The Planning Commission at Work

Avoiding the Unadoptable Plan or Ordinance

November 13th, 2013

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Yesterday, we examined a few unfortunate situations where community plans or the ordinances that implement them were fully completed and then were voted down for adoption by the elected body or by the voters.

After months, and sometimes years, of steering committee meetings, focus group meetings, neighborhood meetings, meetings with the staff, meetings with the consultants, data compilation, writing, editing, and rewriting … an unadoptable plan, ordinance, or code is a lot of sunk time and cost. To the public, it can appear that the planning commission failed in its duties. To the elected body, it can also appear that the planning commission has not done its job. Neither of those scenarios is encouraging to you, the planning commissioner.

There are some simple things you can do to help keep your plan or ordinance from hitting a brick wall at the end of the line. Here’s our Top Ten List (in reverse order, David Letterman style) of Strategies That Planning Commissioners Can Use to Build Momentum for Plan/Ordinance Adoption:

Top 10 cartoon10. Begin with the end in mind. The end not a process or a document, but rather a tool that will help your community achieve its vision. Establishing and clearly articulating that vision is critical to a successful planning process. Without it, your plan will be baseless, and you will lack that rallying point around which everyone can agree -- even as they hash out the details of what it will take to achieve the vision.

9. Strike the right balance with meetings. Too many meetings wears out the public. They lose interest and simply quit participating. Too few meetings doesn’t provide adequate opportunity for interaction and input. Use a wide range of techniques to gather input and save meetings for when the business of plan or ordinance development is best conducted in a face-to-face setting.

8. Use public engagement tools that match your demographic. A little research into your community’s demographic can help you determine the best ways to reach residents of your community. Rather than relying on the linear application of a single technique, use multiple tools that will appeal to your community’s different demographic groups.

7. Focus your focus groups.  Avoid the practice of creating one big committee that is charged with developing the plan or the ordinance. Most people are interested in one or two specific issues. What we’ve often found more useful is the creation of a focus group process that engages people in what interests them most.

6. Engage your elected officials.  Many governing bodies resist being involved in plan or ordinance development on the principle that they will have to vote on it at the end of the process. This logic is counterintuitive, in our opinion and experience. How can elected officials defend the plan or ordinance in the face of public opposition unless they’ve been a part of its evolution? How can they be prepared to implement the plan or ordinance if their first involvement with it is at the very end of its development?

End of excerpt / first half of article. Balance of article covers: 5. Build bridges. 4. KISS. 3. Provide flexibility in the process. 2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. 1. The plan or ordinance is NOT the final product

If you’ve dealt with strong opposition to a plan or ordinance, we’d welcome your sharing your experiences with us in the discussion on the PlannersWeb LinkedIn group page.


photo of the SegedysJim Segedy, FAICP, worked for many years in Ball State University’s Community Based Planning program, providing assistance to more than one hundred communities and many plan commissions (as planning commissions are called in Indiana). He is currently a member of the Edgewood (Pennsylvania) Planning Commission and previously served on the Delaware County (Indiana) Plan Commission.

Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, AICP, is the Associate Director for River Restoration for American Rivers’ Pittsburgh field office. Before moving to Pennsylvania, she spent over a decade as a circuit-riding planner for a regional planning organization serving the western fringe of Metropolitan Atlanta.

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