"Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you'll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don't have a plan. That's why it's easy to beat most folks".
-- Paul "Bear" Bryant, legendary
Each city and town in Utah is required, by ordinance, to establish a planning commission. The ordinance must contain a definition of the number and terms of the members, which mayors or city managers, with the advice and consent of councils, have the statutory authority to appoint.
Every planning commission is given some minimal authority under state law. This includes making a recommendation to the city council for adoption and amendment of the general plan, and making recommendations to the council on the adoption or amendment of land ordinances, zoning maps or official maps. This advisory board must also be involved in making recommendations on proposed subdivision plats and recommending an annexation policy for the city or town.
No other powers or duties are required to be given to a planning commission by the governing body. Some commissions try to involve themselves in matters such as business licensing, animal regulations and nuisance enforcement, but this is only appropriate if the governing ordinances delegate these responsibilities to them.
The planning commission must operate within the constraints of state law. The land-use ordinances recommended to the city council by the planning commission have to include an appropriate delegation of power to at least one "appeal authority" to hear and act on appeals from a decision of the land-use authority, and lay out the application process that the city will use to consider any land use applications.
Planning commissions are not policy making bodies. The requirement of state law is that the planning commission is to be involved in making recommendations to the city legislative body regarding certain land-use ordinances. If the city council does not accept the recommendations, there is nothing the planning commission can do.
State code specifically provides that the city council can adopt a recommended ordinance, reject it, or revise it. This is not to say that planning commissions are not important. Elected officials such as council members and mayors, have a great need for well-thought out and studied recommendations in the area of planning and zoning.
Planning commissioners who provide this service are invaluable to a community. Commissioners who see their roles as representing special interests or specific neighborhoods are not as helpful in the planning process and may actually hinder good planning.
Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at email@example.com.