Local officials have new way to participate in the Michigan Citizen Planner Program

Local planning officials in small communities in Michigan can now participate conveniently in the Citizen Planner Training program using two-way video conferencing technology.

Every day, elected officials and appointed members of a planning commission or zoning board of appeals make decisions that affect private landowners and communities. Getting the proper training to be an effective in that role is critically important. Gaining access to that training, though, can be challenging, especially in smaller communities throughout the state.

The Michigan State University Extension Citizen Planner Program is one of the state’s most popular land use training programs for local officials. Over 5,000 individuals have participated in the program since its inception in 2002 either in a classroom setting – one evening a week for seven weeks - or online. Topics include the basics all planning officials should learn about: an introduction to planning and zoning, legal foundations, roles and responsibilities, plan implementation and development controls, innovative planning and zoning, and the art of community planning.

The Citizen Planner classroom format works fine for many, but some areas struggle to recruit the minimum number of participants needed to conduct the program. For years, local officials in those areas had few opportunities to take the Citizen Planner Course, or were forced to travel significant distances to participate.

Rapid technology changes now make it easy and affordable for Michigan State University Extension to offer the Citizen Planner Program simultaneously for small groups at several distant locations using video conferencing systems. The experience is very similar to a traditional classroom program, with everyone able to see and hear each other.

Using this technology, MSU Extension will be offering a special version of the program at a discounted price beginning in February 2015. Communities can host a site on their own or with neighboring jurisdictions and save time and travel expenses. A minimum of five participants is required at each location (more than five is fine, depending on the technology available in the facility).

A short online video gives a demonstration of the system and explains how to host a session and what kind of computer and Internet hook-up is required.

Just three or four sites will be accepted on a first come basis, so interested communities need to act by January 9, 2015 at the latest. To learn more about this special Citizen Planner Program download a workshop flyer, contact the state citizen planner office or call 269-657-8213.

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