By: Rachael Rees van den Berg
As Bend continues to grow, the role the Bend Planning Commission has in supporting Bend City Councilors could change.
“Bend is growing up. We’re growing up literally, we’re growing up figuratively, and we are facing more and more challenges, a lot of complexities, conflicts and so on,” Laura Fritz, a member of the 2016 Bend Planning Commission, told councilors Wednesday during the work session. “I think we’re kind of at a tipping point and we should be thinking about how the planning commission fits into growth and development decision making, vetting and how we can help you address some of our challenges.”
State law requires cities to have a planning commission, said Bend City Manager Eric King. This regulation is part of the land-use system that was established in the early 1970s by Governor Tom McCall. The main goal of the system is to prioritize citizen involvement in land-use issues, King said.
According to Fritz, there’s a lack of clarity in the existing code about the planning commission’s role and its responsibilities.
“We really believe that the code is vague and is subject to interpretation and that clarifying the role of the code will help everybody: city staff, commissioners, the city council as well and probably most importantly the citizenry,” Fritz said.
Fritz said the planning commission could add real value to the local planning process, both in terms of supporting city staff as well as the city council. The commission could assist in terms of efficiency and due diligence to help councilors create better policy decisions that have been properly vetted through a process that really engages citizens, she said.
Bend City Councilor Sally Russell spoke to her eight years of experience on the Bend Planning Commission. She said it’s important that the planning commission and city council are in sync with frequent communication.
“In the end, if we are good about setting the policy and having you understand where the boundaries are, I’m all for having you do all the upfront public engagement and the real leg work for us,” Russell said. “It’s a lot, a lot, a lot of work… It’s a heavy lift.”
King said he expects the powers and duties of the planning commission will be reviewed and brought back to council in the late fall.
“I think that raising the bar for the planning commission, its competency and its contribution, will serve us today, but it will especially serve us in the future,” Fritz said.
In other news, Russell introduced Gwen Moore, a partner at Johnson Phillips & Moore, LLP, as the new Municipal Court Judge. Moore was a graduate of the Bend Chamber’s 2015 Leadership Bend class. Nominations are now open for the class of 2017: http://bendchamber.org/leadership-bend/.