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How Effective is Your Planning Board?

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Is your planning board respected even when some of its decisions are controversial? That is just one of many questions to ask when gauging your effectiveness, a process that should be ongoing.

A rough measurement is what might be called the "sustain-ability" index. Check the record of the last two years. When your opinions were appealed to your governing body, were they overturned more than they were sustained? A yes answer may indicate the commission is at odds with the elected officials. If so, it could be that you are not effective advocates for your positions or out of step with your community. On the other hand, it may be that your governing body is failing to follow adopted codes in its decisions.

While planning boards should not expect their decisions to be rubber-stamped, neither should they be regularly overturned.

Either case should be cause for concern and honest evaluation. While planning boards should not expect their decisions to be rubber-stamped, neither should they be regularly overturned. If the problem is with the governing body's misapplication of the zoning code or other provisions, consider requesting a joint workshop to resolve matters.

Even if the commission and the governing body generally agree, there are other ways to ascertain the commission's effectiveness.

Reputation. Is the planning board considered generally pro- or anti-development? Be wary of either label. Make sure all your rulings are fair and based on your honest interpretation of the values, plans, and statutes of your community. Deal openly and fairly with controversy. You probably are on the right track when the developers accuse you of being pro-neighborhoods and vice-versa. But remember, planning commissions sometimes have to make tough decisions that are not popular with either side. ...

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photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

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