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 s...

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Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
March 1, 2013
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

C. Gregory Dale
Greg Dale is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati office of Clarion Associates. Mr. Dale is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, having been active in the planning profession since 1981. He has managed planning projects throughout the country and has expertise in regional plans, 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. Mr. Dale has drafted or assisted with award-winning plans for Charleston County, South Carolina; Beaufort County, South Carolina; Williamson County, Tennessee; Will County, Illinois; City of Franklin, Tennessee; and the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission. Mr. Dale drafted an innovative sustainability chapter in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, plan and is a co-author of an update to The Citizen’s Guide to Planning and The Planning Commissioners Guide. He has also managed or assisted with significant planning projects in Bradley County, Tennessee; Henrico County, Virginia; Hanover County, Virginia; Suffolk, Virginia; Beaufort County, South Carolina; Williamson County, Tennessee; and North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Benjamin Herman
Benjamin A. Herman, FAICP, is a Senior Consultant for Clarion Associates. He has been a practicing planner for more than 35 years, with extensive national and international experience in all aspects of planning. He is a skilled facilitator, and widely regarded for his ability to take a big picture, integrative approach to planning. He served as a member of the American Planning Association Task Force that prepared the Planning Advisory Service Report titled “Sustaining Places: The Role of the Comprehensive Plan”. He serves on the faculty of APA’s Planners Training Workshop for Sustaining Places Plans.

Anne McBride
Anne F. McBride is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion in Cincinnati. A planner since 1981, Ms. McBride is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She has extensive experience in working with national retailers and developers throughout the country in the site selection and navigating the approval process for developments. Ms. McBride has established a reputation for being able to obtain required approvals through negotiations that allow development to move forward in a manner that works for all parties. Some of the clients that Ms. McBride has represented include Kroger, Brixmor Property Group, Panera, Walgreen’s, Anchor Properties, Carespring Health Care, Lowe’s, and Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Ms. McBride has also been responsible for the preparation of comprehensive plans, zoning codes, and urban renewal plans for numerous communities. Having served as the city planner for Springdale, Ohio, since 1995, she is well versed in municipal issues. She has also provided expert testimony on a variety of land use issues in both Ohio and Kentucky. Ms. McBride has served on the Anderson Township Zoning Commission since 1996 and is a past president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Planning Association. She is the co-author of The Planning Commissioners Guide and is a regular speaker at state and national conferences.

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?