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Thread: Combining certain boards/commissions

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Combining certain boards/commissions

    One of my former employers recently combined their Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals to gain greater efficiency and reduce staff and management costs. One benefit I've seen in some places was that a site plan approval is required by a Plan Commission but any variances associated with that plan must be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. This type of setup can add unnecessary complication to the process as well as potential unpredictability.

    Who has been through the process of combining such Boards/Commissions? What types of political or legal issues arose?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  2. #2
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Those are the two groups that should not be combined. One makes the rules while another interprets them and they should remain separate. If anything, combine legislative groups together and quasi-judicial groups together.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    We have an Area Plan Commission which means the the City and County are combined.
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  4. #4
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Our state laws do not allow the combination of land use boards, so no experience for me to share.
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Stroskey raises a very good point. I would also say that there are certain benefits to having to go through a few different commissions on a project. There may be some redundancy, yes, but I have seen too many development proposals where key issues were not caught by one commission but were by another. These issues potentially saved both the City and the developer headaches down the road. Plus, sometimes projects need to be slowed down a little for proper consideration especially for very complex projects that require more time to examine in proper detail.

    Here, we have a, Environmental Planning Commission, a Development Review Board and City Council, each of which reviews development plans looking at different issues. But there is some overlap and, in my experience, that has been a good thing. Depending what is being requested, there is also the Zoning Hearing Examiner. That’s not a commission, though – just one guy in a big public room ruling on your requests. Oh, and the Land Use and Urban Conservation Commission that oversees the historic overlay zones.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    One of my former employers recently combined their Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals to gain greater efficiency and reduce staff and management costs. One benefit I've seen in some places was that a site plan approval is required by a Plan Commission but any variances associated with that plan must be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. This type of setup can add unnecessary complication to the process as well as potential unpredictability.

    Who has been through the process of combining such Boards/Commissions? What types of political or legal issues arose?
    depends where you are. Iowa has a different setup than I recall in Illinois.

    Here the CPC hears most land use cases and conditional use requests. Land development (rezoning, plats, and site plans, when public process is required) all go to the City Council, final approval for variances and conditional uses are handled by the Board of Adjustment... I'm not entirely sure why they need to be separated, but I guess as long as City Council meetings are BOA makes sense.

    In that situation, I can't see the BOA and CPC being combined.

    What I recall from my hometown in Illinois was the Zoning Board of Appeals handled rezoning requests and recommended them to City Council, and the Planning Commission was created basically to formulate a future land use policy (and meets extremely rarely). In a small town like the one I grew up in, I'd be all for combining the two because talented individuals wanting to serve were in short supply.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    KS statutes speciffically permit merger of the groups. I did not like the idea, as per stroskey. Then I found the real reason for a single board: in smaller areas there are just not enough people to volunteer.

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    In my experience at the muni I reference in the initial post, the decisions of the PC and ZBA were both only recommendations and had to be approved by the elected officials. It makes sense for this muni. In the other place I worked, the PC could grant variances as part of a development plan they were reviewing (special use, PUD, etc), but the ZBA only reviewed variances in association with as-of-right development plans. Here only PC decisions were recommendations to the elected officials and ZBA was the final say.

    In deference to those that believe the hurdle of judicial versus legislative functions are insurmountable, I think a half way point would for the times when the same development plan has to be reviewed by two different entities, then the review capability should be granted to both. The example would be that if the PC reviews a site plan, but there are associated variations, then PC would be able to grant the variations without having to go to ZBA.

    Another option would to simply still have the entities separate, but setup it up that the same people serve on both and just have the meetings at the same time.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  9. #9
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    In my experience at the muni I reference in the initial post, the decisions of the PC and ZBA were both only recommendations and had to be approved by the elected officials.
    That's a good point to bring up, and I think makes the consolidation argument stronger.

    It's also a completely "foreign" concept to me, since Planning Boards and Zoning Boards have final decision making authority in NH...I shudder to think how things would run here if a Town/City Council or Board of Selectmen had to make final land use decisions!
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Our planning Commission can grant some dimensional relief

    Our Zoning Ordinance has a provision for limited dimensional zoning relief that can be granted by the planning commission. Eg five feet more or less than the required setback and reduction in the amount of parking to be provided. This is helpful in preventing an applicant from going to the zoning board for a small dimensional inconsistency and streamlines development review.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    No combining the PC and BZA in this state. State statutes are clear.

    One trend I am noting is that cities are combining their public works and parks departments, often reducing staffing by a departmetn head and maybe one or two others. I am not aware that they have combined boards, though.
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