Stepping off the Planning Commission

For the last year, I served as an Alternate Commissioner on the Gunnison County Planning Commission. 

Why I joined the Planning Commission

I decided to apply for this Commission for a few reasons.  First, when I applied in late 2016, my law license was on inactive status while I was a full-time stay at home mom.  I wanted a professional outlet in my life and I thought the Planning Commission would be a great way to balance professional and personal obligations and interests.  Second, I enjoy working on land use, public lands, and environmental and natural resources issues.  Serving on the Planning Commission was a great way to continue to develop knowledge in those areas.  Finally, following the 2016 election, I realized I needed to be more involved in government at all levels.

Role of the Planning Commission

The Community Development Department staff and the Planning Commission considers applications for a land use change permits and determines whether they comply with the applicable components of the Land Use Resolution, Gunnison County’s land use planning document.  The staff’s job is to work with applicants to discuss the LUR, provide guidance on compliance with the LUR, and prepare reports and recommendations to the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission’s role is to approve or deny land use change applications or make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners for a final decision.

While I served on the Planning Commission, we considered applications from large scale commercial developments to two or three lot residential subdivisions.  Some projects were very high profile, complex, and controversial.  The editorial page of the local newspapers was often filled with letters from citizens passionately speaking out for or against a proposed project.

Gunnison County is not immune to the boom and bust economy of resort communities.  The local economy is experiencing a strong upswing and people are opening and expanding businesses and building homes.  Land use in Gunnison County is a mixed bag: some 80% of land is federal public land, we have a world class ski area, a tourism and recreation economy, traditional agriculture and ranching, a huge coal mine, oil and gas industry, and a community that values open space, mountain vistas, and unparalleled access to public lands.  The Planning Commission is tasked with balancing growth and preserving our heritage.  I know that staff and Commissioners take this responsibility very seriously. 

Lessons learned

I decided not to extend my time on the Planning Commission after my initial one-year term so that I could invest more time and energy into law practice.  Although my time on the Planning Commission was relatively brief, I learned many valuable lessons.  The Planning Commission acts in a quasi-judicial capacity and considers testimony and evidence, applies the Land Use Resolution to applications, and makes findings, conclusions, decisions, and recommendations.  This is somewhat comparable to the role of a judge in a judicial proceeding.  This gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the role of a neutral arbiter. 

I gained an appreciation for interacting with members of the public in the capacity as a public official.  During my term on the Planning Commission, I tried to hold myself to a high standard of decorum.  Regardless of the substance of the matter at hand, I try to convey my respect and appreciation for applicants and members of the public engaging in a public process.

Finally, I saw different approaches to advocacy from the many lawyers who represented applicants before the Planning Commission.  I observed effective techniques and substantive arguments and also saw some that failed to gain much traction.  Sitting on ‘the other side of the table’ was a great way to see and revaluate advocacy, not as opposing counsel, but as a decision-maker. 

I am very grateful to the Gunnison County Commissioners for giving me the opportunity to serve this incredible community in this capacity.  Now that I have gotten my feet wet in public office, I am confident that I will resume this in the future when the time is right.