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Most of the Articles in this Blog have been published in the Illinois Municipal Review Magazine. Feel free to use the copyright information in the articles - just give us your undying gratitude.

Contact Craig Hullinger at or Chuck Eckenstahler at or Beth Ruyle at

Read the Articles on the Illinois Municipal Web Page at

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "DO YOU HAVE A SMART GROWTH PLAN?", January 2001. With Larry McClellan

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "SMART GROWTH - IT'S MORE THAN AGRICULTURAL PRESERVATION AND URBAN SPRAWL", August 2000. With Beth Ruyle

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "IS IT TIME TO UPDATE YOUR ZONING ORDINANCE?", March 2000.

Bar Briefs Kane County Bar Association, "POSITION YOUR PROJECT FOR QUICK MUNICIPAL APPROVAL, February 2001.

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "APPROVE THIS REZONING - IT'S THE HIGHEST AND BEST USE", February 2000.

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "POSITION YOURSELF FOR MEDIA EXPOSURE", October 1999.


Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "ALIGNING INTERSTATE ROAD INTERESTS, August 2000.

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT - IT'S SPOT ZONING", May 1999.

Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "DOES COMPREHENSIVE PLANNING WORK?", March 1999.

Illinois Municipal Rev Magazine, "DEFINING ACCESSORY USES - A THREE STEP WORK SHEET", February 1999.


Illinois Municipal Review Magazine, "ZONING LITIGATION - COMMON SENSE RULES TO REDUCE VULNERABILITY", November 1997.

With Dianne Gormely-Barnes AICP

The Mayor’s Leadership Role in Economic Development

The Mayor’s Leadership Role in Economic Development
(Published by the Illinois Municipal League)

Making something happen or just let anything happen!


In the “big picture” of community economic development, a Mayor can make things happen! The Mayor is ultimately responsible for the community’s economic development strategy. The Mayor as the chief elected officer of the community must combine public and private interests to complete projects that result in better community - in other words, to implement the community’s economic development strategy.

A community economic development strategy is essentially developed in two ways, - strategically or haphazardly. Too often in small communities, Mayors, staff and other elected officials are too busy reacting to citizen problems and complaints to consider the serious importance of a formal written community economic development strategy.

This article describes how Mayors find themselves trapped into a reactionary haphazard community economic development strategy. The authors advocate that it is the responsibility of the Mayor working with other elected officials and staff to defend against these haphazard traps and provide necessary leadership to facilitate a strategically focused community economic development strategy.



The old adage “why plan, when you can react” especially applies to local government economic development. Today, most Mayors feel overwhelmed with the day-to-day government services that need to be provided with limited and decreasing revenues. Almost every Mayor has at one time or another lamented the difficulty of getting things done. In addition to working full times jobs themselves, they must now face increased citizen demand for services and uncertain revenues.

In times like this it is hard to focus community leadership towards future planning when there are so many daily problems to solve. How can long-term creative ideas for the future seriously be considered when government administration is totally involved in meeting daily service needs?The result is reaction to any ( if there is any) economic development in a haphazard, uncoordinated fashion.


The “squeaky wheel fix” is another common trap. This typically occurs when citizens complain loudly. The government then takes action to correct the problem with little, if any, forethought of how it “fits” into the larger scheme of economic development for the community. The result is often disconnected projects having no relationships. They do not set the framework for future economic development projects.


If your community is a “hot growth spot”, the desperation for new tax base may not be as great as older comminutes or communities affected by recent job losses. However, in many communities any development is welcome even if might jeopardize a desired long-term position of the community.Again, the result is often development not related to any plan for the future.


Another strategy may be simply to wait until developers come forward with projects. You then react to their proposals. Like above, the result is often development not related to any plan for the future


To avoid the above traps, you want to influence the long-term economic future of your community. The Mayor must be pro active and facilitate the preparation of a community economic development strategy. This strategy will illustrate the long range vision of the community and identify specific projects necessary to achieve this vision. The Mayor must initiate the community economic development strategy planning process.

An exercise must be completed that identifies specific projects that are necessary to the economic goals of the community. The community must prioritize the projects and determine their cost. The community then builds the priority projects that are financially prudent.

The community does this over a number of years. The priority may be modified because the community faces a major change, but for the most part the community continues its long term vision and funds the next priority and not today’s hot topic.The overall community economic development strategy must be built on the consensus of elected officials, private business interests and the majority of citizens. Mayoral leadership fosters a process that develops a community-wide consensus about projects resulting in implementation of an economic vision.



Our experience is that residents and business owners within any community have many ideas about economic and community development improvements needed for the community. The Mayor and community leadership need to hear these ideas at the very beginning of the process.There are a number of ways to solicit these ideas. The most popular process is to hold a community meeting, send out a mail return questionnaire, and/or solicit ideas through a survey undertaken by a professional firm or listed on your web page.

