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The Planning Commission at Work

The Words Sounded Familiar

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... The likelihood is strong that most planning commissioners remember their first commission meeting. I recall rather vividly my initial commission meeting; in part because I had just broken my ankle. My movement was tentative and uncertain as I was unable to coordinate the crutches with my arms and legs. My sense of rhythm -- which has never been great -- was completely missing. In the words of my youngest child, I moved like a "klutz."

PUD sounded like a dog running loose in an open field and floor area ratio with density bonus sounded like a carpeting job.

Once I settled into my seat and the meeting started, it did not take long for me to dismiss the crutches as a problem. In short order, colleagues began using the king's English in a manner that sounded almost foreign. They spoke at length about a PUD and its special relationship to open space. They also spent a fair amount of time talking about floor area ratio and density bonuses. I was perplexed. The words sounded familiar, but they made little sense in the context of the discussion. PUD sounded like a dog running loose in an open field and floor area ratio with density bonus sounded like a carpeting job. But this could not be right. This was a planning commission meeting. What was wrong with me? Was I missing something? What was this language I was hearing and what did it mean?

Fortunately for me, a veteran of the commission took me aside at the conclusion of the meeting and reassured me that all was well. He told me that planners had a language all their own. I would have to learn what was meant one meeting at a time. As my seasoned colleague put it, planning was like learning how to drive: it would take awhile and there would be frustrations along the way; however, I would probably make it.

Sound familiar? I would venture a guess that most commissioners reading this column can relate to my experience. For a variety of reasons, it seems most people appointed to local planning commissions receive little or no orientation following their appointment. Their success or failure as a commissioner quickly becomes a function of on-the-job learning, adaptation, and personal persistence. ...

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