Bell Acres comprehensive plan makes progress

Saturday, February 8, 2020 | 12:01 AM

Bell Acres residents soon will see improved communication from the borough, infrastructure needs addressed and the municipality’s green spaces enhanced.

The borough’s planning commission has been working for the last three years on a new comprehensive plan that tackles the main needs of the community. As the plan continues to move forward, residents soon will see parts of it implemented in the borough.

“It truly is both a vision for the future and it also helps the borough understand what the current needs are, what the current concerns are from their residents,” said Diane Abell, planning commission chair.

The borough’s first comprehensive plan was done in 1994, followed by an update completed in 2005.

Allegheny County encourages municipalities to complete a comprehensive plan that outlines its vision and guides its decisions every 10 years, Abell said.

“Most communities use their plans as a kind of ‘north star’ to guide them toward their goals,” said Elaine Kramer, a planner with Pashek+MTR, whose North Side consulting firm was brought on to assist Bell Acres in the process.

“Once a community sets its goals/priorities, the comprehensive plan can then help officials make decisions over the course of years,” she said. “It can help guide the officials on policies or spending decisions that support the community’s high-priority, long-term goals.”

Instead of creating a plan with a long list of unattainable goals that will sit on the shelf for years, this one is meant to be implementable, Abell said.

Community input, therefore, is key.

As part of the process, borough leaders sent post-cards to every residence in Bell Acres, alerting residents to an online survey, Abell said. Copies even were provided at the borough building for people who didn’t want to go the online route.

Planning commission members also interviewed residents and community stakeholders and held a community meeting in September 2018.

They wanted to know what the community wants for Bell Acres.

The top priority for residents was wanting to see the borough’s green spaces protected and the development of trails to access that, Abell said.

Bell Acres is a “large Allegheny County Natural Heritage site,” Abell said, with “277 acres of environmentally sensitive public land under conservation easement with the Western PA Conservancy.” The borough also has several other acres protected by the Allegheny Land Trust, she said.

Residents also wanted to see improved communication in the borough and infrastructure needs addressed.

Focus groups were formed to address these three areas that are at the center of the comprehensive plan.

On each group are residents who are “truly invested” in the topic, Abell said.

The first group formed looked at communication. They’re working on an overhaul of the borough’s website and possibly bringing community notification system Savvy Citizen to Bell Acres.

The focus group addressing infrastructure needs is working on road resurfacing strategies that will put streets on a rotation, along with addressing sewage issues and flooding in the community, according to leaders.

The enhancement of green spaces will get attention in 2020, as the focus group starts work this month.

Each focus group is creating strategies for how to get the goals residents want to see accomplished.

Once the strategies are completed, another public meeting will be held, planning commission members will give their final review and the document will move to borough council for approval, along with being sent to Allegheny County.

The hope is that the document and strategies will be finalized by year’s end.

“It’s been such a great process,” Abell said.