By Phil Goldstein
Shortly after moving to Timnath in 2010, I was asked to consider an appointment to the town’s planning commission. Given my lack of prior experience, to say nothing of my aversion to appearing inept, I initially declined. However, after an assurance that I would receive the necessary training, combined with my need for filling idle time in retirement, I accepted. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Timnath is growing rapidly but not without forethought. Town Council prides itself on growing strategically and prudently, with less density in its residential developments than in neighboring communities, plenty of open space for recreation and commercial developments that complement the rural feel and historical charm of the original town of Timnath as much as possible.
The Timnath Planning Commission is the governmental entity responsible for initially reviewing development proposals—both commercial and residential—as well as re-zonings and most land use requests. The commission is primarily a recommending body; it has limited sole authority on most matters that come before it. At a typical meeting (always open to the public), town staff introduce the proposal, the developers present the details, public comment is heard, then the commission discusses the proposal. A vote is then taken—recommending approval of the proposal, with or without conditions, or rejecting it. Council subsequently hears the matter and has the final authority. Council may accept, accept with their own conditions, reject or table the planning commission’s recommendation.
Planning Commission has seven members—five regular commissioners and two alternates. The alternates participate fully in the review process but only vote when there’s an absence of a regular commissioner. Commissioners are appointed by Council for four-year terms and may be reappointed an unlimited number of times. Planning commissioners, like the mayor and council, are unpaid.
Planning commissioners are limited in how and when they may engage the public regarding their concerns about development proposals. Commissioners are governed by strict legal requirements that prohibit discussion on official matters outside of formal public meetings. The commission also has limited discretion in many matters. If a proposal meets the provisions of the land use code and zoning map, the documents that set the standards for development in the community, the commission generally will approve the measure. Council, on the other hand, has far more leeway.
While some proposals that come before Planning Commission and then Council invite little or no interest from the public, there have also been four-hour, standing-room-only meetings on matters that impact large numbers of residents, with passionate and heated comment. Particularly sensitive have been those proposals where new development is perceived as encroaching on older, more established residential enclaves or where developers are seeking substantive changes to the original plans, usually for market-driven reasons.
Despite being sympathetic to the concerns of residents in some of these instances, Planning Commission is obliged to follow its guidelines and remain unbiased. It’s not enjoyable by any means sitting in front of a group of fellow Timnath residents and explaining why the commission must render a different decision than it would favor from the other side of the podium. On occasion, the commission will include with its recommendation a request to Council to exercise its greater discretion and seek a more satisfactory solution than what was possible under the commission’s purview. This procedural recourse is a valuable counterpoint to the commission’s limitations.
While I initially had reservations about challenging myself with this responsibility, I didn’t anticipate how much I would enjoy public service and involvement in the town’s progress. It’s been an honor to serve, and I am indebted to the mayor and council for the trust they’ve placed in my colleagues and me.
To learn more about Timnath Planning Commission, Timnath Town Council and the development process, visit: https://timnath.org/.
Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a nine-year Timnath resident who serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 47 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.