Smart Growth is the latest buzz word in the planning media. During 1999, there were over 100 various ballot initiatives concerning urban sprawl, growth management, open space and smart growth placed before the voters across the United States. Even candidates for the presidency of the United States discuss the concept of offering different federal funding strategies to assist states and local governments to reduce sprawl. In Illinois local officials are reviewing their plans to incorporate smart growth land use goals in response to national and statewide attention toward smarter land use planning.

Nevertheless, what is smart growth? How will governments determine if their local plans are smart growth oriented? Do we need to make changes so that our plans are smart growth oriented and ,if, so what changes do we need? The intent of this article is to answer these questions.

Smart growth means different things to different people. Some proponents think that any infrastructure improvements, such as new road, especially interstates, in suburban areas promote sprawl, or in their minds "unsmart growth." They believe that we should target federal and state resources to rebuild older central cities, whether or not these cities lack vitality. Obviously, this approach also has opposition. Some developers feel that smart growth means higher density development on smaller lots, which may provide for greater profits. Others feel that governments should purchase land to save it from development pressures. It becomes open space or could even continue to be farmed.

Not since the environmental movement of the 1970's have we seen such a public emphasis on land use and land regulation. The $10 billion Clinton Administration "Livability Agenda" which calls for the control of urban sprawl through preservation of open space and protection of water supply is only the beginning. The current attention to the issue of urban sprawl and wise management of our resources could result in new legislation and state policies addressing future new development. The concern for preservation of open space and protection of our resources has resulted in new resources and may initiate new legislation and state policies concerning land use controls.

Background and a Definition

Smart growth has grown from the anti sprawl development movement. In part, smart growth seeks to prevent leapfrog developments that are not contiguous to existing communities. A primary goal of smart growth is to save our most valuable natural resources and direct new development to areas where infrastructure is already in place, thus saving the expense of building new infrastructure and converting undeveloped land for urban uses.

The State of Maryland has enacted a "Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation" initiative, which they intended "to reverse the inefficient and often costly pattern of development that has been the standard in this country for the past half century." According to the Maryland model, smart growth has three straightforward goals:

To save our most valuable remaining natural resources before they are forever lost;

• To support existing communities and neighborhoods by targeting state resources to support development in areas where the infrastructure is already in place (or is planned) to support it; and

• To save taxpayers millions of dollars in the unnecessary cost of building the infrastructure required to support sprawl.

Many supporters of smart growth in Illinois identify with the Maryland goals. These goals support logically planned infrastructure and development.

Who's Doing What?

In Illinois, the smart growth movement is expanding rapidly. Besides supporters of wise infrastructure development, the movement has grown to encompass many diverse groups including open space preservationists, transportation planners, pro growth advocates, economic developers who seek the location of jobs closer to home and citizens seeking additional and higher levels of government services. Each group brings a specific agenda and view concerning the pattern of future land use.

In Northern Illinois, a quick inventory of interested groups would include the Metropolitan Chicago Mayors Caucus, the Northern Illinois Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Openlands Project and the State among others. County and multi-jurisdictional planning bodies will also become involved with smart growth initiatives as needs to plan for both redevelopment within existing communities and for expansion of the urban areas beyond local governmental jurisdictions become necessary.

Various research studies and, more recently, policies and recommendations for better land use management have been published by many of these groups. These studies are designed to provide information and simulate local officials to action, recognizing, in Illinois, land use planning and development regulations are administered by local government.

As the collective mayoral voice of municipalities in the Chicago region, the Metropolitan Chicago Mayors Caucus established the following vision and principles related to smart growth:


The Chicago metropolitan region will be a place where all residents enjoy a high quality of life characterized by access to jobs, economic opportunity, quality housing, educational opportunity, an effective transportation system, and a safe environment.

The mayors adopted the following principles to support their vision:

1. Regional growth and development policies, programs, and projects should respect local decision making authority.

2. Policies to guide the region's growth and development should be developed by the region.

3. Regional growth and development initiatives should promote balanced economic development throughout the Region.

4. Initiatives to promote the region's growth and development should employ positive incentives, not mandates or penalties.

5. Regional growth and development initiatives should respect personal and economic choice and the diversity of the Region's communities.

