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Planning Commission Training Division of Community and Regional Affairs • Nicole Grewe • October 13, 2009. What is Planning?.

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What is planning

Planning Commission TrainingDivision of Community and Regional Affairs • Nicole Grewe • October 13, 2009

What is planning

What is Planning?

Everyoneplans. Planning is an activity that touches just about every aspect of life. Individual’s plan their day, friends plan hunting trips, families plan for major purchases, businesses plan pricing, etc. The common thread that runs through these seemingly different activities is the time, effort, and expense that is saved in the future by thinking ahead and plotting a course of action today.

Community benefits

Community Benefits

  • Shapes the future

  • Identifies local issues

  • Identifies public values

  • Ties programs together

  • Promotes public involvement

  • Attracts appropriate development

Planning benefits communities in the following ways:

  • Increases certainty

  • Protects natural resources

  • Improves public service efficiency

  • Minimizes land use conflicts

  • Promotes good design

Planning characteristics

Planning Characteristics

  • Creates order and predictability

  • Promotes efficient use of resources

  • Identifies alternatives and procedures

  • Promotes community health and future viability

The planning commission


What is a planning commission

What is a Planning Commission?

  • Is an advisory group to the governing body on issues and activities related to planning, platting, land use regulation, and community development.

  • Has limited decision making power, but can have considerable influence.

  • Is responsible for keeping planning and land use related issues in perspective for the community.

Welcome to the planning commission

Welcome to the Planning Commission

An Effective Planning Commissioner Knows:

  • Planning commission authority and duties

  • How a planning commission operates

  • Standards for commission decision-making

  • Legal aspects of commission conduct

  • Comprehensive and other types of planning

  • Zoning, platting, and land-use regulation

Planning commission authority

Planning Commission Authority

  • AS 29.40 and local charters or ordinances define the authority and responsibilities of commission members.

  • Commission duties vary from community to community depending on factors including support for planning, community growth rate, prospective infrastructure development, and responsibilities prescribed by ordinance.

Planning commission authority continued

Planning Commission Authority (continued)

  • Prepare and submit to the assembly (city council) a proposed comprehensive plan in accordance with AS 29.40.030 for the systematic and organized development of the borough (or city).

  • Review, recommend, and administer measures necessary to implement the comprehensive plan including measures provided under AS 29.40.040.

  • Other duties as prescribed by local ordinance.

Alaska statute title 29 chapter 40 planning platting and land use regulation

Alaska Statute: Title 29, Chapter 40Planning, Platting and Land Use Regulation

  • 29.40.010. A first or second class borough shall provide for planning, platting, and land use regulation on an areawide basis.

  • 29.40.020. Each first and second class borough shall establish a planning commission consisting of five residents… the planning commission shall:

    • Prepare a comprehensive plan

    • Review, recommend, and administer measures to implement the comprehensive plan.

Planning commission duties

Planning Commission Duties

  • Prepare a comprehensive plan

  • Act as the platting authority

  • Review and recommend land use regulations

  • Review and recommend property rezones

  • Act on variances and conditional use permits

  • Review land acquisitions and disposals

  • Hear appeals from administrative decisions

  • Review and recommend capital improvements

Planning commission duties continued

Planning Commission Duties (continued)

  • Review annual planning budget

  • Approve planning department’s annual work program

  • Initiate planning projects

  • Coordinate with other agencies’ plans

  • Conduct public meetings and hearings

  • Other duties as authorized by ordinance

City of nome 11 10 070 powers and authorities

City of Nome11.10.070 Powers and authorities.