The community meetings works only when it is directed. Our experience is that it is beneficial have a disinterested third party facilitator experienced in community goal setting techniques conduct the meeting.

Another technique is to have a community open house with a number of concepts aired for citizens to see and react to at specific stations. Based on this input the Mayor leads the other elected officials in forming a vision for the overall future for the community. The community then communicates this vision both graphically and in writing. An implementation strategy accompanies this vision which contains creative proposals to improve the community and the process to implement the proposals.


The community economic development strategy will include a listing of projects that could enhance the community. We are always faced with the question of how to develop specific projects? Projects that the community must implement are sometimes not the priority of the community, but some regulating body. For instance, improvements may be required by the State before communities can address extensions and enlargements of the municipal water and sewer system.
Others are identified by staff, consultants, business leaders, citizens, other elected officials or bodies and developers that would like to invest in the community.You can simply sit down with theses individuals and identify needed and required projects. Similar processes are needed here as with the development of the overall strategy.

Ultimately the Mayor and elected officials must develop priorities. They must then work with staff to make the plan feasible. They then develop an the implementation schedule of the community economic development plan. The Mayor will serve as the facilitator for its implementation. The Mayor will meet and interact with or direct staff to undertake this role with developers, grant agencies, development approval bodies, other elected officials and the citizens of the community.


Mayors can make things happen. A Mayor can lead the community economic development strategy that will seek to implement specific actions and projects or react to initiatives brought about by others. It takes vision, leadership, and courage to step out front and lead community economic development. History has proven that
Mayoral leadership, energizing the political and economic leadership of a community, has success in achieving the community’s desired economic development vision

About the Authors

Congratulations: You’re Our Newest Plan Commissioner

Congratulations: You’re Our Newest Plan Commissioner.

So Now What Do You Do?

By Charles Eckenstahler and Craig Hullinger


Being appointed to a Plan Commission is an honor very few residents of a community ever receive. Where else can you serve your community where you need to have the wisdom of a seasoned judge, the patience of a saint, familiarity with the legalities of land use law, and a personal sense of doing what is right for the common good?

Serving on a Plan Commission is not easy but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a person’s life. This article summarizes the basic functions of the Plan Commission and the everyday responsibilities of the Plan Commissioner. Duties Of The Plan Commission A Plan Commission, under Illinois law, is primarily an advisory body to the city council, village board of trustees or county board of commissioners.

The jobs assigned to the Plan Commission are rather few, but significant: · to gather public input and recommend to the legislative body the adoption of a comprehensive Plan for the municipality; · to gather public input and recommend to the legislative body the adoption of a Zoning Ordinance for the municipality; · to review and/or approve new development - more specifically site development plans for specific projects; and · to review and/or approve plats of subdivision.

In many areas of Illinois, planning and zoning programs have a long history. In others, communities are just beginning to develop a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. Whether you have been appointed to a new or seasoned Plan Commission, it will involve the same procedures and require a considerable amount of research and preparation.

In Illinois, the Plan Commission prepares the Comprehensive Plan, holds the required public hearings and makes a recommendation to the legislative body regarding its adoption. The zoning ordinance follows a similar process, where the Plan Commission oversees the preparation of the ordinance, holds the required public hearing and recommends its adoption.

Once these documents are adopted, the Plan Commission assumes the duty of reviewing development proposals, development site plans and plats of subdivided land. Typically, the review is designed to assure that the proposed development is completed according to regulations and development standards established by the community. The Plan Commission may also decide whether or not certain types of development will be allowed as special uses or planned developments according to specific provisions of the zoning ordinance.

The Plan Commission also functions as the “think-tank” and “community sounding board.” It provides a mechanism to publically introduce new ideas and concepts for a better community for evaluation, approval and implementation by the legislative body. Most often it is an individual commissioner, who researches the idea, presents the idea to the public for comment and then molds the idea into a specific plan for implementation. This process is not for the faint of heart since Plan Commissioners, even when provided professional staff, spend a large amount of personal time in order to be fully informed concerning decisions they will be recommending.

Responsibilities Of A Plan Commissioner Preparation of the Comprehensive Plan (or its amendment), zoning decisions and development review are significant responsibilities for which the lay commissioner must prepare him or herself. The process for becoming an effective Plan Commissioner is not found in any study course but is typically learned “on the job,” in six easy (or not so easy) lessons.

Lesson #1 - Attendance At Every Meeting This is probably the most important lesson. The Plan Commission represents a cross section of the community and each member’s viewpoint is important to the decision making process. When a Commissioner is absent, this portion of the community viewpoint may not be fully represented and the other Commissioners are not provided the valuable insights of the Commissioner. Much of the process of planning and zoning is learned “on the job” and faithful attendance allows the Commissioner to “learn the ropes” more quickly.

