development of low income non-elderly housing.

The plan also has many vision statements by which they can guide their efforts for the future.  Some statements include “residents walking and biking more and using more mass transit” and “residents have access to safe and adequate drinking water supplies.” 

Another part of the plan includes desired and undesired development.  As a result of the extensive survey efforts they found some desired development to be family restaurants, public transportation and specialty shops, to name a few.  Undesired development included drug rehabilitation facility, gambling, and landfills.  There were also certain types of development that were listed on both the desired and undesired lists.  Such development included a snowmobile or ATV park and prisons. 

The commission has put much effort into achieving those goals.  In their 2009 annual report they included the efforts made in regards to different housing initiatives they have started.  Such initiatives include the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which in 2009 received $714,318 from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.  This money is meant to assist the county in helping municipalities stabilize neighborhoods and the housing market that has been affected by abandonment and foreclosure. 

Kovalick has been working with the City of DuBois and Clearfield to identify properties with which to use the money.  Money can be used to purchase vacant bank and tax foreclosed properties, and demolish, rehabilitate, and/or reconstruct deteriorated housing units.  The money must be used for activities that benefit low to moderate income households.

Another housing initiative is the Homelessness Prevention and Rehabilitation Program.  The County received $374,619 from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program in 2009 in order to facilitate and increase existing programs that provide emergency rental assistance payments, case management, and other services to prevent homeless people who are not chronically homeless to become stabilized in 18 months.

The commission also set up an Affordable Housing Trust.  They essentially adopted Act 137 which will have benefits to assist residents and housing organizations in the county.  Brennan said that it will take a while for the money to build in the trust but will be helpful in the future once it is there.

In line with the housing initiatives are the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the Community Development Block Grant Recovery (CDBG-R).  These grants are meant to be used for low to moderate income level areas in which to help with the demolition or restoration of blight and slums, waterlines, and sewage projects.  IN 2009, Cooper Township, Karthaus Township, Karthaus Burside Joint Authority, and Irvona Municipal Authority were recipients to these grants to help their communities. 

The commission also provides technical support to the municipalities.  One of the most important functions the paid staff performs is helping find grants, write the grants, and administer grants on behalf of the requesting agency.  In the past they have assisted the Clearfield County Fair Board in finding tourism grant monies to market the fair, Clearfield Borough to find a grant for a new vacuum, and the Clearfield Hospital to find a grant to assist the hospital in its electronic record keeping system, to name a few.  As Brennan explained, grants are a very time consuming and detail oriented process that takes a lot of time and effort ensure it is done properly in order to obtain the money offered by that grant.  In 2009 they submitted 19 grants, of which eight were awarded money, nine are currently pending, and only one was denied.

The commission spends a lot of their time planning.  Some of their planning efforts are focused on storm water management, transportation planning, watersource protection, recreation, greenways and tourism planning, and energy development. 

Brennan said that much of their efforts in regards to transportation planning include the work that is done to maintain and fix the bridges.  She said that currently money is hard to come by in order to simply maintain the infrastructure we already have.  Much of the funding issues come from Interstate 80 not being tolled.

One area that has received a lot of attention is the Pennsylvania Wilds, which has a planning team, of which Brennan is a member of.  In 2009 a new Community Outreach Specialist, Sam McDonald, was hired.  He assisted in the development of a new signage grant program for businesses and communities that aimed at promoting the award winning guide, PA Wilds Design Guide:  A design for Community Character Stewardship.  The guidelines in the book are voluntary but examples include using wood and timber as visual themes, incorporating the PA Wilds logo, and preserving and rehabilitating historic structures.

In 2008 the PA Wilds planning team developed a three year strategic plan in which they could identify and target their top priorities.  For more information about PA Wilds go to www.pawildsresources.org.

A hot topic in 2009 was energy development, which had an immediate impact on Clearfield with the addition of the ethanol plant along US Route 322.  Other energy development projects include a proposed wind energy project in the northwestern corner of the county and Marcellus Shale gas.  Marcellus Shale gas also leads to concerns about safe drinking water, which the commission also educates developers on.

The Planning and Community Development Commission is a busy office.  Primarily though they strive to make the local communities a better place in which to live, work and play.  For more information about what the commission does visit http://www.planning.clearfieldco.org.

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