The planning commission shall:

(a)  Prepare and recommend to the city council a comprehensive plan, with amendments and modifications from time to time, for the systematic development of the city;

(b)  Prepare and recommend to the city council land use regulations for the implementation of the comprehensive plan consistent with Alaska Statutes;

(c)  Prepare and recommend to the city council a coastal management program consistent with Alaska Statutes;

(d)  Prepare and recommend to the city council coastal management regulations for implementation of the coastal management program;

(e)  Prepare and recommend to the city council regulations for the control of platting and subdivision consistent with Alaska Statutes;

(f)  Prepare and recommend to the city council an official map of the city;

(g)  Act as the Nome platting board;

(h)  Review applications for development compliance certification, and act upon requests for variances and conditional uses;

(i)  Prepare and recommend to the city council rules and regulations for the conduct of meetings of the Nome planning commission in all of the capacities provided by law; and

(j)  Assume such other authority and perform such other duties as the city council may prescribe from time to time.

Characteristics of an ideal planning commission



Understands community

Understands public process

Committed to planning

Maintains objectivity

Declared conflict of interests

Balanced special interests

Characteristics of an “Ideal” Planning Commission

How a planning commission operates


Planning commission roles

Planning Commission Roles

It is [or should be] a panel with knowledge of community character, local regulations, and community development practice.

  • Advisory Role - Advises the council or assembly.

  • Regulatory Role - Administers local land use regulations including zoning and subdivision ordinances.

  • Procedural Role - Conducts fair meetings and makes fair decisions.

The commission s relationship with elected officials

The Commission’s Relationship with Elected Officials

The most important aspect of the relationship between the planning commission and the governing body is the is the planning commission’s advisory role.

The council or assembly has the authority to approve, deny, or change commission recommendations.

A commission that has a good working relationship with the council can play a key role in keeping the council informed and educated about planning and community development issues.

The commission s relationship with planning staff

The Commission’s Relationship with Planning Staff

Planning staff play a critical role in the planning process and effectiveness of the planning commission.

  • Administers land use regulation

  • Prepares reports and posts meeting notices

  • Researches planning and land use issues

  • Advises commission

  • Educates and assists the public

  • Knows and interprets laws and ordinances

  • Conducts community and capital projects planning

  • Negotiates – agencies, developers, and public

  • Enforces code and conditions of approval

  • Provides continuity

The commission s relationship with public

The Commission’s Relationship with Public

Public involvement gives the commission opportunity to educate, build support, and encourage ownership.

  • Improves trust in government.

  • Taps local knowledge and talent.

  • Creates sense of ownership in plan and regulations.

  • Creates a constituency in planning.

  • Ensures plan remains intact over time.

  • Increases overall plan quality.

  • Improves enforcement of land use laws

  • Streamlines planning process and development.

Practical advice for commissioners

Practical Advice for Commissioners

  • Read packet before meeting

  • Seek staff assistance before meeting

  • Know comprehensive plan and zoning/platting codes

  • Be familiar with sites and projects

  • Share information

  • Focus on facts, not opinions

  • Summarize what you have heard

  • Participate in discussion

  • Be practical

  • Be a problem-solver, not a problem-maker

  • Be probing, but not argumentative

  • Respect your associates

  • Treat everyone equally

  • Attend meetings

  • Come on time to meetings

Do not fight

Do Not Fight

Do not fight with the city council, assembly, or each other!

Planning commission decision making


How does the planning commission make decisions

How Does the Planning Commission Make Decisions?

  • Using common sense

  • Thinking about what is in the best interest of the larger community

  • Considering the rules

  • Using persuasion or arguments based on testimony

  • Interpreting the comprehensive plan in accordance with legal requirements

Types of commission decisions

Types of Commission Decisions

Legislative Decisions make or interpret policy. Broad ranging and affect everyone in general and no one in particular.

  • Substantive due process (reasonableness of decision) applies

  • Examples: recommend to adopt a comprehensive plan, recommend capital improvement priorities, recommend code amendments.

Quasi-Judicial Decisions have direct affect on rights and liabilities of a single person or small group.

  • Procedural due process (fairness of process) applies

  • Examples: granting zoning variances, issuing conditional use permits, issuing encroachment permits



  • Are a statement of the evidence and reasoning used by commission to arrive at a decision.

