Govt. rubber stamping customary, but not always

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

Some folks aren’t familiar with what a planning commission does as opposed to a township board, village council or city council.

The most common function for a planning commission is to field requests from citizens, developers or companies to change the land they own or what they do on that land. Though most of the time all planning commissioners can do is make recommendations to the board or council on what should be done with the request, these governmental bodies serve as a first crucial step is getting something done.

A citizen may ask for permission to erect a pole barn on his property, a developer may ask to have a parcel rezoned to accommodate his or her business plans, and a company may seek approval for a project.

Most requests will have impact on neighboring residents and businesses. So they go first to the planning commission. Once the recommendation is made, the council or board makes the final decision on whether the proposal gets the green or red light, or sometimes a yellow — for approval with conditions.

Many observers have contended over the years that boards and councils essentially serve as rubber stamps for the decisions made by the planning commission. For the most part, this is true.

But since I launched Townbroadcast 11 years ago, I have seen three instances of exceptions. All were controversial and all seemed political.

The first one I witnessed was a request to turn a small business site in Shelbyville into a dispensary for medical marijuana. Though the applicant was legal to use the building for commercial purposes, Martin Township officials halted his operation and forced him first to approach the planning commission.

Amazingly, the plan commission voted 4-2 to let the applicant proceed. It was shocking because local officials wanted absolutely nothing to do with pot.

The Township Board subsequently voted 5-0 to reject the applicant’s request.

Another instance occurred in Dorr Township, where a local man approached the planning commission to secure approval for a lot split of his property. The commission voted to recommend it on a 4-3 vote.

However, a commissioner who also served on the township board lobbied against the request, maintaining that though the vote was 4-3 in favor, there were some who voted in the affirmative despite having misgivings.

The township board then voted 4-3 to reverse the plan commission’s recommendation.

The third instance was in Leighton Township, where the plan commission voted 4-3 against a proposal for an air strip. Regardless, when it reached the township board, the vote was 4-0 in favor.

So it’s true that township board and village and city councils rubber stamp what is recommended by planning commissions, but there are instances to the contrary. You’ve just read about three of them in the last eight years in this neck of the woods.  

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