The last time the boroughs of Jim Thorpe, Summit Hill and Lansford mapped out their collective futures was in 1966, when gas was 32 cents a gallon and the first episode of "Star Trek" debuted on television.
A lot has changed since then – the population has been declining but has become more diverse; resources are diminishing, infrastructure is crumbling and the economy has slackened.
Now, 44 years later, the boroughs are updating their joint land use plan, called the Western Carbon County Comprehensive Plan, to reflect those changes and use them to help build a blueprint for the coming decade.
Each borough in 2008 appointed members to a planning committee that began the initial assessment and mapping work. On Wednesday, organizers for the first time met with members of the public – residents, business owners and local government officials – to review the plan's progress. Similar meetings will be held in Summit Hill and Lansford in May and June.
Updating the plan and seeking public opinion is important, said Carbon County Planning and Development director Judy Borger.
"These communities and their residents gave some thought to the direction they would like to see their communities going over the next 10 years," she said.
Borger said the countywide plan needs to be updated, too. But she first wants to see municipalities revise their plans so the county plan can use them as a guide in revising its own plan.
"I'm a bottom-up planner, not a top-down planner," she said. "I wanted to have these regional groups get ahead of us, and then we'll get going from there."
Municipalities have joined in regional planning throughout the county. The Palmerton area comprehensive plan was adopted last year, and others are in varying stages of updating their plans.
The Jim Thorpe-Summit Hill-Lansford project is expected to cost $162,390, said Carson Helfrich of Community Planning and Management, LLC, Wayne County.
Of that amount, the project has gotten grants of $46,930 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for land use planning and technical assistance; $45,730 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Open Space; and $24,000 from the state Department of Transportation.
The three boroughs must contribute a total of $45,730.
First, the project's committee assessed the current status of all three boroughs. Helfrich pointed out that each has its own unique character: Jim Thorpe as a tourist center; Summit Hill as a bedroom community; and Lansford, which had updated its own comprehensive plan in 1999, as a town struggling to find its niche in light of demographic and economic changes.
Nanci Sarcinello, of Sarcinello Planning & GIS Services in West Chester, Montgomery County, said the planning revision is about a quarter to a third of the way complete, and is expected to wrap up by early 2011.
The changes must be reviewed by borough planning commissions, adjoining municipalities and school districts, and then, after special meetings to seek public opinion, adopted by borough councils.
Organizers have compiled maps, snapshots that have "inventoried land use, natural resources, water resources, transportation issues and community facilities.
"We also need to look into utilities, sewer and water issues and formulate a future land use plan," Sarcinello said. "What it will become, in essence, is a growth-management plan."
The revised plan should be reviewed and updated in another 10 years.
The planning process, Sarcinello said, "gives the communities a chance to think about what their goals are for the future."
Now, the boroughs have a total of 25 square miles of land, 12,000 residents, 6,000 homes, 46.5 miles of road and 22.5 miles of state road.
As Sarcinello reviewed maps of housing, business, soils, wetlands, waterways, traffic, industry and open space, those attending the meeting offered opinions, asked questions and made suggestions.
Among them was Michael Gontar, who asked about waterways and forested lands.
Helfrich said Jim Thorpe's streams are all high quality or exceptional value, and that the comprehensive plan should aim to keep them that way.
There are "impaired" streams in other areas of western Carbon County, mostly polluted by acid mine drainage, he said.
Gontar suggested more clearly designating state game lands and other open space on the map.
The maps also indicated where more study is needed for smoother traffic flow, particularly at Hazard Square in Jim Thorpe. Sarcinello said the committees would study what improvements would be called for at those spots.
Jim Thorpe residents can see draft plan sections of the proposed changes in land use planning and additional details by contacting the borough secretary at the borough office at 101 East 10th St.