Lesson #2 - Study The Plan And Ordinance This is an obvious statement, but one often ignored. Every Commissioner should have an understanding of the major development goals, policies and objectives detailed in the Comprehensive Plan. He/she should have a casual working knowledge of the provisions of the zoning ordinance. Detailed and specific knowledge is not a prerequisite, but the ability to find information within the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance is necessary to evaluate development proposals and make recommendations. It’s obvious some amount of home work is required to gain a casual working knowledge of the documents.

Lesson #3 - Meeting Preparation It is especially helpful for Commissioners to review those portions of the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance which have a bearing on the issues being discussed at the meeting. Therefore, Commissioners should read the agenda and any supporting documentation to familiarize themselves with the specific issues to be considered prior to the meeting. Some Commissioners actually write out specific questions they want answered prior to the meeting. This personal preparation time makes the meeting proceed smoothly and efficiently and prevents endlessly long drawn-out meetings where little seems to be accomplished.

Lesson #4 - Tour the Community And Visit The Site Good Plan Commissioners routinely tour the community in order to be familiar with every portion of the community. This helps with the understanding of an applicant’s request and determining the impact of a recommendation made by the Plan Commission. Even if the Commissioner knows the neighborhood, it’s good practice to visit the site of any issue pending before the Plan Commission. It’s important to personally observe the current conditions of the site and the surrounding land uses. This provides an opportunity to personally evaluate and understand what changes a decision will have on the site and its surroundings. It allows the Commissioner to personally view critical site factors which site plans, aerial photograph and other information, provided by the developer and staff, may not show.

Lesson #5 - Prepare Questions And Personal Opinions While “home work” is important, Commissioners should not hastily form final opinions and recommendations before the meeting. Testimony from the applicant, staff reports, comments from the public and comments from fellow Commissioners should be taken into account in forming personal opinions and recommendations. It is important for Commissioners to “speak out” and ask questions to clarify issues. It’s the duty of each Commissioner to express an informed opinion and respond to specific inquires by fellow Commissioners. Many times the deliberations and public hearing procedures have a way of raising the “blood pressure” of participants. Plan Commissioners must remember to treat these situations with understanding, tact and courtesy. Remember reasonable people can, and do, disagree which leads to a fair and open-minded evaluation of the facts surrounding the issue and the issuance of a decision by the Plan Commission which represents the best situation for the community.

Lesson #6 - Training, Training and More Training The one certainty in the planning and zoning process is change. As a result, each Commissioner should be committed to a long-ranged program of continual education. There are a number of excellent publications which can be reviewed. Additionally, universities and planning and zoning professional organizations sponsor seminars which can be attended for education and training. Summary Illinois planning and zoning laws leave final land use decisions in the hands of local citizens. The quality of the decisions and the professionalism of the procedures used to arrive at the decisions are entirely in the hands of the Plan Commissioners themselves. The personal investment of time to become fully knowledgeable about the planning and zoning process and local administrative procedures has a direct relationship to the level of personal satisfaction realized by each Commissioner. What is more important, the better Commissioners understand the duties required of them, the better the quality of the decision the Plan Commission, as a whole, will make. Better decisions will directly influence the quality of the community today and into the future.

Defining Accessory Uses A Three-Step Work Sheet

Defining Accessory Uses A Three-Step Work Sheet



Complaints about red tape in the processing of zoning requests are frequent. Developers and citizens are frequently frustrated by the time required to process simple requests. Local governments should streamline processes where possible.

Accessory uses are incidental to the principal permitted use in zoning districts. Typical accessory uses include storage sheds in the rear yard of a residential lot. Home occupations are other examples of frequently requested accessory uses. Zoning ordinances often do not include a list of accessory uses. They seldom provide a guide in determining whether a specific proposal should be considered an accessory use.

The determination of whether the application is an accessory use is usually delegated to the Zoning Officer who may or may not be empowered to grant approval. Some ordinances provide that the Zoning Board of Appeals determine accessory uses, some designate the Zoning Enforcement Officer and some are silent on the matter.

This article seeks to establish a three-part test which can be used to determine accessory uses. A worksheet is provided which can be used to guide local government decision making. The article also seeks to streamline the approval process, and reduce time and frustration for applicants and enforcement personnel. An Example Situation

To illustrate a typical situation, consider the following. A local landscaping service has a retail sales and service yard located on a commercially zoned lot abutting the main commercial street in your community. Like a lot of landscaping businesses, it has expanded to do tree trimming, lawn mowing and other home maintenance chores throughout the community. With the expanded business, the service has hired more residents, especially high school and college kids, during the summer months.

