Planning commissioners hard to come by around Summit County
For the county’s planning commissions, the last few years have felt like feast or famine.
Summit’s Board of County Commissioners re-appointed 15 commissioners to the county’s five planning commissions, plus its Board of Adjustment, on Tuesday, March 22. Still, nine openings remain despite a months-long attempt to the fill the vacancies.
Typically these seats are a hot commodity, or at least have been in the past, with an abundance of candidates to choose from and the process wrapping up annually by the end of March. But this year, these posts — coming with duties of land-use decisions and master plan recommendations — have been tough to fill and may not be solidified before the end of April or early May. It’s been a head-scratcher for county officials.
“We used to have people lined up for years to be on the planning commission,” said Thad Noll, assistant county manager. “We haven’t as much lately, and I think it’s been slower over the last years. I don’t know what the change has been.”
The area municipalities possess their own planning commissions, just the same as the unincorporated portions of the region that the county orchestrates. The latter includes Upper Blue, Lower Blue, Ten Mile, Snake River and a countywide commission, in addition to the Board of Adjustment, which takes up property variance requests from residents to comply with zoning requirements.
Generally speaking, these review boards act as decision-makers on local codes and expansion, in other instances lending advice on how the county commissioners should rule on development issues. Those can range from resolutions on subdividing properties and home additions like garages to big construction proposals like new building projects.
The role also encompasses the more mundane, like the approval of signage installation, driveway grading and the width of streets. It can sometimes be a thankless job, but one of impact.
“Each of these basins in Summit have unique characteristics, interests and master plans,” said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “These planning commissions are more important than ever with the booming economy, growth and the need to balance growth and quality of life and environment.”
Which is why getting these volunteer positions filled matters. Nine vacancies isn’t out of the ordinary for a year with the staggered reappointment process among the 54 total positions on these six total commissions (counting the Board of Adjustments), but it’s the latest county planning department manager Lindsay Hirsh can recall there still being openings.
“I am concerned with that big of a gap,” said Hirsh. “I had hoped for more applicants. It’s a wonderful way to be part of the community, to give back and have a say in what a community looks like.”
Each commission comprises nine total members, seven who vote and two alternates for when a full member cannot attend. Alternates for the once-a-month (or so) meetings still comment and actively participate, and it’s not uncommon for regulars to miss a meeting. All members serve three-year terms, following a one-year probationary period for new appointees, and are term limited to a total of 12 years. But the attraction, for whatever reason, has dipped.
“In the heyday, we had people knocking down the door to get on,” said Hirsh. “It seemed that with the downturn in the economy, there was a reduction in interest in serving. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but it’s definitely waned over the years. I just want to get these vacancies filled and look at land-use applications in the manner as they’re supposed to be done.”
The county is hopeful that with some renewed and modified advertising, web and social media efforts, the positions will be filled sooner rather than later once more applications and résumés roll in. And from there that the days of feast return.
“It’s for citizens who are concerned about how their community develops,” said Noll. “This is a great opportunity to do that through these planning commissions, where we train you, and you learn a lot about community, and then have some stake in how the community builds and forms.
“You get good dinner, too,” he added. “When you show up at the planning commission, we feed you at least.”
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