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What is a Planning Commission?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A planning commission is a group of appointed officials which oversees city planning. These officials are charged with controlling growth, promoting economic health, and improving the quality of life for all citizens. The exact organization and duties of the commission vary, depending on where it is, but generally the commission meets on a regular basis to consider issues of interest, including permit applications. These meetings are usually open to the public, and public comment on city planning issues is encouraged.

The concept of civil planning is quite ancient. One of the earliest clearly planned cities is in India, and although the city is now in ruins, the traces of a sewer system and other measures taken to create a healthy, happy city can clearly be seen. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans also used civil planning to map out their cities and consider acceptable boundaries for new construction and enterprise. As the human population has grown, the issue has become more important, and many nations around the world mandate some version of a planning commission in their towns and cities to ensure that growth is regulated.

The members of a planning commission are typically appointed by elected officials such as city council members. Each member acts independently, carefully assessing proposed building permits, variances, ordinances, and zoning changes. The members of the commission are expected to conform with the letter and spirit of the law while also representing the need for clear, carefully organized growth which is sustainable in the long term. During their meetings, the members debate pros and cons with each other before bringing an issue to a vote.

The work of a planning commission is supported by an extensive staff of people like engineers, biologists, and urban planners. These staff members analyze proposed permits and changes to the law, creating reports for members of the commission to review. These reports may also include recommendations, such as approving or denying a permit, or suggestions for ways in which a permit could be changed to make it acceptable.

Many people who have dealt with home construction are familiar with the concept of a planning commission, since these commissions form an important part of the permit process. For major developments or unusual structures, the planning commission may require a long period of deliberation to consider all of the aspects of the proposed plan. The members usually focus on promoting healthy growth while meeting the needs of the existing populace; a planning commission will deny a permit if it feels that it is illegal or unsustainable, and it usually offers recommendations for resubmission.

The impact of the public on a planning commission is very important. Members of the public are encouraged to submit their views, in the form of letters and testimony before the commission. Public meetings are held so that the commission works in transparency, and the opinion of the public is actively solicited. At times, public meetings have been known to get rowdy, especially when controversial issues are involved.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By cougars — On Feb 01, 2011

@ Mehulkar- I wanted to add that the plans will be reviewed for fire compliance, code compliance, zoning, Environmental health, public works checks, and structural plans check. The plans must be sent to all appropriate areas within the planning and zoning commission, so the process can be somewhat lengthy.

By GiraffeEars — On Jan 30, 2011

@ Mehulkar- I live in Santa Cruz so I can tell you what the process is for my city, but they may be different for other locales. I can at least give you an idea of the process. The first step in the planning permit process is to do a pre-app evaluation with the planning department. This will tell you if you need additional permits before submitting your plans, give your plans a check for fatal flaws, and give you an idea of what the fees and time line will be.

Your next step will be to prepare your blueprints and calculations as well as pay your review fees. If your plans are routed to the various professionals and approved, your fees are calculated and a notice of approval is sent out. If there are any errors, they are returned to be recalculated and resubmitted.

By mehulkar — On Jun 25, 2009

What is the process for handling building permits? Please explain the life of an application as it leaves the hands of the applicant and goes through the entire process.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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