With a fleet of vehicles, it was a natural need to have a radio communication system to keep in contact with all the work teams circulating with within the community. Approval of a radio tower as an accessory use was granted to help the successful growth of the business, some time back.

Today, an application for a cellular communication tower designed to replace the approved radio communications tower has been filed. The application states the new tower is an accessory use to the business, because it is needed to communicate over a larger service territory. It will also be leased by a cellular phone company to provide mobile phone communications services.

Defining Customary And Incidental

The critical issue of this situation is defining whether the circumstances, the location of the tower for the use by the landscaping business, is customary and incidental to the landscaping business and secondly, whether the use of the tower as a cellular communications tower is customary and incidental to the landscaping business.

To help answer the question, the following questions can be asked:

1.Is the accessory use to be conducted on the same lot as the principal permitted use? In this situation, the use of the tower for radio communications for the landscaping business is clearly accessory to the landscaping business operations. It can be concluded the use of the tower for cellular communications is not an accessory use because no other cellular business operations are located on the site.

2.Is the proposed accessory use customarily found in connection with the principal permitted use? It is not unusual for a landscaping (or similar business) to have a radio tower for communications purposes and it can be concluded that the tower, when used in this manner, would be considered an accessory use. However, it is more difficult to find a communications tower jointly used by a landscaping business and a cellular communications business. Therefore, it can be concluded that the use of the tower for this purpose, because it is not commonly found and does not have any direct relationship with the landscaping business, would not pass the test as an accessory use incidental to principal use.

3.Is there unity of ownership between the principal and accessory uses? For this question, clearly the ownership of the tower by the landscaping business for their use meets the guidelines and the leasehold interest of the communications company does not. Therefore, the tower would be an accessory use for the landscaping business but not the communications company.

The Decision Use of the three questions provide guidelines for the analysis of this complex situation. Findings of fact gathered from the above analysis include:

1.The location of a radio communications tower for use by the landscaping business is an accessory use of the landscaping business. The tower is located on the same zoning lot as the business, a radio communication system is commonly found in use by other landscaping business and related type businesses and the tower is owned by the business.

2.The use of the tower by a cellular communications company is not an accessory use. The tower is not on the same zoning lot as any principal communication company use, use of a tower for such purposes is not usually located with a landscaping business and the tower is not owned by the cellular communication company.
Therefore, the community would approve the tower for use by the landscaping business but prohibit the use of the tower for use as a cellular communications tower.

A Simple Work Sheet The work sheet, displayed below, can be used to help evaluate accessory use applications and become part of the application file documentation. If answers to all three questions posed in the work sheet are yes, then there is substantiation for the claim that the proposed use is accessory to the principal permitted use.


Village of Sauk Village, Illinois

21701 Torrence Avenue Sauk Village, IL 60411 (708)758-3330 Fax: (708) 758-9044

Zoning Case:_____________________________________________

Date: ___________________________________________________

12/10/98 Commissioner:



1. Is the accessory use to be conducted on the same lot as the principal permitted use? Yes No Uncertain

2. Is the proposed accessory use customarily found in connection with the principal permitted use? Yes No Uncertain

3. Is their unity of ownership between the principal and accessory uses? Yes No Uncertain


More and more often plan commissions, zoning boards of appeals and zoning officials will be faced with the question of when to approve an apparent unrelated use as an accessory use on a single zoning lot. Along with the tower example other situations such as storage sheds for hobby (and retail sales) use, living units as part of commercial and industrial businesses, and manufacturing uses as part of a retail sales business have potential to be considered as accessory uses, depending on the construction of the language in the local zoning ordinance. Use of the work sheet allows the analysis of the individual circumstances of each application and uniform application of guidelines to help decision making.

Zoning Litigation

Zoning Litigation - Common Sense Rules To Reduce Vulnerability



The days when municipalities were not subject to litigation over disputed planning and zoning decision are long over. Property owners and developers now often seek judicial action when the decision of the plan commission, city council, village board or county commission is not favorable to their cause. Some developers plan from the start to proceed with litigation as part of the approval strategy.

The United States Supreme Court has issued rulings concerning compensation for the regulatory taking of private property in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992) and Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994). In these complex cases the court held that compensation for the taking of property rights by regulations may be cause for compensation.

As a result, more property owners and developers are using the threat of litigation as a ploy to influence decisions in their favor. They reference the threat of litigation as part of their presentations using it to demand prompt and favorable decisions on zoning matters. This threat, however, is not idle. Zoning and “takings” litigation is on the rise notes Beth Ruyle, Executive Director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. Ruyle administers a self insurance fund covering nineteen local governments in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Ruyle notes, “When we first started our insurance program we didn’t think seriously about zoning and property rights litigation, because none of our members experienced problems with such litigation. Today, we are much more concerned. We have, over the past two years, been involved in several cases. Clearly, the trend for this type of litigation is increasing.”

