According to a manual created by the Indiana Chapter of the American Planning Association, the main objective of a plan commission is to create and recommend a comprehensive plan for the legislative body in a community. The comprehensive plan is the blueprint for the future development and planning of the area.
Most of Indiana’s plan commissions are either area or advisory plan commissions (see related story for more). The other two types are metropolitan plan commissions and joint district commissions. Only three counties (Marion, Delaware and Vanderburgh) are classified as metropolitan plan commissions, and Bartholomew County houses the state’s only joint district commission.
The summaries below from the “Citizen Planner Manual” explain how area and advisory plan commissions work.
Area plan commissions are cooperative efforts between a county and at least one municipality within the county. In jurisdictions using the area planning law, one commission serves the county and all municipalities that choose to participate. The area plan commission is a unit of county government, staffed by an executive director and any other employees included in the annual budget. Area jurisdictions are permitted to adopt unified plans and ordinances: a single comprehensive plan, a single zoning ordinance, and a single subdivision control ordinance can apply to the county and to all participating municipalities.
In a county having an area plan commission, a city or town that does not participate in the area commission may not exercise planning authority outside the corporate limits of the municipality. Nonparticipating municipalities may, however, form advisory plan commissions with authority for planning within the city or town.
Advisory plan commissions serve a county, city or town. In Indiana, municipalities are legally permitted to plan for an area up to 2 miles outside the corporate boundaries in what is described as an “extraterritorial planning area.” In counties with no comprehensive plan, municipal plan commissions may simply assume this extraterritorial authority from the county. In a county with a comprehensive plan, the municipal plan commission must request this authority from the county legislative body; however, if municipal services are provided to the extraterritorial area, the municipal plan commission may assume this authority from the county. The county must adopt an ordinance granting this authority to the city or town.
When a municipal plan commission assumes extraterritorial jurisdiction, it must file a map and description of the territory involved with the county recorder. Another option is available to cities and towns in counties with advisory plan commissions: the municipality may designate the county plan commission as the municipal plan commission. The city or town may then contract with the county to pay the county a proportionate share of the costs of planning services. This procedure is most often used by towns that are too small to adequately maintain a planning program. In these cases, residents of the city or town are eligible for appointment to the plan commission.
(Source: Indiana Chapter of American Planning Association’s “Citizen Planner Manual”)