In March, 1927, the Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning, of the Department of Commerce, after an exhaustive study, published a Standard City Planning Enabling Act. The purpose of the Committee in preparing this act was to make available, for the information and use of those engaged in drafting planning laws, a guide, the provisions of which represent extensive investigation into the various features of planning legislation, and the text of which supplies a model from which the states may frame and develop planning legislation.
In the text of the act the four general subjects are covered which experience has shown to be a necessary part of planning legislation. These are: (1) the making of the city plan and the organization and powers of the city planning commissions; (2) control of the layout of new subdivisions; (3) control of buildings in the bed of mapped streets; and (4) the regional plan and organization of the regional planning commission. The act contemplates a grant of authority by the state to municipalities and regions to avail themselves of the powers therein conferred. It is a permissive act and does not impose the creation of planning commissions upon muncipalities or regions, but leaves it optional with them, offering the opportunity to create such commissions if they deem it desirable.
Regarding the planning commission the Standard Act provides for the creation of a body so constituted as to take a long-range view of the development of the municipality. It contemplates a commission of nine members, six of whom shall hold no other municipal office, being thus free from the pressure of current municipal problems. Overlapping terms of six years, much longer than the terms of other city officials, including council, are provided for, one vacancy occurring each year. This insures first, that the city administration during a single term shall be unable to appoint a majority of the members, and second, that eventually the membership will represent planning experience of at least from one to five years, a desirable background for comprehensive planning.
The act provides that it shall be the function of the planning commission to prepare and adopt a master plan for the physical development of the municipality and adjacent areas. The matters to be covered by such a master plan may include streets, other types of public grounds, public utilities and zoning. The adoption of the master plan rests with the commission; it does not require submission to or approval by the council.
After the commission shall have adopted the master plan or one or more of its major sections, future public improvement such as streets, squares, parks, public utilities, etc., may not be authorized or carried out until their location, character and extent have been submitted to the planning commission and their relation to the city plan carefully studied. If approved by the commission the council's approval may be by affirmative vote as required by the general law; if, however, these improvements are disapproved by the planning commission, the council still has power to overrule such disapproval, but only by a recorded vote of not less than two-thirds of its entire membership.
From these provisions it will be seen that any improvement project coming before the council must, if it involves planning problems, be submitted to the planning commission for study and approval or disapproval, but the council retains its essential legislative power, that is, the power to make the final decision.
The adoption of the original master plan is the primary function of the planning commission; it does not require submission to or approval by council. The commission, unhampered by other municipal problems, is especially competent to do this in view of its knowledge of the needs of the city and the probable trend of its future growth. Its long-term membership, its authority to contract with city planners, engineers, architects and other consultants for such services as may be required, as authorized by the act, and its cooperation with the city engineer or other municipal officials, render the commission better qualified to make and adopt the original master plan than the legislative body of the municipality, whose duties, as previously stated, are of a more immediate and pressing nature.