Six Ingredients For “Bullet Proofing” The Plan and Zoning Process

We recommend that municipalities consider the following six ingredients to avoid litigation:

1. Define The Reasonable Use Of The Subject Property If you have not done so in the recent past, review and update your comprehensive plan, especially the official statements of goals and policies. This portion of the document expresses the desired future land uses for various portions of the community. These statements will form the legal basis for the zoning ordinance. It also demonstrates that the ordinance was not arbitrary or imposed in violation of planning and zoning laws. The goals and policies should tie directly back to state enabling legislation for planning and zoning. This direct linkage makes it easy for the court to follow the logic for the development of the municipal goals and objectives.

2. Update The Zoning Ordinance

It is fairly common for communities to adopt a zoning ordinance and believe that it should never be amended. We recommend that periodically (every few years) a comprehensive review of the ordinance be completed by the plan commission. This process further documents the effort of the municipality to “keep current” the zoning map, change outdated language and to modify specific language to further implement the comprehensive plan.

Your legal counsel is an important part of this process. You and your attorney should carefully review the ordinance to ensure that you are following it and that it is current with state law and recent court rulings. You may also want to engage a professional planner to assist in the update process. This may prove cost effective in avoiding litigation.

Professional assistance can provide you information concerning recent rulings and legislation which may require you to modify some of the current ordinance language. The advisor is most often an “outsider” who can discuss problems and make recommendations without the emotional attachment found in local property owners. Neither will the advisor reflect individual preferences.

It is also good practice to update the zoning ordinance when the comprehensive plan is updated, or immediately following the update of the plan. Ideally, the same individuals should prepare the land use plan maps and zoning maps at the same scale and at the same time. The categories of the land use plan should also correlate to the zoning map categories.

3. Organize Your Decision Making Process

To Rely On Facts Many plan commissions pay little attention to the specific facts of the matter at hand. They often do not formally state why they denied or approved the zoning request. They do not make a formal written report. In making your recommendation or decision on a zoning request, you should carefully consider all relevant information. You should ensure that the rationale for your decisions is documented in writing so that the court will not have to speculate as to why you made your decision. The written “Findings of Fact” should be prepared by your attorney and approved by the commission. You should, of course, reference the land use plan and map, zoning map, the goals and policies of your plan, and the purposes and intent of your zoning code. Topography, flood plain, wetlands, wet soils and prime farmlands are all relevant information. The distance to utilities is also important.

In Illinois, the courts rely heavily on the standards for review of zoning cases enunciated in the LaSalle v. County of Cook (1957) and Sinclair Pipe Line Company v. Richton Park (1960). The first six standards were established in LaSalle V. Cook, while the last two were developed from the Richton Park case. The court uses these standards to evaluate the legitimacy of your decision. It is, therefore, logical to use these standards when developing your decision. The standards are as follows:

1. The existing uses and zoning of nearby property;

2. The extent to which property values are diminished by the particular zoning restrictions;

3. The extend to which the destruction of plaintiffs’ property values promote the health, safety, morals or general welfare of the public;

4. Relative gain to the public compared to hardship imposed upon the individual property owner;

5. The suitability of the subject property for the zoned purposes;

6. The length of time the property has been vacant as zoned, considered in the context of land development in the vicinity;

7. Community need for the proposed land use;

8. The care with which the community had undertaken to plan its land use development.

A misconception is that the land use of the property changes with the change of owners. In most cases zoning matters are tied to the land and any subsequent owners of the property can continue to use the property within the terms and conditions as approved by the municipality. We recommend that you develop a non-emotional, factual evaluation process based on the specific requirements and procedures outlined in the zoning ordinance for every rezoning matter. You must include a motion to approve or deny a rezoning request and reiterate the finding of fact, reasons that the request is inconsistent with the approved municipal plan and the specific reasons that the request is not in the best interest of the municipality. You should write this in proper form and make it available for public inspection.

4. Follow Proper Procedure Within Legitimate Authority

The courts have ruled in favor of developers in a large number of recent cases because the municipality did not follow proper procedure or acted beyond the authority given to them by the zoning ordinance. The public hearing must follow precisely the terms of the ordinance. Failure to do so could result in cancellation of the decision and the necessity to repeat the zoning process. In one (non-Illinois) instance, the municipality caused a delay and the judge ruled the municipality, as a result, caused monetary loss to the developer. The court then required the municipality to pay damages. Acting within the boundary of the zoning ordinance is also important. Issues of appearance, color of the building, and construction materials are not typically regulated under the terms of the zoning ordinance. Nor can you consider the qualifications of the property owner or the developer.