  • Must be supported by facts.

  • Are a “road map” that details the commission’s reasoning process used to progress from evidence to decision.

  • Typically include request description, statement of facts, reasons for approval or denial, and conditions of approval.

Findings should do the following

Findings Should do the Following:

  • Set out the relevant facts from the evidence presented.

  • Relate these facts to the conditions that must be proved, or the standards that must be met.

  • State whether the relevant standard or condition is shown to have been met or not by the identified facts.

  • State whether all the necessary elements have been sufficiently shown. If there was no evidence given to prove one or more of the necessary elements, this lack of necessary evidence must be shown.

  • State whether the permit is granted or denied.

The record

The Record

  • The Record is a collection of all the evidence presented to the commission during proceedings.

  • Is the foundation upon which the commission’s decision rests.

  • Findings and the record protect the commission from legal challenges and explain commission decisions - even unpopular ones.

  • Is there substantial evidence in the record to support the commission’s findings?

The record contains

The Record Contains:

  • The application

  • Correspondence between applicant and staff

  • Written comments submitted by neighbors and other members of public

  • Oral evidence presented at hearing

  • Plats, plans, drawings, photographs, deeds, surveys, and consultant/expert reports

  • Written testimony

  • Records of mailed or published notice

  • Municipal records and other documents submitted during proceeding

Legal aspects of commission conduct


Ex parte contact

Ex Parte Contact

  • Occurs when a commissioner has private communications with someone who has an interest in a quasi-judicial matter before the commission.

  • Provides a commissioner with information not available to other commissioners.

    • It can (or is meant to) influence decisions outside public session.

  • Violates “due process” in quasi-judicial matters. To correct ex parte contact:

    • Disclose contact and substance of conversation at meeting. Get the evidence on the record!

    • State whether you can still provide unbiased input.

Conflict of interest

Conflict of Interest

  • A person has a conflict of interest when he or she has a substantial financial interest in a matter before the commission.

  • State law does not define the term “substantial financial interest”. Local code of ordinances should define this term.

  • A planning commissioner cannot vote on any matter in which he or she has a substantial financial interest [AS 29.20.010 (a)(4)].

City of nome 2 05 070 conflicts of interest

City of Nome2.05.070 Conflicts of interest.

(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a municipal employee or official shall not participate in any official action in which that employee or official has a substantial financial interest, provided however that a city council member may participate in a matter if the ruling on the declaration filed pursuant to subsections (a) and (b) of this section determines that the city council member shall vote on the matter.

City of nome conflict of interest

City of NomeConflict of Interest

(a) A municipal employee or official shall make a written declaration as provided in subsection (b) of this section when the municipal employee or official is or may become involved in an official action which:… involves significant financial gain or… involves a breach of public trust obligation…

(b) The declaration required by this section shall be filed with the presiding officer as described in subsection (c) of this section and shall describe with particularity…

(c) A ruling on whether an employee or official may participate in an official action shall be issued promptly by the presiding officer…

(d) The following factors shall be considered in making a ruling on a declaration filed pursuant to this section…

City and borough of juneau

City and Borough of Juneau

01.45 Conflict of Interest

  • Standards of Conduct

  • Disclosures, Declarations,

    and Complaints

  • Enforcement Procedures

  • Penalties

  • General Provisions

City and borough of juneau1

City and Borough of Juneau

01.45.360 Definitions.

  • Financial interest means any interest, other than securities traded on a national exchange, held by a municipal officer or an immediate family member, including involvement or ownership of an interest in a business, property, or a professional or private relationship, from which the person has received or expects to receive compensation.

  • Gain means actual or anticipated gain, benefit, profit, or compensation.

  • Benefit means anything that is to a person’s financial or personal interest.

Open meetings act

Open Meetings Act

AS 44.62.310 (a): All meetings of a governmental body of a public entity are open to the public [with certain exceptions].

