Planning Education: Not Just for Staff

Resources and Tools

The results of planning decisions (new roads, residential development) are prevalent and conspicuous, but the decisions themselves, let alone the rationale behind those decisions, often go unnoticed. Planning decisions impact a community’s appearance, traffic, housing stock, economic development, environmental conditions, and multitudes more. Because of this, planning must be a highly public and fully vetted process, with community stakeholders, planning staff, elected officials, and planning commissioners all playing a vital role. Planning Commissioners have a particularly significant place in decision making in Maryland as appointees with advisory planning authority; one that involves endless hours of homework and public meetings. The Maryland Land Use Article enables Planning Commissions with the powers necessary to fulfill their functions. These functions include providing guidance to elected bodies on land use applications, advising on modifications to zoning, and reviewing subdivisions. Perhaps the most significant responsibility of Planning Commissions is their role in the development and promotion of a community’s comprehensive plan. Due to the significance of Planning Commissions in Maryland, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) created and maintains the Planning Commissioners Education Course (PCEC).

The Smart and Sustainable Growth Act of 2009 requires county and municipal planning commission and board of appeals members to pass an education course. In collaboration with the Maryland Planning Commissioners Association (MPCA), the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), the Maryland Municipal League (MML), and the Governor’s Task force, Planning developed the training in 2010. Just like the plans that Planning Commissions develop, the training is comprehensive. Topics include an introduction to planning, the comprehensive plan, growth management tools, environmental and green development, housing, transportation, and the roles and responsibilities of a planning commissioner and board of appeals member. The course weaves the student through the history and legal basis for planning, as well as Maryland’s unique planning legacy and principles. The training allows citizen planners such as planning commissioners to share a conceptual understanding with the professional staff with whom they work, providing a lingua franca for the decision making that so greatly affects our communities and our quality of life.

The course and its curriculum are available in multiple formats, and more than 700 active board members have completed Planning’s course. Most students access the training modules via the website linked above, which contains extensive information, as well as links to resources for further research. A planning nerd could easily fall down the rabbit hole in reviewing the content. For those preferring a more traditional class setting, Planning offers in person classes at the MML, MACo, and MPCA conferences at no cost. The recent class conducted at the MML Conference in June had 18 students. Group instruction is also available upon request. If you are interested in learning more about setting up a Planning Commissioner class, please contact Joe Griffiths, Local Assistance and Training Manager for the Maryland Department of Planning at

Education is a lifelong endeavor, and Planning is always seeking ways to improve the PCEC. In partnership with the MPCA, it is currently seeking feedback on how it can do just that. Learn more about the MPCA Outreach Project at the MPCA website. The effort includes an online survey and focus groups, with the following meetings scheduled around the state (RSVPs not required, but appreciated)

Wednesday July 26: Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture • 1114 Shawan Rd, CockeysvilleRSVP

Tuesday, August 1: Montgomery County Planning •  8787 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring • RSVP

Tuesday, August 8: Queen Anne’s County Planning and Zoning • 110 Vincit St, Centreville • RSVP

The more Marylanders know about planning; the more sustainable, resilient, beautiful, efficient, and exciting our communities will be. Contact one of your planning commissioners today and thank them for everything they do.

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