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Arrested Development

Planning Commission: For Pros Only?

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Around city hall, appointments to commissions are usually routine matters: The mayor or council members nominate someone, and can usually bank on unanimous support from the rest of council. Last week, though, a nomination to the Planning Commission raised red flags, and ended with questions like who, exactly, qualifies as a developer, and are they plotting to overthrow the city?

Jill Sherman, a developer at Gerding Edlen, was plucked by Mayor Tom Potter to fill one of two vacancies on the commission—which, as the most important planning advisory board in the city, holds enormous sway in the shape of Portland. By all accounts, Sherman is talented, intelligent, fair, and professional—the problem, though, is that there are already two developers on the commission, and state law requires that no more than two people serve from the same profession.

"The purpose of the ordinance—on the state and local level—is to have a balance of interests on the Planning Commission, not an overwhelming preponderance of development interests," says former city council candidate Amanda Fritz, who served on the Planning Commission for seven years. "That's not saying that developers are bad, rather it's saying that the law states that there can't be more than two on the commission."

Fritz caught the ear of City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who raised the issue at the Wednesday, June 13 council session—though he was careful to not appear to be targeting Sherman personally.

Leonard's questioning threw a wrench in Sherman's appointment—and sparked a Clintonian debate over the definition of "developer."

Don Hanson, the vice president of the nine-member Planning Commission, is the "development services manager" for a firm named Otak, which handles the "core services [that] provide the backbone of any development project." He's also widely considered in the community to be a "developer."

Yet Planning Bureau Director Gil Kelley refuted that notion, saying that if council defined "developer" that broadly, most of the Planning Commission members would be disqualified.

Ultimately, city council—even Leonard—approved Sherman's appointment, causing Fritz to point out on her blog (amandafritz.com) that five of the nine members now get their income from development-related fields.

"It's always been like this," she added, "and it's always been a problem."

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