Planning commission so far left out of comprehensive plan

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Note: Because Charlene Sims is a member of the editorial staff of the Linn County Journal and this story is written and edited by Journal staff, the Journal invites you to view the video of the commission meeting for the unedited conversation. Click here and go to the 2:48:00 mark to begin the segment.

MOUND CITY - Members of the Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission told county commissioners on Monday, Nov. 8, that they felt like their commission had been bypassed so far in updating the county’s comprehensive plan.

Planning commission Chairman Dave Berglund, a 20-year member of that commission, told Linn County Commissioners that even though the update of the plan was initiated by the county’s planning department, the commission had not been asked for any input so far.

Charlene Sims, also a 20-plus year member of the board, pointed out that the county planning commission, by state statute, was charged with reviewing and updating the comprehensive plan annually. “For some reason we’ve been left out,” she said.

At the same time, Sims complimented the comprehensive plan committee for the work that has been done up to this point. “The committee has done a wonderful job,” she said.

Commission Chair Rick James told Berglund and Sims that the planning commission wasn’t going to be left out of the process, but the commission just had a different plan.

Jessica Hightower, county economic development director who was handed the job of updating the comprehensive plan following the departure of former planning administrator Andy Mayhugh earlier this year, said there was no plan to bypass the planning commission.

“We’re not leaving you out,” she said. “From our perspective, we just haven’t gotten there yet.”

She said the company the county hired to update the plan has been guiding the committee to develop goals first, and that is what the committee has been working on.

She said that she and Jennifer Reinhardt, planner for the company coordinating the comprehensive plan update, were on the agenda to meet with the planning commission at its December meeting.

Included in the draft of the plan would be suggestions about which section of the zoning codes needed to be updated or changed.

Hightower said they planned to bring a draft of the plan to see what needed to be changed. “It will come before you before it’s final,” she said.

However, Sims said the planning commission needed to have input earlier in the process than after the draft had been completed.

Hightower pointed out the Richard Morrell, a planning commission member, was also on the comprehensive plan committee and represented planning interests.

James suggested the planning commission appoint an official representative to the committee, and Hightower agreed to that.

Hightower also she would be sure to get information packets about the drafts available in advance of the December meeting to give members enough time to study the information.

Berglund pointed to some of changes needed in the comprehensive plan concerning minimum lot sizes and land use and that it was important the planning commission had that input.

James said he agreed.

In a related matter, Sims told commissioners that the county planning commission needed better training. She said that not all of the members of the commission knew how to make a motion that would stand up in court in the event of a lawsuit.

She pointed out that, outside the commission itself, the planning board decisions were the mostly likely to spark legal action if not done correctly. She said that, in the past, board members had received training with other county planning commissions from across the state.

She said that both new and long-time members of the commission needed training.

Berglund said that he had been on the planning commission about as long as Sims but had never been invited to any kind of training program.

“We feel that in today’s world when we just grab someone off the street and bring them in here to fill a chair, they just need to be a little more aware of just what their responsibilities are and what our job is,” he said.

“Your importance to the county is vital,” James told the pair. He asked Sims if she knew of any training opportunities.

She said that she had been on an email group with Miami County for a while but didn’t know of any current training session.

James said he would look into some training options.

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