5. Establish Written Record And Document Procedures

From the first meeting with the applicant, written records are important. A short note in the file may be important in the case of litigation. Some communities record or video tape each meeting for their permanent record. Others take written notes on lap top computers which are distributed to all parties. You should request a completed application, with supporting information, for every zoning matter. You should note all conversations and prepare a summary of every meeting. The community then places these into the file. You should also make a record of all phone calls attempted and include this information in the file. The community must also keep a copy of all correspondence and the minutes of each meeting at which it takes action. The community should store these according to the law and until the time limit for litigation expires.

6. Use Consistent Procedures

This last rule is common sense, but is often forgotten. Realize that all prior actions of the municipality are open for inspection and review. Therefore, if you approved an action once, your reasons for that decision become the rationale for someone to ask for a similar consideration. Know the reasons for prior decisions and return to them when granting or denying a request. The community should resolve any questions of doubt before taking action and, if the action is not similar to any previous decision, state the reasons. Listen to supporting and opposing views on the matter before rendering an opinion. You must act in “good faith” and make the decision which is in the best interest of all the residents of the municipality, not just those attending the meeting.

Do not make your decision prior to the public hearing. This is true for both commissioners and staff. A common problem is staff writing reports and making a specific recommendation before the public hearing. This insults the public. It is both poor planning and poor politics. Staff should make recommendations following the public hearing.


The authors developed the six ingredients for successful zoning as a result of their twenty-five plus years of experience in concert with the review of recent litigation. The authors intend that the six ingredients serve as a guide for plan commissioners and their staff to address the growing problems caused by the threats of litigation against municipal decisions in planning and zoning. Ever present diligence is necessary today to ward off both the effective use of threats of litigation and litigation itself.

Knowledge and consistent administration of the planning and zoning functions in a fair impartial manner remain the best means to “bullet proof” your municipality’s planning and zoning functions. Likewise, it remains imperative that the municipality retain the services of a qualified attorney. The attorney should be made available to the planning commission or zoning board of appeals for advice on difficult land use decision. No criteria can replace knowledgeable specific legal advise.

Position Your Project For Quick Municipal Approval


Position Your Project For Quick Municipal Approval
“Recommendations for Applicants Entering The Plan and Zoning Process” 



It is inevitable that proposed new development will meet stiff opposition in the approval process. In the minds of many people, any new development will impact everything from traffic on existing roads to consuming valued open space. Some plan commission meetings resemble open warfare between developers and concerned citizens with the plan commission acting as reluctant referees. 

Neither the applicant nor the plan commissioner wishes to participate in these angry and unproductive meetings. With an understanding that open warfare can erupt at any time, what’s a plan commission to do? Whether it is a new project or a routine decision before the plan commission (or zoning board), we recommend the municipality advise (or preferably require) the applicant to prepare for the public presentation and hearing process. 

It pays for the applicant to be well prepared, and to approach the community with a willingness to compromise. Increasing The Odds For Approval It is a duty of a good municipal planning staff to advise the applicant concerning the preparation of the application and public presentation procedures. These procedures vary from community to community. Both the individual who has never processed a request before and the most experienced developers appreciate this “coaching” because it allows then to prepare and present their request in the “best possible light.” 

This coaching also helps the plan commission, since it informs the applicant of the process of the meeting and the type of information which the plan commission desires to see publically presented. It gives the applicant time to organize a public presentation including expert presentations and display drawings to illustrate important elements of their proposal. 

Below is a list of ten guidelines we give to applicants to help them “increase the odds” of making a winning presentation. 
1.Do Your Homework Too often applicants before the plan commission do not come prepared and “ad-lib” responses to pointed questions put forth by citizens during the public hearing. We recommend to applicants that they attend meetings to see how the process works and to gain an understanding of the type of questions raised by citizens and the members. We urge all applicants to prepare for the meeting and come ready to answer questions. We also suggest that large “display-sized” drawing and maps be prepared and used to illustrate the key points of the applicant’s request. 

2.Understand the Communities Growth Policies Every community views growth and development differently. Some welcome new development while others are somewhat more particular and support only certain types of new development. 

We recommend applicants take time to review the Comprehensive Plan and discuss their proposal with local officials. These discussions usually identify whether the proposal conforms with the general intent of the 
Comprehensive Plan and “unwritten” desires of the plan commission and community. The closer the proposal conforms to the “written and unwritten” growth policies, the greater likelihood of acceptance of the proposal. Crafting a development proposal which conforms to the intent of the community growth policies, obviously, will receive a more favorable consideration than one which doesn’t. 