The most recent Smart Growth Vision was released by the Metropolitan Planning Council in December. "Building Stronger Communities" represents a year long effort to build consensus concerning smart growth for the greater Chicago region and the whole state. The study identified five goals which embody smart growth;

1. Protect open space,

2. Coordinate transportation with development,

3. Improve water quality,

4. Expand housing for workers, and

5. Coordinate and expand state support to local communities.

Smart Growth Graduates to Sensible or Sustainable Growth

Almost daily the local newspaper contains a report about future land development, whether it be titled smart growth, sustainable growth, sensible development or anti sprawl development. Usually the media summarize a state or local effort to achieve one or more of the goals stated above.

In Illinois Governor Ryan and the Illinois General Assembly have established the Illinois Growth Task Force to study smart growth and establish state policy and investment guidelines.

Many local governments are reviewing their plans and testing whether their current plans fulfill smart growth standards and provide for sensible and sustainable future development. One such group is the Eastern Will County Regional Council, an intergovernmental agency created for joint planning by the local governments in that area.

According to Ken Kramer, Chair of the Council and a Park Forest Trustee, "Eastern Will County is truly a microcosm of the State. In terms of smart growth, we represent older cities as well as fast growing rural communities. We need to improve existing roads. We need new roads built as well as better public transit to job centers. In the future we will be one of the fastest growing Illinois county and we must consider our need to house this expanding workforce."

"The goal of the Smart Growth Strategy for Eastern Will County will be to draw together our local governments to assure we have a land use plan which conserves resources and supports our ability to grow in the future. We also need to increase the number of jobs in our area, to reduce long commute times for our workers."

Kramer believes the Eastern Will County Regional Council is a proper vehicle for the study of smart growth since the council represents a group of communities which, while independent, must base their future planning on several common growth and development issues including transportation improvements and location of new employment opportunities. "Ultimately, the character of Eastern Will County will be shaped by the individual decisions made by each local government. Collective future planning will provide a chance to address quality of life issues, reduction of traffic congestion, increasing available jobs and reducing impact to our schools rather than reacting to new as it happens."

Testing The Local Plan For Smart Growth Consistency

Local officials should determine whether their community plan is a Smart Growth Plan. Below is a series of questions which can be used to test as to whether the plan could be considered a Smart Growth Plan.

1. Does the plan provide for increased land for new development adjoining the current developed area?

2. Does the plan call for developing vacant land within the existing pattern of development?

3. Does the plan promote the building or improving of new roads which will expand the pattern of development to vacant or existing agricultural land areas?

4. Does the plan specify land which should be preserved from development?

5. Does the plan require the installation of additional water and sewer lines, using state grants or loans, while current capacity remains unused?

6. Does the plan seek to decrease the average single family home lot size?

7. Does the plan consider more pedestrian pathways within the community including shopping/entertainment areas, schools, government buildings, etc. and have you considered road width and sidewalk requirements in new subdivisions.

8. Does the plan promote coordination of the pattern of land use with abutting neighbors?

9. Does the plan explore mass transportation for workers to reach their places of employment?

10. Does the plan include housing for families employed in jobs located in the community?

Fortunately, there is no correct answer nor wrong answer to these test questions. These questions form the basis for discussion and determination, by local officials, whether their plan meets their definition of smart growth.

What to Do with this Information

Citizens and the media will call upon individual communities in the next several years to test whether their community plans fulfill requirements for smart growth. It is possible that coordination with surrounding comminutes will be necessary. It is also possible that coordination with county, regional and state agencies will be required to assure that investment in roads and other infrastructure correspond with state and local established smart growth policies.

The long established land use planning rules are beginning to change with increasing demand on local governments to limit urban sprawl, to provide for more open space, to preserve agricultural land, and to lessen the dependance on the auto as the principal means of transportation. A review of the local plan today may identify changes necessary to reach conformance with forthcoming statewide smart growth policies. Careful attention should be given to Illinois Growth Task Force deliberations as the outcomes of the task force may indicate new statewide goals and possibly legislative initiatives which will shape the role of local government planning in the future.

