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Planning the future—together

Two townships, multiple interests, a unified approach

By SANDY LONG

LACKAWAXEN AND SHOHOLA TOWNSHIPS, PA — As thunderstorms passed over the Lackawaxen Township Fire Hall on June 27, potential storms were brewing inside as well.

The building’s emergency siren began blaring, as approximately 80 people struggled to hear introductory remarks made by members of the Lackawaxen Shohola Citizen Advisory Committee (LSCAC) regarding efforts underway to update township comprehensive plans, as mandated by the state of Pennsylvania.

Several audience members from Lackawaxen Township raised concerns regarding the fact that the two Pennsylvania townships—Lackawaxen and Shohola—are combining efforts to create a Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan and an Open Space, Greenways and Recreation Plan that take into consideration the needs of both townships.

While such combined planning efforts are fairly new to Pike County, more than 700 Pennsylvania municipalities are currently involved in similar efforts, according to Pike’s Assistant County Planning Director Mike Mrozinski, who has been serving in an advisory role throughout the Lackawaxen/Shohola process.

Sounding the alarm

Dimitri Zaimes, a Lackawaxen Township resident and business owner, said that the needs, agendas and issues for each township are different, and described the joint effort as “very destructive to local government.” “I have no problem with planning, if we’re going to protect what we have and allow for reasonable growth,” said Zaimes. “But as far as combining one township with another, we and they [Shohola Township residents] are giving up representational government.”

Mrozinski stressed that the process will not consolidate the two municipalities. “The point is for the two townships to work together on a plan, not to create one township. By no means is this plan directing us to do that. We’re very cognizant of private property rights,” added Mrozinski.

Lackawaxen Township resident Gerry Wicksnes also raised objections related to private property rights, while a disgruntled third man left the building asking, “What’s wrong with the way things are now?”

A woman who identified herself as a Shohola Township resident responded by asking that participants “keep an open mind” about the process. Most of the people in attendance remained to work through a series of exercises aimed at gathering citizen input.

Just the beginning

April Showers, a certified planner from the consulting firm Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson, which is assisting the townships in this process, began by explaining that Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plans address community issues such as land use, transportation, housing, natural and historic resources and community facilities and services. Open space, Greenways and Recreation Plans identify opportunities for establishing public and private natural areas, facilities and programs. When the joint plans are complete, each township would maintain its own zoning ordinances just as they do now, and would not be required to update ordinances in conjunction with one another.

Showers then described the activities that would occur at booths stationed around the room.

One exhibit presented existing conditions for review while another showed the results of an activity conducted to gather opinions from community youth. A Visual Preference Survey provided an opportunity for participants to view images of many different types of land uses and to respond by indicating which they preferred for their community. A fourth exhibit provided the draft plan vision statement, goals and objectives for comment, while the last involved a SWOT activity where participants prioritized the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the townships.

By working together, the townships were able to access state and county funding from four sources that will cover all expenses. “The townships share some of the same needs and concerns,” Mrozinski added. “Planning efforts and projects can reach beyond township borders.”

Lackawaxen Township supervisor Brian Stuart stressed the value of combining efforts to access resources, such as grant funding to allow for hiring a professional planning firm and establishing a broader vision and protections for both townships. “Planning beyond your boundaries is critical,” he said.

Mrozinski emphasized that it’s still early in the process. Community surveys mailed to residents of both townships in June are still being received and must be tabulated. Results of the planning activities that occurred on June 27 will be used to help guide the plan’s development. Additional public meetings are being scheduled and the LSCAC will continue to meet on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at alternate townships. Next up is Shohola Township on July 25 and the public is welcome to attend.

Residents respond

Shohola Township administrator Nelia Wall said that of the 3,000 surveys mailed to residents of Shohola, approximately 1,000 completed surveys have been received to date. “We’re getting a lot of positive feedback,” Wall said. “The most consistent response is that people want to keep Shohola as rural as it is now. And they realize that the natural environment doesn’t end at the township border.”

Stuart said that likewise, many Lackawaxen residents have expressed a desire for things to remain the same. He pointed out that the planning process, while perceived as threatening to some, is actually a means of putting protections in place that can help to preserve some of the most highly valued qualities and features of the township. Stuart encouraged residents to become involved in the interactive process of the plan’s development. “Come to the meetings and express your opinion,” he said.

On this point, all parties were in agreement. “People need to take an interest,” said Zaimes, who plans to attend upcoming meetings and encouraged others to do so. “People need to get involved in local government and talk to one another,” said Wall.

Gordon Wildermuth, a member of the LSCAC and a Lackawaxen Township resident, said that community involvement is crucial to creating a more unified vision. “It’s important to get the majority of the people to express their opinion and participate. It results in a more representative outcome.”

A website has been established at projects.jmt.com/lackawaxenshohola/index.html to provide ongoing information as the process continues. The community survey can also be downloaded from this site. Other information is available at www.lackawaxen.org, www.shoholatwp.org or pikepa.org/communityplanning.htm or by calling each township office or the Pike County Office of Community Planning.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Gordon Wildermuth, a member of the Lackawaxen Shohola Citizen Advisory Committee, and Lackawaxen Township resident and business owner Dimitri Zaimes discuss a map depicting the existing parks, recreation and open spaces in the two townships during a mapping activity. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Residents participate in a SWOT exercise by placing colored dots to indicate what they see as the “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats” facing the townships. (Click for larger version)