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Town officials express confidence
 over comp plan

(4/5) Although a large chunk of time has been lost in the movement to produce a draft comprehensive plan, town officials stated at the March 6 town meeting they believe they can salvage the effort and move forward quickly.

The original comprehensive plan, adopted in 1974, represented the first effort to establish planning and zoning controls in Emmitsburg, and was most recently updated in the mid-90s. The current review is part of a periodic revision process.

Producing the initial draft of the town's soon-to-be-updated comprehensive plan has taken more than a year and a half, with the first workshops dating back to 2004.The late-2005 resignations of Town Planner Michael Lucas and Zoning Technician Jennifer Joy brought the process to a near halt and resulted in no final draft being produced.

Senior Inspector Frank Henry and planning commission Chairman Rich Kapriva both stated March 6 that the proposed draft appeared further along than they had thought, and the pace of completion should pick up.

Town Manager David Haller agreed with Henry and Kapriva's assessment of the plan's status, stating, "It looks like it (the draft) is not too far away. Possibly, it's almost ready for completion."

Board President Christopher V. Stagier said the plan should be completed under the guidance of a planning consultant. "We will need to use the resource of a consultant to pull this plan together. I think we will be in better shape once we have a consultant," he stated.

The town staff and board have been discussing ways to compensate for the resignations of Joy and Lucas, and are considering hiring a consultant in lieu of a full-time planner. (See "Town will seek planning consultant" in the Feb. 2 issue of The Dispatch.)

Former Commissioner Dianne L. Walbrecker told the board more than just a revision of the comprehensive plan must occur. "We have to make sure we get it incorporated into our ordinances," she said. Commissioner William B. O'Neil, Jr. agreed that producing a completed comprehensive plan should only be the first step, saying, "The plan shouldn't be a paper tiger and should be tied to the ordinance. Often they (municipal comprehensive plans) are never really connected to law."

O'Neil also wants to make sure the comprehensive plan includes the "Heart of the Civil War Heritage" management plan, which would qualify the town for a number of grants and loans applicable to the historic assets of the community.

Commissioner Glenn Blanchard warned that extra steps should be taken to ensure "there are no loopholes," saying developers and their attorneys are known for seeking out weaknesses in planning regulations.

Walbrecker placed the blame on the draft's delay squarely on the shoulders of Haller at a recent meeting of the New Forest Society, but also stated at the March 6 town meeting that she had typed revisions to the comprehensive plan and passed them on to Lucas to assist in expediting the process.

Commissioner O'Neil asked Haller at the March 6 town meeting about the cause of the continuous delays. In response, Haller said much of the failure to produce the draft lies with former Town Planner Michael Lucas. "I met with him (Lucas) several times. It was always 'next week' or it was always 'next month'," Haller said, adding, "I told him he had to get it done."

The planning commission will continue to review the draft comprehensive plan to ensure recommended changes have been made before submitting the draft to the board of commissioners.

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