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The Planning Commission at Work

Think Regionally, Act Locally

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

Have you ever been riding along in your car and been able to tell exactly when you entered the city limits by the change in the road pavement? Have you ever looked at the streetscape and known right where the corporate boundary is just by the way land uses change abruptly? You don't need to see the sign to know that you are in a different place. It is obvious to you that one community treated their boundary as a hard edge, and where they adjoined the neighboring community, there was no thought put into a seamless appearance of the pavement, or perhaps even of the physical development.

Each community has its identity -- and that's very important -- but no community is an island. In today's mobile and global economy, the decisions that you as a planning commissioner will make must recognize the relationships, impacts, and opportunities of not only your community, but also the communities that surround you. Even in the days of the company town where everyone lived, worked, shopped, and played in the same place, people had to share resources with their neighbors.

Your job as a planning commissioner is to address your community's future, but the decisions you are asked to make sometimes have impacts beyond your own city or town. Those decisions can call for you to think regionally while acting locally.

Your first obligation in preparing to deal with regional impacts is to ensure that your community's comprehensive plan identifies potential regional issues and provides a mechanism for addressing them.

Your first obligation in preparing to deal with regional impacts is to ensure that your community's comprehensive plan identifies potential regional issues and provides a mechanism for addressing them -- including input from and communication with affected parties outside your jurisdiction. Your second obligation is to consider the regional implications of your plan implementation actions.

In his recent PCJ article, "Considering the Regional Impacts of Local Action," Greg Dale pointed out  two areas which particularly beg for you as the planning commissioner to look beyond your community's boundary when making decisions: (1) systems: natural environmental, transportation, natural resource, and housing; and (2) land use impacts on adjacent/nearby communities, particularly traffic caused by major retail.

While Dale's article focused on ethical reasons for why a planning commission should balance the interest of a community against the broader region, this is not just an ethical issue. It is also one of practicality and common sense.

Walls to Communication

A few years ago, Lisa assisted a city in undertaking a complete revision of its zoning ordinance prompted by the spillover growth coming from the nearby major metropolitan area. The need for this new zoning ordinance had been identified in the city's comprehensive plan.

There was a small group of people who lived just a few hundred feet beyond the city limits in the unincorporated county. They wanted to volunteer to serve on the ad hoc committee that was assisting the planning commission with developing the new ordinance. These individuals had long-standing ties to the community. The city was where they collected their mail, bought their groceries, paid their water bill, and attended church. Their children went to schools inside the city. However, since they were not actually voting, tax-paying residents of the city, their request to join the committee was turned down.

Later, when the planning commission heard development permit requests that would have affected traffic generation, land use patterns, and property values of these concerned non-citizens, elected officials instructed the commission to ignore impacts beyond the city's border. It was like placing a brick wall at the city limit.

As a planning commissioner, do you see the "lose/lose" outcome of this example?

By limiting the scope of the permit review process, the city set itself up for abrupt and incompatible land use patterns at its border.

First, the city missed out on hearing valuable perspectives from people with authentic connections to the city -- and who were willing to put in the time to help craft a good zoning ordinance. Second, by limiting the scope of the permit review process, the city set itself up for abrupt and incompatible land use patterns at its border. Moreover, the city lessened the county's interest in receiving city input concerning development permits for major projects outside the city limits.

Walls of this kind can stop communications in both directions. ...

End of excerpt


photo of the SegedysJim Segedy, FAICP, worked for many years in Ball State University’s Community Based Planning program, providing assistance to more than one hundred communities and many plan commissions (as planning commissions are called in Indiana). He is currently a member of the Edgewood (Pennsylvania) Planning Commission and previously served on the Delaware County (Indiana) Plan Commission.

Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, AICP, is the Associate Director for River Restoration for American Rivers’ Pittsburgh field office. Before moving to Pennsylvania, she spent over a decade as a circuit-riding planner for a regional planning organization serving the western fringe of Metropolitan Atlanta.

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