Ensures public has reasonable opportunity to observe governing decision-making.

In general terms, the act requires:

  • Open forum for decision-making

  • Reasonable public notice of meetings

  • Teleconferencing for public meetings

  • Voting publicly on the record

  • Executive sessions

The comprehensive plan


What is a comprehensive plan

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

  • A blueprint for guiding community development.

  • A flexible document, not a uniform template.

  • A visionary document attempting to anticipate future events and needs.

  • A statement of policies, goals, and standards.



What is a comprehensive plan continued

What is a Comprehensive Plan? (continued)

  • Provides a policy framework for decision-making regarding land use, transportation, housing, public facilities, and economic development.

  • Includes information on the many facets of a community including demographics, physical conditions, land use, environment, transportation, legal matters, and fiscal conditions.

    Reflects the vision and direction of residents!

A high quality comprehensive plan

A High-Quality Comprehensive Plan:

  • A systematic and comprehensive collection and analysis of data

  • Clear and comprehensive goals

  • Specific action-oriented policies for implementation

  • Local official support

  • Local community support

  • Current data and policies

Why have a comprehensive plan

Fulfills legal obligation

Meets grant eligibility requirements

Guides community and economic development

Guides decision-making

Establishes basis for regulation

Coordinates policy

Provides “blueprint” for growth

Represents future vision

Why Have a Comprehensive Plan?

City of nome 11 20 010 regulations

City of Nome11.20.010 Regulations.

(a) The planning commission shall prepare and recommend for adoption by resolution of the city council regulations for the development and use of land and improvements. The regulations for all land use including coastal management may be adopted as a whole or coastal management regulations may be adopted separately…

b) The planning commission shall prepare and recommend for adoption by resolution of the city council regulations establishing procedures for implementation of the duties of the planning commission to review proposed land development projects for certification of compliance with the land use regulations and the implementation of the duties of the planning commission to act upon requests for variances or conditional uses.

Aleutians east borough comprehensive plan

Aleutians East BoroughComprehensive Plan

40.10.010 Description and Purpose

The Comprehensive Plan is a guide for the systematic and organized physical, social, and economic development, both public and private, of the Borough and serves as a long-range policy guide for the development of the Borough as a whole…

The purpose of the Comprehensive Plan:

  • Encourage maximum, sound, and reasonable development and use of renewable and nonrenewable resources within the Borough;

  • Minimize adverse impacts of such development…

  • Promote a healthy and stable ecosystem;

  • Minimize the occurrence of incompatible land uses; and

  • Promote the health, welfare, and safety of Borough residents.

Aleutians east borough comprehensive plan1

Aleutians East BoroughComprehensive Plan

40.10.010 Description and Purpose

The Comprehensive Plan shall be implemented through the adoption and application of:

  • Land use regulations

  • Conditional use and other permitting

  • Zoning

  • Platting

  • Site Development

  • And other land use and related regulations

Plan implementation


Plan implementation includes

Plan Implementation Includes:

  • Zoning regulations

  • Zoning authorizations

  • Subdivision regulations

  • Additional implementation tools

As 29 40 040 land use regulation

AS 29.40.040 Land Use Regulation

In accordance with a comprehensive plan adopted under AS 29.40.030 and in order to implement the plan, the assembly by ordinance shall adopt or amend provisions governing the use and occupancy of land that may include, but are not limited to, zoning regulations restricting the use of land and improvements by geographic districts.

Zoning regulations

Zoning Code Components:

Map depicting zoning districts including residential, industrial, and commercial.

Text indicating permitted, conditionally permitted, and prohibited land uses.

Zoning Regulations

Zoning is the conventional method of land use regulation that divides a municipality into districts or zones and adopts regulations concerning land use, placement, and building size, and space.

It classifies land according to use (residential, commercial, industrial) and establishes standards governing each use.

The purpose of zoning

The Purpose of Zoning

  • Promotes public safety, health, and general welfare.

