Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg Architect To Steer City’s Comprehensive Plan

A screenshot of the new interactive zoning map on Harrisburg's planning page.

A screenshot of the new interactive zoning map on Harrisburg’s planning page.

Harrisburg has awarded a contract to a consulting team for the first update in more than 40 years to its comprehensive plan, a document that will guide development across the city for the next two decades.

The $200,000 contract went to a team led by Bret Peters, of the Harrisburg firm Office for Planning and Architecture, that includes designers, planners and engineers from both local and global firms.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse and city planner Geoffrey Knight, sporting ties with street-grid designs from Philadelphia and New York City, respectively, said the update was long overdue and would help speed the city’s recovery.

Papenfuse described the plan as “the vision of the residents, and the business owners, and the stakeholders, and everyone who has a stake in Harrisburg and its future development.”

The mayor added that he expects the plan to be ready for formal approval in April 2016 and that it will probably result in a revision of the city’s zoning code.

Knight said the plan, when finished, would overhaul an existing comprehensive plan dating back to 1974. “So we’re in arrears by about 20 years with updating and adopting a new one,” he said.

Peters is a longtime Harrisburg architect who worked on a redesign of the Broad Street Market in the 1990s and has drafted plans for converting uptown portions of 2nd Street back from a one-way, three-lane street to a two-way road with a median.

His consulting team will include representatives of Arup, a global engineering firm; K&W Engineers and Consultants, a Harrisburg civil engineering firm; Stacy Spann of AB3 Development Advisory, a Washington, D.C.-based expert in housing policy; and Cooltown Studios, which will design a website to solicit public input on the plan.

Peters described his team as “international-caliber consultants” who could inform Harrisburg of “some of the best practices that are happening all over the world.”

Both Peters and the administration said the planning process would be driven by public input, both through the website designed by his team and through public meetings, beginning with a steering committee meeting at HACC’s Midtown campus tonight at 6 p.m.

“People who live in places see them differently than people coming in from far away for a short period of time,” Peters said. “So interviewing folks is one of the best ways to understand the actual fabric of the environment and understand what’s valued in that fabric.”

Harrisburg’s state-sponsored financial recovery plan, adopted in late 2013, had urged the city to adopt a new plan as one of myriad recommendations for improving governance and policy and spurring new development.

But an effort to hire consultants for the plan under Mayor Linda Thompson was scuttled when City Council and residents complained the contract, which had been quietly awarded to the Camp Hill firm Mullin & Lonergan, was not properly vetted.

The Papenfuse administration sidestepped such a controversy this time by sending two resolutions initiating the comprehensive planning process in February and June of last year.

Council passed the first resolution, which authorized the city planning commission and administration to begin the process of soliciting a new comprehensive plan, at a Feb. 25 legislative session.

The second resolution, which council passed on June 24, was primarily for the purpose of appropriating grant funds to repair two city pools, but also authorized the administration to spend up to $245,000 for consultants on the comprehensive plan.

Meanwhile, a 23-member steering committee, which the administration says it selected with input from council, has been meeting over the past year to draft a request for proposals, interview candidates and ultimately award a contract.

Among the committee members are Councilwoman Susan Brown-Wilson, Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority Director Bryan Davis, Capital Region Water CEO Shannon Williams and Dave Botero, the city’s community policing coordinator, all of whom attended a Thursday press conference announcing the contract award.

Papenfuse mentioned the 2nd Street conversion, which his administration petitioned the state to approve earlier this year, as an example of an existing part of the cityscape he would like to see re-envisioned in the comprehensive plan.

Papenfuse and Knight also used the press conference to demonstrate changes to the planning department’s page on the city website, which now includes an interactive, color-coded zoning map showing characteristics of land parcels across the city.

The city website also includes a dedicated link to information on the comprehensive plan.

This story has been updated with information about a City Council resolution in February 2014 that initiated the comprehensive planning process.

Continue Reading