My Turn: Not a higher standard, an equal one
January 20, 2006
I have read with interest the editorial by the Sierra Sun (“Planning by the book or on the fly” Sierra Sun Jan. 13) and the response to that editorial by Planning Commissioner Chair Nikki Riley (“Good planning takes time” Sierra Sun Jan. 18) about the Truckee Planning Commission’s review of my Sierra Bluff project. Without a doubt, the Sierra Sun got it right.Most folks, including myself, are terrified to have projects reviewed by this planning commission. We never know what to expect because the commission can take the language in the Development Code and “interpret” it to support their own personal views and biases.The planning commission’s job is to review projects based on current Development Code and design guidelines. They are supposed to keep an open mind until the facts are presented to them. They are supposed to treat all applicants and projects equally under the current codes. Ms. Riley indicates in her editorial that the Development Code contains “vague or unclear” language. I disagree. The Development Code is very explicit and was adopted after a lot of public scrutiny. As quoted in Ms. Riley’s column “In each of these instances, I believe the commission held the project to a higher standard.” This is exactly the problem. They are not supposed to hold the project to a higher standard. They are supposed to hold the project to an “equal” standard and follow the policies in the Development Code.If the planning commission is entitled to arbitrarily hold some projects to higher standards than that which is describe by code, then the Development Code means nothing. The fact is that the project was held to an incredibly high standard by a thorough and comprehensive community planning process, not by the planning commission. The Sierra Bluff project was a result of over a year of working with the neighbors, the Glenshire Association, Friends of the Bluffs, staff planning and various town council members. Each and every trail, property line, lot size, road alignment and site density was meticulously scrutinized. Every detail was hashed out over a series of community meetings. This process was not easy and all participants in this long process should be commended. The project was taken to the planning commission with no neighborhood opposition and full staff support. It is very arrogant of the planning commission to think that after a 20 minute presentation by the staff, they can have the insight to improve upon a project that took over a year to plan. Instead, they nit-picked the project for three hours. I am convinced that the planning commissions actions were more of a show of control and power then effort to improve the project, and in the end reduced the credibility of the commission.The changes that the commission made to the conditions of approval for the Sierra Bluff project were arbitrary, capricious and did not reflect the conclusions of reports and studies that I, as applicant, was made to pay for. The commission changes to the conditions of approval did not make Sierra Bluff a better project and ignored public comment.My intent is not to questions the motives or integrity of the individual commissioners. I know that they are volunteers and it is a thankless job. Even still, as public servants they open themselves up to public scrutiny and must hold themselves to principles of equity and fairness that I believe are lacking. It is a shame that I must appeal to the Truckee Town Council the planning commission’s approval of my own project. The town council and staff planning have more important town issues to deal with than to fix the pettiness of this commission decision.Fortunately we have a great town council who has held themselves to a high standard. Now we need the town council to hold the planning commission that same high standard.Tom Grossman is a Truckee resident. ‘My Turn’ is a guest column open to readers of the Sierra Sun. Send submissions of 500700 words to email@example.com.