What You Need to Know About City Planning in Pennsylvania Spotlight PA State University

How Local Government Works is a series that focuses on issues and trends in Pennsylvania’s local government and provides readers with the tools to hold local government officials to account.

State Universities — Local government officials shape the daily lives of their residents with the mundane but important power of land-use decisions.

Land use affects population density, access to jobs, housing and transportation, and determines how communities balance their natural and industrial resources. Urban planning decisions determine the direction of a region in many ways.

So how are these decisions made?

of Pennsylvania Municipal Planning CodeAlso known as the MPC, it applies to all municipalities within the Commonwealth except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

This law has been in force since the late 1960s and aims to guide land use, promote economic growth, protect valuable resources, and more. The MPC establishes rules for the powers and duties of planning agencies, general planning requirements, and ordinances for parcels, subdivisions and land developments.

Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are required to produce a comprehensive plan every ten years. These documents detail how each community envisions the future through what they consider to be appropriate land use. Counties and local governments can then enact various ordinances to enforce those visions.

because Pennsylvania’s Fragmented Local Government SystemControl over planning matters may be divided between counties and municipalities within counties.

Wards and townships can adopt their own ordinances that override county regulations on zoning, building permits and stormwater management, said Chris Schnuer, Center County’s zoning and land development planner. In the absence of local ordinances, county rules apply.

“Pennsylvania is very unique,” Ray Strinas, director of Center County Planning and Regional Development, told Spotlight Pennsylvania. “With the Municipal Planning Act and the ability for local governments to adopt their own regulations, Pennsylvania may have 2,700 different governing bodies. That could be a challenge.”

Urban planning involves more than planning agencies. Taxpayers can play a role as well as property owners, developers, engineers, conservation groups, utility companies and state governments.

If you’re curious about your community’s land-use decisions, here are some basic ways to learn more.

  • Find out what planning agencies or commissions exist in your city.

  • Request a copy of the adopted general plan from your county (or city, if any).

  • Request a copy of all planning ordinances enacted by your city or county.

  • Contact your city, county, or local planning authority to ask when the next review of the general plan will take place.

  • Attend a hearing (check with the hearing to see which hearings are required) MPC).

Finding this information may seem daunting, but Pennsylvania law gives the public the right to access and participate in the planning process.

Questions about your local government? Email Ming Xiang

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