Commissioner’s corner: Master plan process vital to managing growth
I would like to provide an overview of the master plan amendment process. In addition to outlining this issue, I will also discuss what I believe to be the role, responsibility and commitment of the Planning Commission.
First of all, I believe there is a perception in the community that the master plan is constantly being amended, a notion I will try to dispel.
The amendment process occurs twice a year. Applicants who submit the required applications and pay the required fees to the county are allowed to move forward through the public hearing process. This usually begins at the town board level, followed by the planning commission and ultimately the board of county commissioners. Community meetings are also often held and are encouraged by the county.
The planning commission is a seven-member board; the board of county commissioners is a five-member board. The original amendment process for the master plan required both the planning commission and the board of county commissioners to approve the amendment by a super majority, i.e., five out of seven planning commissioners and four out of five county commissioners. This is still the requirement for the planning commission for making a recommendation to the board.
However, a Supreme Court ruling found this requirement to be outside of the county’s authority as provided for in state law. This decision means that the final authority for master plan amendments is based on a simple majority vote by the board of county commissioners.
Speaking as one commissioner, there are two policy issues that need to have discussion relative to the amendment process. One will be in the near future, and the second will occur when the Nevada Legislature resumes its next session in 2003.
Currently, the county allows for master plan amendments to be heard twice a year. I believe the board should consider having the cycle changed back to once a year. The second issue will be to draft a bill (law) for submittal to the Nevada Legislature, which will provide the ability for a county to require the super majority status by the board of commissioners in concurrence with the planning commission.
In summary, the county has a review process in place that allows for a minimum of two public hearings. Super majority voting requirements by the planning commission and your current board of county commissioners do not take master plan amendments lightly.
It is no secret that frequent amendments, particularly significant ones, may undermine the plan’s effectiveness and create internal inconsistencies between and within different elements of the plan. If memory serves me correctly, there have been requests for 34 amendments during the past five years, only 17 of which were approved; 11 that may be considered significant. From my perspective, these numbers within this time frame do not represent an undermining of the Master Plan!
The planning commission’s role regarding this discussion is critical. This board advises the board of commissioners on land use and zoning issues, which I might add, is not an enviable position to be in all the time.
I believe that as an appointed board, their focus should be on the issue or amendment and its compliance with the master plan and county code, and not necessarily on the politics of the day or personal perspective. Representation on the planning commission is a diverse cross-section of the community, and requires a four-year commitment on the part of residents who wish to submit their applications for consideration.
Currently there is one vacancy on the planning commission, and two additional seats will be due for appointment or re-appointment at the end of this year. Appointments will be made in January 2002.
As master plan amendments are brought forward to the board of commissioners, I believe they will be placed under the microscope for thoughtful review prior to any amendment.
n Steve Weissinger represents Douglas County Commission District #1.