The Planning Commissioners Guide

New Edition

By C. Gregory Dale, FAICP, Benjamin Herman, FAICP, Anne McBride, FAICP

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Across the country, communities rely on their planning commissions for guidance. But who guides the planning commissioners?

This step-by-step guidebook gets new commissioners off on the right foot and helps experienced commission members navigate their roles. The authors, all practicing planners, have worked extensively with planning commissions for decades. They have watched commissioners scramble up a steep learning curve, sit in the hot seat of controversy, and strive to make sound decisions for the places they call home.

In this helpful handbook, the authors share ideas, insights, and information to help commissioners succeed. Eight detailed chapters cover everything from the nuts and bolts of development applications to the nuances of legal issues to the part commissioners play in long-range planning. Readers will learn how to prepare for their first commission meeting, review a development plan, invite productive public input, and steer clear of ethical dilemmas.

Added resources include a glossary of planning terms, a list of training resources, and the American Planning Association's Statement of Ethical Principles in Planning. For anyone serving on a planning commission, The Planning Commissioners Guide is essential reading.



About the Authors

C. Gregory Dale, FAICP

C. Gregory Dale, FAICP

C. Gregory Dale, FAICP, is a founding principal of McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati, Ohio, affiliate office of Clarion Associates. He has managed planning projects throughout the country and has expertise in comprehensive plans, growth management plans, land-use regulations, citizen outreach programs, planning for historic areas and expert testimony on planning, zoning and land-use development issues. He is the co-author of The Citizen's Guide to Planning

Benjamin A. Herman, FAICP

Benjamin A. Herman, FAICP

Benjamin A. Herman, FAICP, is a director in the Fort Col­lins office of Clarion Associates, where he leads the firm's nationwide planning practice. He has more than 30 years of national and international experience in all aspects of planning for private and public sector clients. He specializes in complex, multidisciplinary projects, and has extensive experience in community, regional, corridor, and downtown plans; regional growth management strategies; and sustainable community plans.

Anne F. McBride, FAICP

Anne F. McBride, FAICP

Anne F. McBride, FAICP, is a founding principal of McBride Dale Clarion in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has extensive experience in working with national retailers and developers throughout the country in the site selection and approval processes for developments. McBride also has been responsible for the preparation of comprehensive plans, zoning codes, and urban renewal plans for communities in Ohio, and she has served as the city planner for Springdale, Ohio, since 1995. McBride has served on the Anderson Township (Ohio) Zoning Commission since 1996 and is a past president of the Ohio Chapter of APA.

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Page Count
Date Published
March 1, 2013
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Roles and Responsibilities of the Planning Commissioner
Long Range Planning - Imagining the Future
Development Review
Planning Commission Authority
Staff Roles
Governing Body (Elected Officials)
Legal Counsel
Board of Adjustment
Advisory Boards and Commissions
Service Providers
Advocacy Groups
Applicant/Applicant Representatives

Chapter 2: The Planning Commissioner's Role in Long-Range Planning
Why Do We Plan?
What are we Hoping to Accomplish When We Plan?
The Comprehensive Plan
How a Comprehensive Plan Should Be Used
Preparing the Plan
Your Role as a Planning Commissioner in the Planning Process
Other Types of Plans
Sustainability and Comprehensive Plans

Chapter 3: Preparing for your Role as a Planning Commissioner
What is Expected of You as a Commissioner?
What You Should Expect From Staff
What Should Be Expected From the Applicant
How to Prepare to be a Commissioner
Meet the Staff
Obtain and Review Relevant Documents
Get to Know How the Commission Functions
How to Prepare for Your First Planning Commission Meeting

Chapter 4: Information Available to the Commission
General Planning and Zoning Information
Commission Bylaws Robert's Rules of Order
Zoning Ordinance
Zoning Map
Comprehensive Plan
Corridor/Focus Area Plans
Thoroughfare Plans
Design Standards and Guidelines
Subdivision Regulations
Development Application Information
Applicant Information
Staff Information
Public Comment

Chapter 5: Plan Review
Development Application Package
Existing Conditions Plan
Site Plan
Grading Plan
Utilities Plan
Stormwater Management and Sedimentation Control Plan
Landscape Plan
Lighting Plan
Building Elevations
Sign Plan

Chapter 6: Running Meetings
Know Your Job
The Right Space: Room Layout
First Impressions: Hand Outs and Sign-In Sheet
Meeting Leadership: The Role of the Chairperson
Getting Off on the Right Foot: Opening the Meeting
Image and Impression: Comportment and Attentiveness
Two Stages of a Meeting: Fact Finding and Deliberation

Chapter 7: Decision-Making Principles
Why is this Important?
Due Process For Planning Commissioners
Opportunity to be Heard
Full Disclosure
Unbiased Decisions
Timely Decisions
Findings of Fact

Chapter 8: Ethics
The Ethical Principles
American Planning Association Statement of Ethical Principles in Planning
Applying the Principles — Scenarios
Conflicts of Interest
Ex-Parte Contacts
Fair Processes and Procedures
Personal Biases and Their Ethical Implications
Behind the Scenes Advocacy
The Credibility of Information
Giving and Receiving Gifts
A Commission's Approach to Dealing with "Notorious" Applicants
Practicing as an Independent and Informed Member of the Commission
Site Visits
Making Your Opinion Known as an Individual — What Are the Boundaries?