The planning department in a municipality or county is not one that many people think about very often, but it has a hand on everything that happens inside city or county limits.
It’s not all that often that citizens have to deal with the planning department for situations such as a rezoning request or a building permit. Much of their work is dealing with contractors and companies looking to build major warehouses or facilities, such as the Facebook Data Center in Los Lunas.
But whether its obvious or not, planners have their hands on everything that people experience in their day-to-day lives. Alex Ochoa is the long-term planner for the village of Los Lunas, so he spends most of his time on the big projects, such as the I-25 interchange project. When working on a project, Ochoa is trying to figure out the sort of effect it will have on the community, such as traffic flow, surrounding residences or businesses, as well as services, such as trash pickup as well as emergency response.
Another major consideration for members of the planning department is making sure any new development fits with the future plan of the city. Where that most often comes into play for those not looking to build a subdivision is with rezoning.
“What our role is, (the planning department) sit down with you and look at the type of permit you would need,” Ochoa said. “We can recommend whether that zone change would be in line with our future idea of how the village would potentially grow.”
The next step is the planning and zoning commission, and then if everything is approved, it would end with a hearing before the village council.
Another common issue the planning department deals with is building permits, however most of the time, that responsibility falls on the contractor in charge of the project.
Planning and zoning commission
The planning and zoning commissions act as an intermediary between the planning department and city council or county commission.
Members of the planning and zoning commissions are appointed by the mayor and councilor or commissioners.
The planning commission plays a central role in the planning process in three important ways. First, it acts as an advisory board to the main governing body on all planning and development issues. Second, the commission assures that the general plan is implemented by reviewing development applications on a case-by-case basis. Third, the commission functions as the decision-making body for many proposals.
However, any planning commission action can be appealed to the governing body, which can uphold the commission’s decision, overturn it, modify it or send it back for further study.
A planning and zoning commission is tasked with preparing a master plan for the city or county, recommending zone changes, and considering items such as conditional use permits, variance requests, sign exceptions and more.