Is serving on the planning commission an exercise in futility?
After reading about the new changes to Lehi City’s Planning Commission, I wondered if anyone would want to apply for the job. I didn’t have any objections to the earlier time or reducing the number of commissioners from seven to five. Still, theability of the mayor to remove a member of the commission “without cause” was concerning. Is the message being sent, “Don’t make waves, or you’ll be replaced”?
Planning Commissions are required in each city by Utah State statute. A Planning Commission member earns a minimalstipend and, as a commission member, gives recommendations to the City Council on land use projects. Meetings are held twice monthly during ten of the twelve months. Some meetings are short, and some are lengthy. The number of items on the agenda and the controversial nature of the projects generally determinethe length of meetings. I calculated the average time of the 28 meetings in 2022 and found that most meetings were about 2 hours and 40 minutes long. Three meetings lasted over 4 hours, and one was almost 5 hours long.
As a commission member for two years, I found the responsibility daunting. The planning commission manual is hundreds of pages long and details all the City building codes, development requirements, land use designations, etc. I spent hours and hours familiarizing myself with the information needed to be competent in my responsibility. This was in addition to visiting project sites and attending the Planning Commission meetings. After six years on the commission and my involvement with the Lehi Free Press, I felt that citizen input and trying to become educated on the issues only exacerbated my feeling that all was for naught. I still remember a Lehi City official saying, “You can’t tell someone what they can do with their property.” The underlying tone was, “developers should be able to make the most money possible regardless of the impact on the citizens of Lehi.”
When voicing opposition, criticism, or concerns for projects, Commissioners can now be removed from their position “without cause.” This directive can be intimidating and discouraging for anyone who aspires to be part of the Planning Commission. While on the Commission, I distinctly remember the negative reaction of planning staff to a query about building a home in a retention pond area. Negative or critical comments about projects were often met with defensiveness from developers and City staff. It might be interesting to note that on January 25th, the City Council approved a new land use map for Lehi. This is the guide for future development. Since that date,over 44 amendments to the area plan or zone changes have been recommended, and the City Council approved most.
There seems to be an inherent conflict between being a responsible and informed Commission member and the goals and priorities of developers and even some Lehi City officials. Maybe City officials and developers long for the days when projects were rubber-stamped with little discussion, and citizen input was almost non-existent. Perhaps the ability to remove a commissioner for any reason is a step back to the “old way” of doing things, with little or no resistance from thoughtful community members.