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In the jurisdiction in which you are employed, are most of the controversial final land use decisions made by the Commission or Council or Board based upon the merits of the case or by political considerations?
Although the "Good 'Ol Boy Network" was supposedly the rule in the past, the Planning Commission and Town Commission now considers the merits of the case and good planning practice more so than anything else. I presented a special use request for a proposed charter school to the PC, where the town was the applicant. It was a courtesy review, and sovereign immunity would normally apply; the town could just go and build the school without planning approval, but we went through the process anyhow. I recommended approval based on a number of conditions; the PC added even more. Hardly rubber-stamping.
Based solely on my experience I offer the following observations: at lower decision-making bodies such as design review boards or planning commissions, projects are almost always considered on their merits, consistency with the General Plan, and conformity to the implementing ordinances. However, when projects reach the elected officials (the legislative body be it city council or board of supervisors), they take on a whole new personality and all bets are off. When the outcome is determined, even from the layman's eye, it must be obvious who has been the most successful in lobbying either for or against a project.