3.Identify How the Project Will Benefit The Community 

In the fiscally constrained local governmental financial environment of today, many local governments examine the financial merits of every new development proposal. They assess whether the cost for municipal services and infrastructure will exceed the tax revenue generated by the real estate property, sales and income taxes the community will receive as a result of the new development. We suggest that applicants consider having a cost-benefit analysis completed to test whether the proposed development will pay “its fair share” of costs. In cases where the development does not meet local financial obligations, we encourage the developer to reconsider the type of development proposed or to evaluate the possibility of donations to off-set potential revenue losses. 

4.Go The Extra Mile Attitude Gaining approval of a new development today is often a negotiation process. Developers, realizing that communities do not have to approve a request, spend more money and time in the preparation of the application for approval. We see more attention to the growth policies of the communities being given by the developers and a greater sensitivity to meeting the fiscal needs of the community than in the past. Applicants who are ready to “go this additional mile” are received with enthusiasm and have the greatest chance to secure approvals. 

5.Know Your Legal Position Development is governed by number of local ordinances, state laws and regulations. In addition there can be private restrictions in the form of deed restrictions, easements and “clouded” ownership. Applications sometimes are submitted without completing research of permits and restrictions which may alter the development proposal when discovered. We recommend that property title research be completed and that applications for “curb cuts,” water/sewer connections, storm water systems, floodplain alteration and wetland permits be submitted as needed, as early as possible in the concept development process. This knowledge assures that required permits can be obtained and no legal objection to the development of the proposed concept will be encountered. We also recommend applicants know the rules prescribed by the zoning ordinance for the subject property. This knowledge gives a base line density determination for the property and a measurement tool for any negotiated changes. 

6.Don’t Overlook The Opportunity For Innovation Innovative planning techniques such as traditional neighborhood development, zero lot line development, transit orientated development, cluster development and the like are being discussed as means to achieve smart growth and reduce “urban sprawl.” We encourage developers to recognize that communities are willing to consider innovative development, sometimes of higher density with less development costs, where a carefully crafted development plan fulfill local community development goals. Obviously, in cases where an application supports a desired innovative development concept, the application approval process is likely to be easier. 

7.Be Willing To Scale Back Developers seek to maximize their return on investment in land, often seeking to build the greatest number of housing units (or other buildings) as permitted by the zoning ordinance. We recommend applicants take a “hard look” at the development opportunity in light of the community plan and unwritten development polices before finalizing any concept plan for a specific project. Proposing maximum density of development for a site viewed as a lower density development site by the plan commission, will almost always give rise to lengthy debate and review. 

8.Trade Density For Open Space or Cost Reductions Applicants should recognize the overwhelming desire expressed by citizens for more open space. Innovative design which clusters development allowing greater sized open space areas are viewed positively by most communities. We encourage developers to consider asking for additional density for provision of larger land areas left in open space especially with creative designs which provide access to the open space through the total development. 

9.Listen and Show Respect for Local Officials This is another obvious statement, however, we have found that many times an applicant will bluster in to a community demanding prompt approval due to a “short deadline.” It must be recognized that plan commissioners must deal with residents concerns and need time to review and complete their job. Applicants who rush the process and “push” the decision process without regard for the plan commission members’ time and need for review seriously hinder a respectful dialogue. 

10.Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say We have attended meetings where applicants “promise the world” and conveniently forget the promises once the development is completed. We caution applicants to be honest in their commitments and fulfill their promises. 


It is important to understand the role of each member participating in the decision process; applicant, plan commission and staff. Not every project, even though that’s what the applicant wants, will pass through the approval process without change. Preparation and understanding is the “key” to achieving an approval supported by all parties of the process. Understanding an applying the about principles provides for a higher chance of success.

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm which has consulted with the Villages of Beecher, Sauk Village Glenwood and Homewood as their consulting planner. 

Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is the President of Planning Development Services. He has served as the Will County Director of Land Use and Planning where he supervised planning, zoning, engineering, and building functions. He is currently working with the Villages of Minooka, Tinley Park, Mokena, Munster, IN and the Eastern Will County Regional Council.

Does Comprehensive Planning Work?



Does our Comprehensive Plan function as it was intended? Does it guide land use decisions? Should it be updated or replaced?

These are common questions frequently raised by elected officials and planning staff. But it was of more recent concern to Bill Ernat, Community Development Director for the Village of Homewood. “ The Board of Trustees, after several months of discussion, authorized the update of our plan last updated in 1986,” said Ernat.

“ The Trustees questioned whether the Plan was effective and worthwhile. They asked if it had helped guide past land use decisions, and was in need of updating.” As the first step in preparing an update to the plan, Ernat wanted to know if officials and village administrators thought that the current plan was valid. He also wanted to know whether the Plan had influenced past and current decision making in the village.

To gather information, the Village Planning Consultant was instructed to survey thirty key officials. Included in the roster were all elected officials; the members of the Plan Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals; chairmen of several advisory committees and commissions, such as the Economic Development Committee and Appearance Commission; the Park District; as well as village management staff and department heads.

