Deciphering Democracy in Cuyahoga Falls Vol. 3
Planning Commission
Tom Sullivan, 02-07-2019

Tom Sullivan
Tom Sullivan has been a fixture in the Falls community since 1978. He has served on several city committees and commissions, and he is a self-proclaimed "season ticket holder" to Monday night city council meetings.

Across the horizon, three riders appear hauling lumber—Pitlook Home Builders are in town ready to develop. They have found a piece of land, but must find out whether they can start building. To do this, they must meet with the planning department, as well as the neighbors most affected by the boxes they brought across the prairie.

The planning department will check whether what the riders are doing agrees with the city’s zoning and put in place a plan to make the development work. Once the department has a plan that meets the code, they turn the file over to the planning commission. The planning commission is a group of volunteers; six are picked by the mayor at the time of their appointment, with a term of 6 years, and one member is appointed by City Council with a term of 2 years (the typical term of a regular council member). These folks are your neighbors and shouldn’t hold any public office (except the city council appointee). They handle site plans, subdivisions, dedicating streets, preliminary and final plat review, and other duties that pertain to development of the city. They also cannot have any interest in the development these builders are proposing, such as selling the homes our prairie friends want to build, or selling them nails or grass seed. Overall, this is a group of people are there because they care what is happening in their city.

For the most part, commission members are regular townsfolk, meeting twice a month (the first and third Tuesday at 6:00pm). Anyone can go and hear about what’s happening to places in town, while developers camp somewhere to wait for the meeting.

On Tuesday night at the meeting house (the Natatorium), the meeting is called to order, files are read, and the planning director makes a presentation to the commission, showing all the information and history behind the property. In this case, farmer McDonald has moved and his kids don’t see farming in their future, announcing his home is for sale. Developers may get to tell how wonderful Pitlook houses are and what a wonderful little hamlet they plan on creating in middle America. After an hour or so, neighbors get their chance to make comments, which should be written and rehearsed, being limited to three minutes—so people must make their point fast.

If the decision favors a preliminary site plan, neighbors still get a chance to say their piece. Everything the planning commission approves must be ratified by city council, so neighbors get the chance to speak at that meeting for another 3 minutes. If the development passes council vote, the developer is permitted to put more money into the project and submit final plans to the planning dept. Then they all attend another Tuesday meeting where presentations are a bit more detailed, with more 3-minute public discussions. If the planning commission approves, it’s back to city council, which is the public’s last chance to use their 3 minutes. The process is effective, and, for the most part, you are dealing with neighbors. All the same, it’s helpful to know the rules before heading into a meeting.

As for our three riders, they sent a wire to Philadelphia, and if their file isn’t approved, they’re planning legal action, which happens quite often. For that reason, it is important to make sure—whether you are for or against an item—you can back your position with facts. Them folks from Philly don’t care for opinion.

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