What it Means to be on a Citizen Planning Commission

Learn about the expectations and impacts of being on a Citizen Planning Commission in your community.
What it Means to be on a Citizen Planning Commission - Videos


Planning commissions play a vital role in how communities plan for their future. Watch this video to learn details of what it's like to serve.


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More by Peter Wulfhorst, AICP 

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- [Peter Wulfhorst] My name is Peter Wulfhorst, economic and community development educator with PennState Extension.

Today, I'm gonna talk to you about citizen planning commissions.

Pennsylvania is a very diverse state when it comes to how land is used.

From urban and suburban areas around the major metropolitan cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to fertile agriculture areas, Lancaster County.

Large tracts of forested areas in the northern tier of the state.

Coal, oil, and gas mining in the southwest and northeast parts of Pennsylvania.

Diversity of the state affects how land is used.

Pennsylvania's major metropolitan areas consist of Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pittsburgh, and Erie.

From 1992 to 2005, areas of eastern Pennsylvania communities experienced significant growth and development, which is reflected in the increase in the orange areas of those parts of Pennsylvania.

This development has impacted the townships and the school districts that provide services to the people that are moving there.

However, some other areas, including southwest and northwest Pennsylvania, communities have remained stagnant or lost population.

This is reflected in a less significant increase in the orange colored areas of those parts of Pennsylvania.

With the diverse communities Pennsylvania has, some areas. Like cities, are in need of strategies to address the loss of people.

While other communities, especially those along the suburban-rural fringe, need to plan for the impact of increasing population growth and land use.

An important part of how Pennsylvania's 2,500 local units of government addressed these land use issues is with planning commissions.

Approximately 65% of Pennsylvania governments have a planning commission.

This number varies with almost 100% in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania while a little less than 40% in the northwestern part of the state.

Planning commissions are advisors to their local government's elected governing body pertaining to the development of their community.

This advisory role is reflected in how the planning commission actually plans the development of a comprehensive plan.

If they ask why a planning commission is relevant to a community, well, let's look at what might happen if there is no planning.

This community might experience a variety of different and unappealing signs scattered throughout, traffic congestion and traffic safety conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles, or conflicts over incompatible land uses, like agriculture areas, commercial uses, and residential development.

Likewise, a planning commission may already exist, but not be effective at planning for the future of the community.

There could be planning and land use regulations in place.

However, are these plans and regulations creating a community that's livable for its citizens?

Does it have a mix of housing available for different incomes?

Can residents walk to recreational areas, shopping places, work, and places of worship?

Does a community have open space, such as river corridors, forested areas, farms, waterways, and vistas?

Planning commissions are vital on the development of land use regulations, like zoning and subdivision and land development.

Planning commissions also plan for the type of transportation systems, such as pedestrians, automobile, or public transit that allow people to get around their community.

They look at the visual appearance in a community, often by evaluating the type and amount of signage and the forms of landscaping along streets and commercial development and in downtown business areas.

To help protect the citizens, planning commissions consider public safety issues, such as water quality of the streams and groundwater.

As well as natural areas to protect the residents from flooding and provide recreational opportunities for the citizens.

Planning commissions coordinate the development of a community, provide and protect the amenities and facilities that contribute to the quality of life for the residents, correct current problems affecting a community, minimize any potential future problems, and help the local government function more efficiently.

Planning commissions consist of a three to nine member board comprised of citizens.

They volunteer their time, usually because they have an interest in the future of their community.

The membership of a planning commission should reflect a diversity of experience, expertise, and interest.

Planning commission members are appointed by the governing body.

They serve a four-year term.

And need to be residents of the municipality.

In addition, the leadership of the planning commission is determined by the members themselves.

The commitment of individuals serving on a planning commission often consists of attending a monthly meeting, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.

Additional time is required to review meeting agenda items and to prepare to do any research needed to talk about these issues at the regularly scheduled meeting.

Planning commissions, in collaboration with the governing body, should be working toward a vision that follows the will of the residents and the growth of their community.

This vision is reflected in the development of a comprehensive plan, as well as land use regulations, like zoning, subdivision land development, or official map.

Planning commissions work as a team.

It is important for newly appointed planning commission members to know who the current members are.

Likewise, current members should have information on those newly appointed to the planning commission.

Communication is important between the planning commission members, as well as between the planning commission and the elected officials.

Planning commissions of Pennsylvania perform essential planning tasks.

Being on a planning commission allows you to contribute to the future vision and direction for your community.

It allows you to be a leader in that community.

If you currently serve on a planning commission, this video should give you a better understanding of what it means to serve.

If you don't currently serve on a planning commission, you might consider serving on your local planning commission in the future.


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