Reporter's Guide to Pennsylvania Local Government

what you really need to know when they send you to a meeting


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Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code is the legislation that regulates planning and zoning in all municipalities except Philadelphia.

Planning commissions:

  • are established by ordinance
  • have three to nine members who are appointed by the governing body of the municipality (borough council, city council, township supervisors or commissioners)
  • must consist of more than half “citizen members” – not elected officials
  • have a solicitor and an engineer, who may be, but do not have to be, the same solicitor and engineer who work for the governing body

 Planning commissioners:

  • serve four-year overlapping terms
  • must be residents

Planning commissions are required by the MPC to prepare a comprehensive plan for the municipality, to be reviewed every 10 years. In practice, some municipalities are behind on the 10-year schedule.

The comprehensive plan is a legal document that attempts to assure orderly development of community facilities, economic land use, efficient traffic circulation and good use of environmental features.

It should consider projected population changes, land use, transportation, recreation, education, utilities and economic structure and should contain a statement of strategy or a statement of community development and timing of future development. The statement may also serve as the community development objectives required to enact a zoning ordinance.

Other things that planning commissions may do:

  • Prepare and amend the official municipal map
  • Prepare and present a zoning ordinance
  • Prepare and present subdivision and land development ordinances
  • Prepare and present building codes and housing codes
  • Prepare and present an environmental study
  • Recommend a capital improvement program
  • Prepare a water survey consistent with the state water plan and plans of any applicable river basin commissions
  • Conduct preliminary reviews of proposed subdivisions and land developments

Planning commissions are not elected bodies; their decisions are not final. Technically, the decision of a planning commission is a recommendation which is forwarded to the governing body for a final decision.

In practice, all the details of a plan, code or development-related ordinance may be worked out by the planning commission, and the governing body may simply cast a yes or no vote on the planning commission’s recommendation. Or, the governing body can disagree with its planning commission and choose to ignore its recommendation.

Recent state law and policies encourage intermunicipal or regional planning. In practice, municipal leaders tend to resist surrendering local control.

For more information, go to the “Links” page of this website and scroll down to a series of publications on planning from The Governor’s Center for Local Government Services. In addition, the Governor’s Center offers an online database of downloadable planning and zoning documents for many Pennsylvania counties and municipalities .


Written by pareporter

May 10, 2010 at 2:55 am

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