Planning Commission Primer

Page updated on May 3, 2021 at 4:59 PM

First Time at the Planning Commission?

If you are appearing before the Planning Commission for the first time, the following information will help you understand the process and provides suggestions for effectively expressing your views and opinions. 

The Commission is made up of 7 residents appointed by the City Council. It considers items on its docket and either makes a recommendation to the City Council or approves the items in cases of subdivision and development site plans. Most items go on to a City Council hearing for a final decision.

The Commission wants to hear your views on the items it considers. It does not expect you to be as informed on land use law and Commission procedures as those who appear before it often, such as lawyers for applicants. If you need help giving the Commission your views, the Commission Chair will try to assist you and explain the process.


    Applicant - The party that applies for Planning Commission approval of its request. Their application is placed on a meeting docket after the staff has reviewed it and sent a staff report, with a recommendation, to the Commission for its action.

    Chair/Chairman/Chairwoman - The member of the Planning Commission who chairs, or runs, the meeting. He or she sits in the center seat. The Chair is usually addressed as either Mr. Chair or Madam Chair.

    Docket - The agenda listing the items that the Commission will consider at its meeting. The meeting will almost always follow the order in the printed docket, which you can get from the table outside of the Commission meeting room. At the beginning of the meeting, the Chair will announce docket items that will not be heard because they have been deferred to the next meeting or withdrawn. Don't confuse these items with the consent calendar, which is when a number of docket items is considered and acted upon all at one time.

    Consent Calendar

    The consent calendar is at the beginning of the docket. It lists the docket items the staff predicts are non-controversial. It is approved by the Commission or recommended for City Council approval all at one time, and usually quickly. However, anyone - citizen, developer, staff, or Planning Commissioner - can ask that an item be taken off the consent calendar so that they can talk about it. Items taken off the consent calendar are considered immediately after the consent docket is approved.

    Written Material Available

    The docket and staff reports for docket items that include the planning staff's recommendations are available for free at the table outside of the meeting room. They are also available for pick up at the Department of Planning and Zoning Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or at the Department of Planning and Zoning website. You should read and be familiar with the write-up of any item you wish to address the Commission about. These dockets and staff reports are available at least 8 days before the meeting.

    Speaking Procedure

    • Speaker's Form - Fill out the Speakers Form that you get at the table inside the meeting room. Give it to the Planning Staff member who sits at the front of the room to the left of the Planning Commissioners. The Chair uses these forms to plan the meeting and give everyone a chance to talk.
    • Speaker's Form Online - You can also fill out a Speaker's Form up to the day before the meeting and submit it on the Web. 
    • Either Podium - Speak at either the right or the left podium - it makes no difference.
    • Listen for Your Name - The Chair will call the names of the upcoming speakers. When the Chair calls your name be ready to speak by coming up to one of the podiums; that way the meeting will not have to wait for you to make your way up to speak. You can wait in or by the benches directly behind the podiums just before you speak.
    • Identify Yourself - When you start speaking, state your name and address for the record of the meeting.
    • Speaking Etiquette - Only address the Chair or any Commissioner who is asking you a question. Don't speak or argue directly with the opposing side. This makes it easier for the Chair to run a fair meeting and maintain order. Don't speak after the public hearing part of the docket item has been closed, unless you are invited to by the Chair.
    • Speaking During Virtual Public Hearing - Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic emergency, Planning Commission public hearings are taking place via Zoom Webinar. The meetings are being held electronically, unless a determination is made that it is safe enough for the meetings to be held in person in the City Council Chamber at 301 King Street, Alexandria, VA. Electronic access will be provided in either event. To register to speak at a virtual public hearing, please fill out a speaker form online. Once the public comment period of the item you have signed up to speak on has arrived, the Chair will begin to call the names of individuals who have signed up to speak on the item. Once you hear your name called upon to make your public comment, you will want to hit the "Raise Hand" button located on the Zoom taskbar (or dial *9 if you are calling in via phone) to let Staff know it is you who needs to be unmuted in order to make your public comment. Then, the Planning Commission Clerk will start the 3-minute timer during which time you are able to state your public comment.

    Time Limits for Speakers

    Be concise - you may be limited to 3 minutes if there are many speakers for the evening or for your docket item. Because many people may speak on your item, be clear and to the point so your views can be remembered and acted on.

    What do you want the Commission to do?

    Be specific about what you want the Commission to do. The Commission can accommodate you more easily if you have already thought out what language you need changed, such as the conditions in the application, or specifically what you want the applicant to do.

    Off Limits Arguments

    The Commission is not allowed by law to consider some arguments. For example, the Commission cannot consider the competitive impact on neighboring businesses when it considers an action. If you start to make off limit arguments, the Chair will warn you that the Commission cannot consider them.

    Second Meeting Possibility

    There is no official cut off time for the meetings.  At some point during the meeting, the Chair may decide that a second meeting is necessary to finish all of the items on the docket.  Such second meetings will usually be held two days later, on Thursday. If your item is moved to the next meeting, you can leave the current meeting.

    When you can leave

    When the Commission finishes with your docket items you can leave. It will not be considered again at the meeting unless the Chair announces that it will be brought back up, which is very rare. Please leave quietly so that the meeting will not be interrupted.


    Contact the Planning and Zoning Office at 703.746.4666 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

    Back to Top