What’s in a planning commission’s annual report? – Part 1

The annual report is a requirement of all local government planning commissions and is an opportunity to provide those in charge of the “purse strings” with a dashboard of planning commission achievements.

The Michigan Planning Enabling Act (MCL 125.3801 et seq.) states that “A planning commission shall make an annual written report to the legislative body concerning its operations and the status of planning activities, including recommendations regarding actions by the legislative body related to planning and development” (MCL 125.3819(2)). This is a new requirement for cities, villages and counties since 2008, but has always been required of township planning commissions. Reviewing this section of the statute should clearly indicate that a planning commission annual report should minimally include:

Operations of the commission
Include the number of special-use permits, planned unit developments and zoning amendments granted or recommended, and the number of site plans and subdivisions/site condos reviewed/approved. Also consider including the number of plans the planning commission reviewed from neighboring units of government (MCL 125.3841(3)). A summary of the past year’s ordinance amendments is also helpful for the legislative body to recall the issues that arose and the solutions offered over the past year. Remember the responsibility to review local infrastructure and capital expenditures? These reviews constitute operations of the commission too (see Michigan State University Extension news article Planning commissions’ reviews ensure consistency). For a county, a report on operations should include the number of municipal plans and township zoning ordinances reviewed. For a township and county, Farmland Development Rights Agreements (commonly known as PA 116 agreements) reviewed in the past year may be of interest to the legislative body, too.

Status of ongoing planning activities
At least once every five years, the planning commission must review the master plan. However, chances are good that the planning commission is involved in some kind of planning activities more often than that. If the planning commission is preparing a sub-area plan, studying a transportation corridor or engaging in a regional planning initiative, summaries of those activities should be included in the annual report. If the planning commission has not been exempted from annually preparing the Capital Improvement Program, a brief review of the process is appropriate. Further, the planning commission might have active advisory committees (MCL 125.3817(2)) studying specific land use issues in the community and summaries of those activities and/or findings are warranted in the annual report.
Recommendations to the legislative body related to planning and development

Based on the planning commission’s regular use and application of the master plan and zoning ordinance (e.g. plan interpretation, special use permit applications or rezoning requests) there may be sections of the master plan or zoning ordinance that should be amended. The annual report should include recommendations for these kinds of updates, in addition to recommendations on the need for sub-area plans, a different approach to zoning (e.g. form-based), joint meetings with neighboring governments, etc.

Beyond the minimum required by statute, there is additional information associated with the local planning and zoning program that should also be included in the planning commission annual report. The second part of this two-part series recommends additional information to include in the “dashboard” of planning commission achievements known as the annual report.

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