  • Segregates incompatible land uses and activities.

  • Protects property values.

  • Regulates property use in accordance with community standards and values.

  • Creates uniform land use regulations.

  • Establishes ground rules for development through public process.

  • Prevents or reduces nuisances.

  • Conserves land for appropriate uses.

Zoning authorizations

Zoning Authorizations

Zoning ordinance includes:

  • Minimum lot size, lot width/depth, setbacks between structures, maximum building height, max/min lot coverage, and signage.

  • Zoning related authorizations including variances, conditional use permits, planned unit developments, home occupations, accessory uses, and non-conforming uses.

Conditional use permit

Conditional Use Permit

  • Land use not allowed outright in a particular zone, but could be permitted if conditions attached reduce or eliminate negative characteristics making the activity compatible with surrounding allowed uses.

  • Also called “special exceptions” or “special permits”.

  • Example: Church in a residential neighborhood.

  • Municipalities are free to design a conditional use permitting system. Caution: avoid use of vague standards.



  • A variance is an exception from the strict terms of the zoning (or platting) code.

  • It is a waiver of the provisions of the zoning ordinance when strict application of the ordinance would cause exceptional, practical difficulties, or undue hardship to the property owner.

  • Property standards are adjusted because the specific location, topography, shape, size, or other environmental features of the lot make it impossible to comply with zoning regulations as written.

Variances under as 29 40 040 b

Variances Under AS 29.40.040(b)

According to Alaska law, a variance may not be granted if:

  • The special conditions that require the variance are caused by the person seeking the variance.

  • The variance will permit a land use in a district in which that use is prohibited.

  • The variance is sought solely to relieve financial hardship or inconvenience.

When can a variance be granted

When Can a Variance be Granted?

  • Variances are granted when some unique condition related to the land (e.g., stream, steep embankment, rock outcrop) makes it impossible to comply with terms of zoning code.

  • Hardship must be linked to feature of land.

  • Applicant required to show neighbors will not be adversely affected by granting a variance.

  • Variances most often granted for relief from setback requirements, building height, or lot coverage.

Subdivision regulations

Subdivision Regulations

  • Guides the conversion of land into improved or developed land consistent with technical requirements and community standards.

  • Shapes a community’s character.

  • Subdivision Regulation Ordinance – regulates land division into building lots for the purpose of sale, development, or lease.

    • Specifies procedure when land is subdivided and built upon.

    • Assures land development is appropriately and consistently completed.

Why regulate land subdivision

Why Regulate Land Subdivision?

To assure newly created lots do not become or do not create unanticipated costs for owners, municipality, or neighbors.

  • Establish street pattern design

  • Establish consistent street design dimensions

  • Provide utility easements

  • Provide water supply and sewage disposal

  • Develop lot layout and ensure access

What is platting

What is Platting?

Platting is a largely technical activity that is fundamentally different than zoning:

  • It establishes standards for subdividing land and places certain requirements on those divisions.

  • It assures lots are created in accordance with community standards and are properly surveyed and recorded.

  • It sets a pattern of physical development that is, for all practical purposes, irreversible.

Additional plan implementation tools

Municipal Land Management Program

Municipal land disposal methods

Capital Improvement Program

Alaska Coastal Management Program

Statewide Transportation Improvement Program

Sanitation master plans

Municipal budget

Design review standards

Floodplain regulations

State and Federal planning programs

Historic preservation standards

Environmental impact assessments

Additional Plan Implementation Tools

Concluding thoughts

Concluding Thoughts

  • Planning is a collective effort between citizens, elected officials, and the planning commission.

  • When an effective and collaborative planning process flourishes in a community, the vision of the citizens, planning commissioners, and elected officials can be achieved.

Questions or comments

Questions or Comments?

Nicole Grewe, Ph.D.

Division of Community and Regional Affairs

Direct: (907) 465-8249

[email protected]

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