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Working With Planning Consultants

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The use of a private planning consultant can be an efficient way of conducting a local planning project. If handled properly, consultants can be a valuable addition to the planning resources of a community. However, like any undertaking, this process has its keys to success as well as potential problem areas. ...

The following are what I consider to be ten key elements to successfully getting started on a project that will involve consultants.

1. Know the Law. Many communities have local laws or regulations relating to the selection of consultants; there may also be state laws that come into play. If you have any uncertainty, consult with your legal counsel to understand the legal framework within which you operate before doing anything else.

Consultants illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb
Illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb

2. Have Clear Definition of Need for Project. Before you begin a consultant selection process, your department/commission should also be clear about the scope and nature of the project. Too many communities use the consultant selection process as a means to help define a project. Unfortunately, this often leads to widely divergent proposals being submitted, which are quite difficult to compare.

3. Confirm Leadership Commitment. Related to the above, some communities use the proposal process as a way to generate local interest and agreement in engaging in a planning process. Unfortunately, this often results in confusing discussions where some decision-makers are focusing more on whether or not a planning project should be pursued rather than on selecting the most suitable consultant for the community. Before you begin a consultant selection process you should have a commitment on the part of the decision-makers that the project should be undertaken. ...

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photo of Greg DaleC. Gregory Dale, FAICP, is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati affiliate office of Clarion Associates. He has managed planning projects throughout the country, and is also a frequent speaker at planning and zoning workshops and conferences.

Between 1991 and 2009, Dale authored 31 articles for the Planning Commissioners Journal, including 21 for our Ethics & the Planning Commission series, and others on a variety of transportation and zoning topics. Dale is also a co-author of The Planning Commissioners Guide (American Planning Association, 2013).

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