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Categorized | City Hall Corner, News

Unsung Heroes: the Planning Commission

Many people don’t know how local governments work for the betterment of the community. I sure didn’t before I got involved in local government operations. In high school civics class, we are taught about the federal government with the President, the Courts and the Congress but nary a word about Mayors, City Councils, City Managers or the various working mechanisms of how things work at the local level. Very few people know the difference between a “Strong Mayor” government and a Council-Manager government.

I want to talk today about planning commissions (PC) and what that board and its members do for the City. PC’s are not a required board under state or local laws but a majority of municipalities use some form of a planning commission to lessen the burden on the City Council of running the City. The PC is generally tasked with the planning and zoning of a municipality according the rules outlined in both state and local laws, primary of which is the Zoning Enabling Act (MCL 125.3801). 

“Planning and zoning” is a shorthand way of saying that the PC helps establish goals and policies for directing and managing future growth and development in the City; including such things as location of growth, housing needs, and environmental protection.  Planning helps account for future demand for services, including sewers, roads, and fire protection and zoning is what helps keep factories away from homes and homes away from fast food restaurants.

Two of the primary tasks that the PC members work on are the approval of new development site plans and the in-depth review and recommendation of planning and zoning law changes to the City Council.  Site plan reviews are where the PC reviews the proposed plans for new developments and businesses to ensure that they are meeting all local rules and requirements (while not burdening businesses with overregulation). For instance, the PC makes sure that proposed driveways are safe, that dumpsters are enclosed and hidden from the public, that there is sufficient but not too much parking, that lighting is bright enough but not shining in your bedroom window and lots of other details about each new development. The second part, the in-depth review and recommendations on planning and zoning rule changes, are a major factor in boosting economic development, encouraging business and simultaneously ensuring that basic requirements are being met. The PC members spend a lot of time educating themselves and discussing what are the best practices and best methods to ensure high-quality development in the City.  

The PC members all live inside the City, work regular jobs and represent a good cross-section of the population. They are appointed by the City Council and they work with the City Planner, City Engineer, City Attorney and Zoning Administrator to get their job done. PC membership is an awesome way to serve the community and lots of PC members go on to serve on the City Council in an elected role. Their job isn’t easy and their decisions don’t always make everybody happy but they are hard working and looking out for the best and long-term interests of the City.  If we go by the definition of “doing great deeds but receiving little or no recognition,” that well defines the Planning Commission.  

Their meetings are always open to the public and they like when people come to watch. The Cedar Springs PC usually meets once a month on the first Tuesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Their agendas and packets are available on the City’s website and their meetings are broadcast live and recorded on Youtube so you can watch all that excitement in your pjs at home if you would prefer. Finally, all those rumors about where that new store might go or whether that hole in the ground will become a gas station or a carwash—talk  to a PC member, they’ll probably know.

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