About the Authors

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm engaged by the Villages of Beecher, Sauk Village and Homewood to serve as their consulting planner. He holds two Masters' Degrees, one from Governors State University and the other form the University of Notre Dame. He is an active writer, having more than 100 articles published on various economic development, land use planning and real estate development topics. He can be contacted at 219-879-1012, or E-mail at

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, the Eastern Will County Regional Council, and as an expert witness. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration and a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning. He can be contacted at 708/ 532- 8991 or E-mail

Beth Ruyle is a Financial Advisor with Ehlers and Associates. She recently served as the Director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. For over twenty years she lead this thirty eight municipalities in this Council of Governments in the development of plans and programs. At Ehlers and Associates she is undertaking a myriad of projects in fiscal strategic planning, economic development, intergovernmental programs and public finance. Ruyle has her Master Degree in Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Contact Ruyle at 630/355-6100 or at E-mail

For more information on Chuck or Craig visit our web page at

For more information on Ehlers and Beth visit her web page at

May 2000 / Illinois Municipal Review




Craig Hullinger AICP and Chuck Eckenstahler AICP


Planners carry-out day-to-day zoning administration. The municipal attorney normally is involved in the zoning process through review of proposed ordinance language and with enforcement proceeding.

A positive working relationship between the planner and attorney is vital to successful zoning administration. This article examines the role of the planner and the municipal attorney in day-to-day administration of the planning and zoning process.


Municipal planning and zoning have become more complex and legalistic. Gone are the days when the planning commission, zoning board of appeals and elected officials could "kick back" and informally decide what to do about a zoning request. Today the process of making the zoning decision requires strict adherence to procedures. Public notification and decision making is based on compliance with predetermined standards (typically contained in the local zoning ordinance).

In almost all cases the planner must be concerned with future litigation. The planner, planning commission, and Board must make decisions that will be upheld in court. Your lawyer is your expert, and an individual that you should rely on to ensure that your decisions will be fair, and will be viewed as fair by the courts.


Decision making by a planning commission and board should be fair and unbiased. If a project is turned down, the reasons for the denial should be clear. The decision should be documented. The public debate should be clearly summarized in the minutes of the Board meeting.

The motion to approve or deny should include the reasons for denial. In practice this seldom happens. After an acrimonious debate a board member will often move to deny without summarizing the reasons for denial. This enables the attorney for the developer to speculate as to why the development was denied in a subsequent legal challenge. The public will often vent against a project and offer testimony that is untrue or derogatory at the meeting. The local government must make it clear that they are not making their judgement on unfair or inaccurate testimony. It is important that the municipality explain clearly and factually in writing why the request was denied.

Some planners actually write out both motions to recommend approval or denial, with the reasons clearly stated. The reasons for denial or approval are taken directly from the ordinance, or State enabling legislation, or from the Comprehensive Plan.


A formal findings of fact prepared by the planner and attorney and adopted by the Plan Commission and referred to the legislative Board is the best protection against a law suit. The planner and attorney have time to prepare a logical summary of the legitimate reasons for approval or denial of the applicants request. The legislative Board typically adopts the findings a month or two after the denial, with emotion out of the decision making.

In practice most towns do not write and adopt a formal findings of fact. Alternately, they develop such a finding for major projects where litigation seems likely.


The developer before the Plan Commission is usually a successful businessman who is often betting his life savings on his project. You must treat him fairly. If the developer is proposing an unpopular project, citizens will speak out strongly against the proposal. At the public hearing the Chairman should keep order, and rule out of order testimony that is not pertinent to the case.

The planner has the most contact with the developer. The planner is often advising the developer, but must make sure that the developer understands that the planner is only an advisor to the Plan Commission. The Commission and Board can and will take action that is not consistent with the planners recommendation. The Plan Commission and legislative Board makes decisions. The planner owes both the developer and the Plan Commission his honest and open assessment of the project.

When it becomes clear that a Plan Commission will recommend denial of a project the planner should work closely with the attorney to ensure that no procedural errors are made. The attorney and planner must work to ensure that there is no case against the community.


Most judges do not wish to become a super zoning board. They do not typically overturn a local denial that is based on law and sound judgement.

The Courts and the local government should ensure that they have a logical and current Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The plan and code should be consistent. The goals and objectives of the plan and the purposes and intent of the zoning ordinance should be consistent. A simple restatement of purposes and intent in the zoning code that is taken directly from the State enabling legislation ensures that at least the purposes of the code are consistent with State enabling legislation.


In Illinois standards were established in the courts in two major cases. These standards will be considered by the courts in evaluating challenges to municipal zoning decisions. The planner and attorney should obviously consider these standards when making zoning decisions, and preferably state so in writing in the findings of fact.



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 extent to which the destruction of plaintiff's 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 simple written statement with a paragraph explaining how your decision is consistent with these 8 standards is valuable. They form a good framework for your report to the board and your findings of fact.


