y just about all standards, Mt. Lebanon’s last comprehensive plan was a resounding success.
State law compels Pennsylvania communities to file a comprehensive plan—a road map for development—every 10 years. Of the 56 action items on the 2013 list, the municipality completed or significantly addressed 53, for a completion rate of 95 percent. Some of the items on the list were not completed because of changing conditions, such as plans for developing the area above the Mt. Lebanon T station, which was put out for bid but the numbers just didn’t work. Similarly, a recommendation for development of the privately owned land at Washington and Bower Hill roads never came to fruition.
Some of the most visible improvements from the 2013 comprehensive plan include the renovated public works complex on Cedar Boulevard; improvements to the rink and the swimming pool; the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon’s history center and the Vibrant Uptown streetscape project. Other initiatives include updating the zoning ordinance and expanding the inspection office’s code enforcement activities, the release of voluntary design guidelines for Mt. Lebanon’s Historic District and the upgraded traffic signal at Bower Hill, Firwood and N. Wren.
Mt. Lebanon Municipal Manager Keith McGill was the municipal planner when the last plan was developed, and he was determined to make sure it was not just a mandatory document completed to keep Harrisburg off our backs. He took a different approach from previous comprehensive plans, and made the document more dynamic by beginning with heavy community input before making any decisions.
“A comprehensive plan should be a living document, which is why our current plan is reviewed annually with the Planning Board and the Commission,” said McGill.
“As part of that review, progress on action items is reviewed and upcoming Capital Improvement Projects identified in the Comprehensive Plan are discussed. The plan also serves as a guide for our elected officials for both financial and policy decisions. The plan is truly a community effort and should reflect our vision for the future and direction on how to get there,” added McGill.
“I’m really excited to envision where the community is going,” said Ian McMeans, Mt. Lebanon’s planner and assistant municipal manager. He believes an updated comprehensive plan will “maintain our status as a premier community, while continuing to evolve and meet the needs of the community.”
Mt. Lebanon has retained the planning firm of Pashek MTR to deliver the comprehensive plan, which McMeans hopes will be completed by the end of 2023. The first step is to find out what the community wants to see in the next decade. Pashek, in conjunction with YARD & Company, a Cincinnati-based urban growth firm, and WSP, a transportation planning firm specializing in mobility and sustainability, will find ways to gather opinions in person and online through multiple surveys and outreach efforts.
Mt. Lebanon just completed a master plan for parks and recreational facilities. The timing was intentional, to ensure that the parks plan would be completed in time for the municipal comprehensive plan. The recently completed climate action plan from the Allegheny County Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) will also inform the planning process.
Jenni Easton, a planner with Pashek, is coordinating the efforts of the three companies.
“We’re really jazzed to be working with Mt. Lebanon,” she said. “We understand that Mt. Lebanon is competing not only with local communities, but with communities all across the country.”
“Over the next 18 months, we will give residents multiple opportunities for input,” McMeans said. “I’m looking forward to seeing where the community wants to go.”
The first of those opportunities happened over the summer, as representatives from Pashek made the rounds of community events: First Fridays, July 4, the Mt. Lebanon Police Association’s classic car show, and the farmers markets, to solicit input. The comprehensive plan team has already broken one record:
“We got more survey respondents just over the July 4 weekend than we did for the entire 2013 plan,” McMeans said.
The initial survey asked two questions: What do you like about Mt. Lebanon, and what would you like to see change? The more than 900 replies listed familiar pluses—walkability, safety, greenspace, sense of community—and saw room for improvement in areas such as diversity in the community, adding a dog park and pickleball courts.
A sampling of visitors to the car show yielded a good crop of comments. Magnolia Place resident Jayke Webb would like to see more dog-friendly parks. His partner, Cate Irvin, wants to see more public art, more street trees and the right-sizing of streets to accommodate more non-motorized traffic.
“We’ve lived here about a year, and walkability is key, but we need more sidewalks,” she said, while also voicing the awareness that some streets, such as Washington Road, are owned and maintained by the state and not Mt. Lebanon.
Bethel Park resident Jan Thomas took part in the on-street interviews. She would also like to see more sidewalks, but she believes one of the biggest problems is parking, more specifically raising awareness of available spaces in the parking garages on Washington Road.
“On-street parking is bad, but why don’t more people park in the garages? We have these two big garages, but nobody uses them.”
The next step after gathering the input is to work toward implementation of the goals.
“One of the things Pashek is best known for is implementability, if that’s a word,” said Easton with a smile.
“Our first step is to go heavy on public engagement. We want to get people who traditionally don’t participate in the process; maybe they’re too busy to go to a meeting, so we’ll try to engage them where they are. Then we rely on that input to focus our resources on what respondents want to see, and try to build the capacity for implementation before the plan is adopted.”
Easton says the job is much easier with the high level of commitment that Mt. Lebanon has already shown.
“We’re very lucky to have Keith, and a staff and commission that takes this process very seriously,” she said. “That means Mt. Lebanon has an incredible capacity to deliver.”
“I’m very hopeful that the feedback we receive will not focus on complaints, but will offer aspirational, creative solutions,” said McMeans. “The plan is generated from what the community wants. We will tailor the plan for the wants and needs of the community.”
A sampling of comments
More than 900 people completed Mt. Lebanon’s online survey the first few weeks after it was posted. Walkability was one of the most frequently mentioned benefits of living here. “Parks are great; schools are great; walking community,” wrote one commenter, who would like to see a dog park.
Some other pros:
“Unique and varied housing, some brick roads remain, trees and more trees!”
“The community feeling. Uptown is getting better. Nice rec center.”
“Great schools. Walkable. Great mixture of residential and commercial properties. Trolley connection to downtown.”
“The police and fire departments.”
“Mt. Lebanon cares about itself as a community. It is well maintained, well policed, well protected with ambulance and fire service, great business district and tries to keep all of these things top notch.”
“Diversity and inclusion. I like open minded educated and friendliness of our community. Welcoming and tolerance of others.”
“I have lived here for over 40 years and I love that Mt. Lebanon is a cohesive community with an unique identity. There is a real sense of belonging. I feel safe here.”
Some room for improvement:
“Genuine commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion in local government, municipal staff across departments, volunteer boards and authorities.”
“Complete Streets and Eco District planning and implementation to improve flagging infrastructure, build climate resiliency, and commit to 21st century planning and design that is not just car-centric.”
“Harsh lights, totally unnecessary, beaming out from the parking garage. Turn them so they face the pavement…not the nearby neighbors. It would be kind to the neighbors and the birds.”
“We need to bring in more people who did not grow up here and end the “I’m a fourth-generation MTL graduate” thinking. It is holding the community back. We need to stop defining kids by what elementary school they attended.”
“Some different restaurants. We have plenty of pizza, tacos and Mediterranean options. We could use a good burger place, and we need our bakery back!”
“The Denis Theater really, actually opening.”
“I would like to see more diversity, more inclusion of others with differences and different backgrounds to make Mt. Lebanon a richer and more worldly and current place. We also need more awareness of climate change and our responsibility as citizens so we can green our spaces, plant natives, make educated choices for refuse and water and sequester carbon.”
“We need to continue and enhance community events, facilities and opportunity. Increasingly individuals and our households have become too removed. Let’s seek co-sharing cost programs where persons and groups have vested interest.”