Back in 1995, Roger Horn faced a personal dilemma: He had been accepted into the Master of Public Administration program at The Evergreen State College around the same time he joined the Olympia Planning Commission.
Horn didn’t have time to do both.
“I thought, if I join the planning commission, I’m going to get a better education and actually be an active member of the community while I’m learning,” said Horn, now 64. “To contribute to the growth of the city and try to make Olympia a better place is really what it’s about.”
Since that decision, Horn hasn’t looked back. He served on the commission from May 1995 through June 2001, then rejoined in 2007 after a stint in the Peace Corps. His last day as a planning commissioner was Dec. 7.
The nine-member Olympia Planning Commission is a critical, behind-the-scenes player in local government. It’s an all-volunteer board that advises the Olympia City Council on growth, development, transportation and zoning issues. Many of the commission’s recommendations pass routinely and without fanfare as part of the council’s consent agendas.
Horn, who retired in 2013 from his job as a budget manager for the Department of Commerce, enjoys diving into the nitty-gritty details of city planning. A favorite task was the commission’s annual analysis of the Capital Facilities Plan, which is a list of projects with their costs, financing and construction timelines.
Horn is especially proud of the commission’s work on two important projects: the Shoreline Master Program, which regulates development on the city’s shoreline, and the revised Comprehensive Plan, which serves as a policy blueprint for the city’s goals. Both of these city blueprints required years of analysis, meetings and forums to get them right.
During these processes, most recently with the updated comprehensive plan, the time commitment for commissioners was 15 hours a week or more.
The plan was approved in 2014 after more than five years of work. Horn was especially proud of the commission’s recommendations for urban corridor and density policies that focused on three main areas of Olympia where the most development and population growth are expected. At the same time, the recommendations also help preserve and protect historical neighborhoods from development, he said.
“What people don’t realize is that when the city council is working on certain issues, they take a closer look at maybe 10 to 15 percent and accept everything else,” Horn said of the comprehensive plan process. “A lot of the groundwork was already done by the (planning) commission when the council began their work.”
Despite stepping down from the commission, Horn will remain active in city affairs. He is interested in being engaged with the ongoing Downtown Strategy, only this time as a citizen instead of a planning commissioner. The strategy will move the city forward on its vision for downtown.
“The Downtown Strategy is a culmination of all the work we’ve done,” he said. “It’s really where the rubber meets the road.”
Horn also will continue his active volunteer work. He currently helps out at the Thurston County Food Bank, serves as a mediator with the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County and is a hospice volunteer.
Now that he’s done with the commission, Horn can pursue a relatively new hobby.
“I’m learning to sing now,” he said.
Horn’s fellow planning commissioners wished him farewell at his last meeting. Former chairman Max Brown said Horn was a hardworking and dedicated volunteer who put a great deal of thought into every decision on the commission.
“Rarely are there people like this where you can truly say you don’t know how to replace them,” Brown told The Olympian. “He put in an immense amount of time and work.”
Planning commissioners serve three-year terms and are appointed by the Olympia City Council. To learn more, contact Todd Stamm at email@example.com.