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The Planning Commission at Work

What Planners Wish Their Planning Commissioners Knew

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Lisa recently visited with Paulding County, Georgia’s Planner, Chris Robinson, whose career has included work at two regional planning commissions, two counties, one city, and one state agency. She asked him “over the years and in all the places where you have worked as a planner, what did you wish your planning commissioners knew?”

Chris’ answers started us down a road studded with memories of our own experiences over the years as we worked to empower planning commissioners at their job. Sometimes it simply comes down to taking a step back and reminding ourselves of the basics. Obviously, these don’t all apply to everyone, but it never hurts to remind ourselves who we are, and what we’re doing on the planning commission in the first place. Each state has a slightly different set of rules and definitions for each of these, and local groups can establish their own procedures, but the basic ideas work across the board. So with our thanks to Chris for his perspective, and apologies to David Letterman, here’s our Top Ten List of things that planners wish their planning commissioners knew:

10. The responsibilities and duties of being a planning commissioner. 
Planning commission involvement is not an appointment to accept for status or a community service item activity to add to your resume. It involves training, study, and preparation for every meeting. You will need a clear understanding of the planning commission’s role in administrative and legislative actions, as well as legal issues such as due process, “takings,” preemption, and more.Planning commissioners are responsible for working together to ensure that the community grows and develops according to the vision established in the plan. As you consider an appointment (or accepting a re-appointment) carefully consider the significant commitment required, from the amount of time involved in preparing to make informed decisions to the (potentially lengthy) meetings each month.

9. Proper adoption of the zoning ordinance, map, and amendments is very important.
 Planning commissioners should be familiar with their state’s code language that spells out the procedures for how a zoning ordinance and/or map can be amended. Requirements for advertising and public hearings are the most common items addressed in these procedures, but some states specify additional standards.

8. The relationship between the comprehensive plan and the zoning ordinance.
 Your comprehensive plan (or master plan, or something similar) is the critical guidance document for your community. It likely contains an examination of current conditions, identifying goals and objectives for the future, and a general framework for how to achieve those goals — and why. The plan establishes the framework for decision-making and the public purpose for local government regulations pertaining to land use.

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