Sitting on Both Sides of the Table

October 2nd, 2011
Article #467

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

Excerpts from some of the replies to our first question: Was there anything that particularly surprised you when you started serving on the planning commission?

It’s Harder Than You Think

The biggest surprise was how much time being on the planning commission took and how little time I had to devote to the commission. I thought it would be easier for me being a former planner – i.e., I would understand the codes and the staff reports and wouldn’t have to study things so much. But I never had enough time to visit all the sites and to thoroughly read the staff reports. — Bonnie Johnson, Lawrence, KS

Having written the staff reports based on the codes and ordinances, I found that making decisions was harder than I ever imagined. This was especially true when cases had people and neighborhood aspects that were not always clear in the code. — Ann Bagley, Dallas, TX

The pressure of having residents, neighbors, friends, staring at you expecting you to do “the right thing,“ even if the law was not necessarily pointing you in that direction. — Aaron Henry, Danvers, MA

Since I did not work in a public sector position during the day, I did not expect four-hour planning commission meetings! I probably underestimated how contentious some issues were and how passionate people were about their neighborhoods. — Glenn Lapin, Huntington Woods, MI

My biggest surprise was how much I needed to get up-to-speed on basic planning principles again. I’ve worked my entire career in the transportation planning field, so I don’t deal with variances, conditional use permits, zoning, or other related issues on a day-to-day basis. It helped that I still had some of my old college books and the materials I used to study for the AICP exam. After revisiting those materials, and attending a few meetings, I was feeling much more comfortable! — Wayne Hurley, Fergus Falls, MN

 Article continues with more replies to this question, and also to the following questions:

  • If there’s one piece of advice you’d give to planning commissioners based on your experience as a professional planner, what would it be?
  • If there’s one piece of advice you’d give to planners based on your experience as a planning commissioner, what would it be?
  • Are there any suggestions you have for strengthening the working relationship between staff planners and planning commissioners?

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