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Penn Township residents wish to preserve township’s rural character

As Butler County municipalities such as Saxonburg, Middlesex Township, and Penn Township have spent the past few months updating their comprehensive plans, the sharp divide between rural and urban America has come into sharp focus yet again.

Penn Township, in partnership with engineering firm Herbert Rowland & Grubic, is looking to update its comprehensive plan for the first time since 2010. As part of the public comment phase, residents have made quite clear their stance on the future of development in their township.

Results of an online survey, revealed at a meeting of the comprehensive plan steering committee on Wednesday, Dec. 6, showed a large sample of township residents wished to preserve the rural character of Penn Township to the fullest possible extent.

The township first released the survey in late September, and received 183 responses before the survey closed Nov. 15. Out of the respondents, 176 of them lived within Penn Township.

The results of the survey indicated the most important parts of living in Penn Township to many residents are directly related to the township’s rural setting.

When asked what people enjoyed about living in Penn Township, more than 140 said “rural, small-town atmosphere” was a reason, while more than 100 voted for “peace and quiet” and “public safety/low crime.”

When asked what their most important issues were, more than 120 voted for “preservation of small-town atmosphere,” while nearly 120 voted for “preservation of agricultural lands and farms” and “preservation of natural landscape.”

About 90% of respondents said the township should discourage industrial development, while more than 80% said they should discourage multifamily residential development.

Eighty-one respondents said the sentence, “I feel the township has adequate development and therefore I do not support encouraging any new growth or development,” best describes their feelings out of a choice between three sentences.

The sample of residents, though, was not necessarily opposed to new developments such as a grocery store or a restaurant. Close to 90 voted in favor of more grocery stores, while close to 80 voted for more restaurants.

The township, along with HRG, concluded Penn Township should not go out of its way to emulate faster-growing townships such as Cranberry, Middlesex or Adams.

“Most respondents strongly value the rural character of the township,” read a PowerPoint presentation prepared by HRG. “The township is not trying to imitate nearby hot spots such as Cranberry or even Middlesex. The comprehensive plan should focus on policymaking to ensure consistent rural character for years to come.”

“In my view, the survey results from 183 participants are spot on,” wrote township supervisor Samuel Ward. “The committee is making great progress and we anticipate that the update will be complete in late 2024.”

Penn Township is not the only municipality trying to update its comprehensive plan. Middlesex Township and the borough of Saxonburg started the process earlier this year. Forward Township finished updating its in November 2022.

The next meeting of the comprehensive plan steering committee for Penn Township is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2024.

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