Wanted: County planners

For half a century the Blair County Planning Commission has been performing an important function in helping to ensure orderly growth within the county.

Now, with a stable foundation for growth in place and with the county’s developmental “growing pains” resolved decades ago, the commission’s work is not as visible – nor is it as controversial – as it once was.

But the commission’s work continues to be important, not only for the county as a whole but for the individual municipalities as well. One of the commission’s functions is to review land-use proposals to ensure that they are consistent with adopted land-use plans as well as the countywide comprehensive plan.

With the commission’s important responsibilities ongoing, it’s inconsistent and puzzling that concerns have arisen over finding enough people to serve on the planning agency.

In a county with Blair’s population and diverse enterprises and interests, there ought to be a waiting list of people interested in being a part of important decision-making affecting the county’s overall well-being.

Commission members and the planning staffs of the 1960s and 1970s performed the toughest tasks, laying the groundwork for current functions that many people now regard as routine.

But the mission going forward is to not deviate from the effective review work that has been the commission’s trademark since its inception. What’s needed is to continue the orderly processes that long have been in place.

The idea currently being floated to decrease the commission’s size, possibly to seven, has come in response to the deaths of two commission members in December and two possible upcoming resignations.

The members who died were Ernest Hetrick of Williamsburg and Ray Amato of Antis Township.

Meanwhile, Bob Gutshall of Altoona has said he would like to give up his seat because of other obligations, and Don Rabenstein said at a meeting last month that he would resign if someone else were to step forward to serve.

Commission Chairman William Hall said at last month’s meeting that if enough people could be found to fill the vacancies, there would be no reason to reduce the commission’s size. The commission is made up of three city of Altoona representatives, three from the county’s boroughs and three from the townships.

It is the county commissioners who make appointments to the planning agency.

It would not be the proverbial end of the world if the commission were to be downsized. But having nine people involved in the planning process has provided good and equal representation for the county’s municipal entities.

Somebody is destined to lose if the commission is downsized.

If the commission makeup were to change to seven members, with two representatives each from the city, boroughs and townships and an at-large member, the at-large member still would give one of the three classes of municipalities a voting advantage.

From the growth perspective, the county might be a much different and less desirable place today, if it weren’t for the organized planning process that has operated here for a half-century.

That effective planning must continue uninterrupted.

People concerned about the county’s future need to offer their time and talents on the commission’s behalf.