The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 14, 2013

Municipal officials protest planning commission reviews

Kathy Mellott

EBENSBURG — For the first time in 75 years, the Cambria County Planning Commission is enforcing a longtime state law allowing it to review all proposed subdivisions and land development projects in municipalities with subdivision ordinances.

These reviews, which come with a fee beginning at $100 per project, will stifle smaller growth, cause delays and be redundant to what planning commissions in townships and boroughs are already doing, a group of leaders told county officials on Thursday.

“Our residents are going to be saying, ‘are you kidding me? $125 for them (county planning commission) to tell me what the municipality already knows,’ ” Jackson Township Supervisor Bruce Baker said.

“We want to encourage growth. This will make it more expensive for anyone to do anything.”

Another official not identified called the requirement a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

Baker and about 20 other municipal officials from around the county met at the courthouse with commissioners Mark Wissinger and Tom Chernisky along with Ethan Imhoff, county planning commission executive director, to voice their frustrations and ask for a lowering of at least some of the fees.

After the hour-long meeting, Wissinger and Chernisky told the group they would meet with Imhoff and see what, if anything, can be done to ease the pain, especially for small sub-division plans and lot consolidations.

“This isn’t set in stone,” Wissinger said. “We told the departments to find ways to help pay more of their costs. The idea is if a cost is involved, let the user pay the fee.”

Chernisky said he feels the review is redundant with municipal reviews.

And, he said: “We don’t want to put any more delays into the process.”

In a January letter to Cambria County municipalities, Imhoff said the nine-member planning commission was enforcing the state review process for a multitude of reasons, including an attempt to ease the financial pinch in his department.

The state has allowed such reviews since 1968, and until the planning commission’s recent action, Cambria was the only fourth class county in the state to not enforce it, Wissinger


Currently, 29 of Cambria’s municipalities have subdivision ordinances. Plans are presented to the borough and township officials and local planning commissions as approval is needed.

This additional review, Adams Township Supervisor B.J. Smith said, will create delays and financial burdens homeowners should not have to bear.

“People will have to make repeated trips to Ebensburg. This is duplication. It’s something that is already being

done by the municipalities,” he said.

The rate schedule adopted by the county planning commission starts at $100 per review for lot consolidation plans and reaches as high as $300 for small planned residential developments.

It tops out at $700 for institutional structures.

“In the grand scheme of things it (the fee) doesn’t have that much impact,” Imhoff countered.

As for the time concern, state law gives Imhoff’s agency 30 days to review, but he hopes to get each one done within a 10-day span.

He estimated that in 2012 his agency reviewed not more than a dozen land-use or subdivision plans.

Imhoff was unable to estimate what that figure will reach in 2013 with the new regulation.

A repeated concern of many officials was the 34 municipalities stretching from Ferndale Borough to White Township that do not have subdivision ordinances.

Imhoff said those municipalities without ordinances don’t have to follow this review process, something he suggested officials take up with their state legislators.

The additional requirement likely will generate about $10,000 a year and help fill the 20 percent funding cut the planning commission is facing this year, he said.