The Planning Commission at Work

Be the Apple of Your Commission’s Eye

June 18th, 2014

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We recently focused on problems that can be caused by "bad apple" planning commissioners. It's time for some balance now -- as we'll share some of the characteristics we've found can make for "good apple" commissioners. Just as negative attitudes and behavior often leads to problems, positive behavior and habits can greatly increase the odds that your commission will be a constructive force in your community.

Top 10 cartoonLike David Letterman, we'll offer our "top ten" list in reverse order. Our thanks to Chris Robinson, Planning and Zoning Division Manager for Paulding County, Georgia, for his thoughtful input.

10. Show up. Collaborative decision-making works best when all interests are represented. Make attending the planning commission meetings a priority and participate. You’re needed for a quorum, but more importantly, you’re needed for your knowledge of and concern for your community.

9. Prepare yourself. You will be far more effective in your role as a planning commissioner if you are fully prepared for meetings.

Read your community’s comprehensive plan and be familiar with the goals and policies that guide land use decisions.

Review pending development applications and discuss any questions you may have with your planning staff in advance of the meeting.

Be known as the planning commissioner who knows what they’re talking about -- and enjoy the respect of your peers and the public.

Devote a few minutes of each meeting to learning more about a planning-related topic that is relevant to your community.

8. Contribute to preparation of the whole. When Jim served on the Muncie/Delaware County (Indiana) Plan Commission, he instituted the practice of a 10-15 minute “in-service” training at the beginning of each meeting.

Devoting a few minutes of each meeting to learning more about a planning-related topic that is relevant to your community can not only increase the knowledge of your planning commission, but it can also engage the whole commission, as commissioners takes their turn sharing research and information.

You could even start this tradition by discussing a column from PlannersWeb -- perhaps one of ours!

7. Check your personal opinions at the door. Your role as planning commissioner requires that you base your decisions on the standards contained in your zoning ordinance and/or by-laws, and focus on the community’s best interest. Your position as planning commissioner is to advocate for what’s best for the community as a whole. Be above making negative personal remarks in any setting about applicants or your fellow planning commissioners.

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6. Visit subject properties in advance of the meeting.

5. Understand and use the full range of tools available in the decision-making process to help ease potential land use conflicts.

4. Declare conflicts of interest without embellishment and leave the room.

3. Dance naked.

2. Take good notes in case of challenges or questions.

1. Use your ordinances and guidelines effectively.

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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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