Putting planning back into the planning commission

The primary role of the planning commission is implementing the master plan. There are several tools to make that job easier.

Putting planning back into the planning commission

“In the long run we are all dead” said Keynes. This also applies to master plans for communities if implementation is not managed. A master plan is a policy document with a long term view looking out twenty years or so into the future. How do communities make sure their plan gets to that twenty year outcome? The Michigan Planning Enabling Act calls for a mandatory review every five years to determine whether to adopt a new plan, amend the current plan or do nothing. Master plans often have goals and objectives in them but very little guidance on implementation or priority of actions.

A tool that can help communities with their five year reviews are strategic action plans. These are short term implementation oriented plans that are designed to be nimble and respond to changes in the marketplace and larger economy. This type of plan helps to prioritize actions and build inertia for accomplishing harder tasks. They are structured with a three to five year scope of work allowing them to build toward accomplishing the goals and objectives in the master plan. Also, by engaging the community in preparing the strategic plans, more community ownership is created for the master plan.

Another tool is the annual work plan for a planning commission. This is a method for planning commissions to manage the progress on the master plan implementation. A plan of work is created that looks at policies and strategies that can be accomplished within twelve months. At the end of the year the progress is reviewed and a new work plan is drafted to accomplish those tasks not completed and the next set of strategies and policies from the master plan. This is also an opportunity to include any issues that may have arisen in the past year. This also ties in well with the requirement of submitting an annual report to the legislative body regarding its activities for the past year and its intent for the upcoming year. For more information on annual reports see this article by Michigan State University Extension, Your planning commission prepares an annual report, but what about a work program?

So, planning commissions can have a one year work plan, a five year strategic plan and a twenty year master plan. This sounds like a lot of work for the planning commission. After all there is development review to be done such as site plan review, planned unit developments and subdivision review. Part of the work of the planning commission is streamlining these processes administratively and these are part of an annual work plan as well as possibly in a strategic plan. For more information on how a community can begin these processes and assistance in it contact Michigan State University Extension or contact a Land Use Educator for more information on these issues facing communities. 

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