Richland planning commission faces change

Richland County's Planning Commission, widely viewed as pro-development, would have designated seats for environmentalists and neighborhood representatives under a proposal being aired today.

An idea that has been bouncing around for months would reconfigure the nine-member board to include people who live at the county's rural edges.

Today, it comes before County Council's rules committee, which could send it forward for a review by the full council later in the day.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia was still formulating a position late Monday, but director Earl McLeod said the measure appears to be "a slight" to the business community.

"The chitchat seems to be that some members of council feel the builder-developers have too much representation," McLeod said. "But the other shoe is, do we have any representation" on other commissions that influence public policy.

While balancing political interests on such commissions is common, having dedicated seats to formalize it is unusual.

Under the proposal, developed by Councilman Bill Malinowski, the nine-member planning commission would have dedicated seats for:

- Two environmentalists

- Two developers

- Two people serving at-large, or countywide

- Three other citizens, one each living in the northwest, northeast and southern parts of the county.

Malinowski said having designated seats would force the council to follow guidelines in selecting members.

The planning commission makes recommendations on development policies and land-use issues.

Bob Guild, who works with the Sierra Club, serves on the Columbia Planning Commission. He was appointed by City Council about two years ago as part of an effort to make the city's planning commission more sensitive to neighborhood concerns, he said.

"Development interests are well represented, and they tend to be professionals who very clearly know and act on the interests of developers," he said.

Others said they would like to see more of a balance on the planning commission.

All three members of the council's rules committee - Malinowski, Val Hutchinson and Kelvin Washington - said Monday they support the proposal and would like the county to give it a try.

"If you have regular citizens on there, and they hear both sides, it will force those groups to come to the middle," Washington said. "Because there is a median somewhere; we've just got to fight like the dickens to get there."

Even though County Council makes the final decisions on land-use issues, Hutchinson said, the planning commission often gets more detail.

"We sure would like to have the information vetted by an objective group of citizens," she said.