Good planning takes time
This letter is in response to the Jan. 13, Sierra Sun editorial, “Planning by the book or on the fly?”, which called into question the role and value of Truckee’s Planning Commission in light of the recent Sierra Bluff project. As Chair of the planning commission I would like to take this opportunity to respond. The planning commission, along with the town’s planning staff, considers the impact of proposed developments as they relate to town [and other] policies. In general, the commission reviews staff reports compiled by our town’s Planning Department. These reports summarize an applicant’s project and discuss how the project may or may not conform to language in Truckee’s Development Code, General Plan and/or other adopted documents. In many instances, the staff report identifies a potential project impact and creates conditions of approval to mitigate that impact. As our polices often contain vague or unclear language, there is some subjectivity in generating these conditions of approval. The planning commission reviews the project and all of its supporting documentation to determine, by consensus, if findings can be made in support of the project. Sometimes the commission agrees 100 percent with the findings made by staff. Sometimes it does not. The planning commission serves as a check and balance to staff’s review and that means that we must discuss the very issues that staff identifies in their report.Not every project that comes before the town is reviewed by the planning commission. Generally, the planning commission only reviews projects that may have a significant impact on our town. Sierra Bluffs is an example of a project that would come under our purview. This project borders Glenshire along bluffs high above the Truckee River and is immediately adjacent to an active mine. With few existing trees, the project is visible from many vantage points. The commission reviewed the staff report and took into consideration their conditions of approval. The consensus among the commissioners was that the report’s conditions of approval did not adequately address areas of concern identified by the town’s plans and policies. Far from “alter[ing] Truckee planning policy on the fly,” the commission found instances where the conditions of approval, which are in response to policy, needed to be strengthened. Issues of visibility, screening, light pollution, sound exposure and neighborhood compatibility were deliberated by the commission and more stringent language was added accordingly. In each of these instances, I believe the commission held the project to a higher standard.If our town’s policies clearly listed all impacts and established their specific mitigation measures, both the commission and the staff would have an easier time reviewing projects. The author’s assessment that the commission should “trust set Town of Truckee policies” clearly demonstrates an unfamiliarity with these documents and the role that staff and commission have in interpreting and applying them. Quite simply, after you scratch the surface it is not that easy. Projects must be considered each on their own merit and conditions of approval carefully and purposefully written in response.I am troubled by the sentiments and frustrations expressed in the Sierra Sun editorial. The author questions the value of the planning commission, the degree of review and the time involved. Are three-and-a-half hours too long to spend deliberating on a project that will change, for better or worse, Truckee forever? For me the answer is no. I became involved in Truckee’s planning process because I was concerned about the impacts of growth in our area. I attended long meetings. I spoke out. It took time. As a Commissioner I receive $92 a month as compensation for anywhere from 10 to 40 hours of my time. Needless to say, I am not in it for the money. I am a planning commissioner because I care. To call into question the value of the planning commission and the efforts of my fellow commissioners is to denigrate all of us who volunteer our time and energy for the purpose of benefiting our community. Are the meetings too long? Yes, sometimes they are. Are the meetings worth it? Yes. Truckee is worth it. Good planning takes time. Nikki Riley is the chairwoman of the Town of Truckee Planning Commission.