A planning commission’s primary activity is planning, which according to the American Planning Association, “is a dynamic discipline that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations. Planning enables civic leaders, businesses, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives. Good planning helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live. Planning helps communities to envision their future. It helps them find the right balance of new development and essential services, environmental protection, and innovative change.”
In Pennsylvania, planning commissions are primarily responsible for and charged with exercising a municipality’s legal right to develop a comprehensive plan that outlines its specific community planning objectives that may focus on environmental protection; agricultural, historical and cultural resource preservation; business retention, expansion and recruitment; urban redevelopment; housing opportunities; parks and recreation amenities; transportation and utility infrastructure; or other health, safety and public welfare needs and issues that are critical to the community’s overall wellbeing and prosperity.
Planning commissions are on the front line regarding the issues that matter most to many communities. Their leadership is crucial in developing recommendations for implementing change as well as promoting responsible and sustainable community planning practices.
A planning commission acts as an advisor to the governing body and its principal role is stipulated in the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) which is the uniform planning and land use enabling law for all commonwealth municipalities. The planning commission’s duties and responsibilities are authorized by the MPC.
In practice, the planning commission’s time is largely devoted to reviewing applications submitted pursuant to the municipality’s zoning and subdivision & land development ordinances and providing recommendations for their approval to the governing body.