The Survey Data was collected on two primary issues. The first issue was to test whether the current plan (prepared in 1986) was still valid for current use. The second issue questioned the respondees’ familiarity with the plan and whether they personally viewed the document as influential in decision-making. Survey Findings Responses were returned by about one-half of the key village leaders. While the survey was not a true statistical sampling, the results were felt to represent a realistic portrayal of the attitudes of village leadership.

The results of the survey, by question, follow:

Is the current plan valid? 14% said yes, 29% said no and 57% said they didn’t know.

Is the current plan relevant for the future? 14% said yes, 21% said no and 64% said they didn’t know.

Have you read the plan? 14% said yes, 71% said no and 14% had no opinion.

Has the plan provided guidance for decision-making? 36% indicated some and substantial, 14% said little and 50% said none.

What Homewood Officials Realized Village President Richard Hofeld wasn’t surprised with the results of the survey, but a little disappointed. “We take pride in the process of local government decision-making in Homewood,” said Hofeld. “I am happy that more than a third of the respondees indicate the plan influences our decision-making process. What’s more disturbing is the uncertainty of whether the plan is a valid decision-making tool now and in the future. These survey findings really confirm that we made the right decision to update the plan. The process of the update will provide the opportunity for the leadership and all residents to reacquaint themselves with the plan and our development goals for the future.”

Ernat suggests there may be a number of reasons for the survey results, including:

1.Timeliness of the Plan The plan document was more than 10 years old. Many changes had occurred in the community since the plan was last updated. It can be surmised that many of the leaders would view the document as out of date. Many leaders had not bothered reading the document, assuming it was out of date.

2.Personalization and Community Ownership of the Plan Another reason could be the existence of new participants in village planning and governmental administration, many who have specific ideas of what direction future planning should take.

3.Lack of Validity It can be surmised that the content of the plan may be out-of-date, so why bother to read it! What Was Learned From The Survey Process? Ernat states that the village learned from the survey that, “Our plan was no longer an up-to-date document. A plan has a useful shelf life. That time period is different in every community and is based on many factors. Most important is who participates in the process of preparing the plan, what issues are addressed and how the document is amended to remain current. Probably just as important is how the document is promoted by elected and appointed officials as the village tool for decision making.”

The update process of the Homewood Comprehensive Plan included six neighborhood public input sessions, interviews with the key leaders, and a wide variety of discussion sessions with advisory bodies and resident interest groups. The outcome, in addition to the traditional big report, will be an Executive Summary “Brochure Plan” summarizing future development policies. The brochure will include a copy of the Future Land Use Map of the village.

This document will be used to promote the updated Comprehensive Plan as an easily recognized decision making tool for both government and private sector use. What Other Communities Should Know Almost every elected official has heard the advice on how important it is to have a current plan when defending legal challenges to land use decisions in court. However, there are a number of other benefits, including:

1.Elected and appointed officials are more likely to make a concerted effort to use the plan in making land use decisions if they were involved in its development and adoption. Listening to citizens’ input makes elected officials more aware and knowledgeable of the community.

2.The preparation of the plan must include a wide range of interests and the maximum number of participants to assure “ownership” of the plan.

3.The document must be widely distributed in a concise format which is easily read by the general public.

4.Elected officials and community leaders must promote awareness of the Comprehensive Plan and its importance in decision making.

5.Staff should consider use of the Plan for influencing development decisions by distribution of the Plan as a statement of what the community likes and dislikes in terms of new development within the community.

6.Elected officials and staff should always include reference to the Comprehensive Plan in the approval and denial of development actions.

7.Annually, the test of current validity and the need for updating should be considered to retain high visibility, use and public recognition of the Comprehensive Plan as a guide for decision making.

8.When the Board makes a decision that does not comply with the Plan, the Plan should be formally amended so that the Plan remains consistent with that decision.

9.A large, full-color Land Use Plan Map, containing goals and objectives, and principal recommendations should be framed and mounted in the Village Board room.


Village Manager Dave Niemeyer sums up the feelings of elected and appointed officials plus administrative staff this way. “We will ask the same questions about a year after adoption of the Comprehensive Plan Update. I’ll bet the results of the survey will show opposite results. We intend to ask these questions annually, to determine when to update the plan next. Homewood officials have a vision for the future. Our updated Comprehensive Plan will serve its intended purpose.”

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, MI, planning consulting firm engaged by the Illinois communities of Beecher, Sauk Village and Homewood to serve as their consulting planner.

Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is a governmental planning consultant and President of Planning Development Services. He recently reentered private practice after serving as the Assistant Village Manager for Tinley Park. He also has served as Will County Director of Land Use.