Does your community make logical decisions on land use, or are your decisions unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious? Have your zoning decisions often been overturned by the courts, or are you usually upheld? You must try to make sure that the decisions of your Plan Commission and legislative Board is consistent. Communities often have developers who cause no problems, and other developers that cause major problems. You still must make sure that you treat both developers fairly.


It is important that your lawyer is your partner in working with your community. His training is different than yours, and he sees things in a different way. You need to work closely with him or her to ensure that you and your community make consistent, logical, and fair decisions based on law.

About the Authors

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. He holds two Masters' Degrees, one from Governors State University and the other from the University of Notre Dame. He is an active writer, having more than 150 articles published on various economic development, land use planning and real estate development topics. He can be contacted at 219-879-1012, or E-mail at

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, the Eastern Will County Regional Council, and as an expert witness. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration and a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning. He can be contacted at 708/ 532- 8991 or E-mail

For more information on Chuck or Craig visit our web page at
Position Yourself For Media Exposure

Beecher Unveils Its Business Park



Everybody likes good press. Both elected and appointed officials know that good media coverage of noteworthily events is important for informing constituents and others about key accomplishments in the community. A positive image of development in the community is a key element to continuing to attract and retain quality business to the community.

This is especially true for successful economic development projects. Good media coverage takes planning. This article profiles the Village of Beecher and the ground breaking for the village’s first business park.


Beecher, a small rural south suburban Chicago community, began planning for its transition into a more urban community a number of years ago. As the State of Illinois has been planning the third airport for Chicago near the western border of the village, Beecher recognized that its rural small town character needed to be protected while new land for residential and other land uses was “mapped-out.” The 1998 comprehensive plan update called for the development of a major business park at the northern boundary of the village, in close proximity of the east entry to the proposed airport. Village planners and trustees recognized the need for the business park for jobs and tax base regardless of whether the airport is built or not.

Beecher located on Illinois Route 1, a state north-south highway. The village is twenty minutes south of I-80/I-294 Interstate roadway. Community officials recognized that development of a successful business park would be more difficult than in other communities with better transportation access. Therefore, the village undertook a program to identify a market niche for smaller businesses where the management of the business already had knowledge of the Beecher community and wished to expand or move to the village because of its small town character and values. The development strategy was successful when in the Fall of 1998, a small business owner identified twenty acres of land within the village designated industrial area for the relocation of his expanding business.

Plans for the Trim Creek Business Park, a 15-lot industrial park, were approved in the Spring of 1999. Dutch American Foods, with plans for a 75,000 square foot facility, would break ground simultaneously and occupy four lots.

Preparing For The Groundbreaking

Getting ready for the biggest event in recent Beecher history was no small undertaking according to Paul Lohmann, Village President. “We instructed village staff to carefully plan-out the ground breaking. We wanted the whole world to know about Beecher. We wanted the big-city media to cover the event allowing us to position Beecher as a small progressive community ready for the future.”

Village Administrator Bob Barber spearheaded the pre-groundbreaking preparation. Besides the groundbreaking event, a display illustration, media packet and a social event needed to be prepared.

The following summarizes some of the decision strategies:

Set The Date And Time For The GroundBreaking

The first job to complete was to set the date and time for the groundbreaking. While this sounded easy, checking with key individuals’ schedules showed that no date would meet everyone’s needs. A Monday was the first preference since area legislators would not be in session and the news media typically do not have critical publication deadlines pending. A Monday was not suitable for other village leaders, however. A Wednesday afternoon was chosen because it fit the schedule of the speakers. However, this made media attendance less likely.

GroundBreaking Announcement And Invitation List

A list of more than 300 names was developed. The list included all key governmental officials, representatives of local economic development groups, chambers of commerce and news media. Because the village wanted to inform the real estate industry of the new business park, about one-third of the invitations were sent to various real estate companies and developers.

Barber prepared two invitations, an announcement sent by US Mail and a one-page fax announcement distributed by the Joliet/Will County Chamber of Commerce to its media and prospect contact list. In total, Barber estimated that more than 500 persons received information about the groundbreaking.

Project Site Sign And Illustration

Working with the developer, the village sketched-out a display sign for installation on the property illustrating the 15-lot industrial subdivision and contact information. The village wanted a colorful sign that would also serve as a backdrop for the groundbreaking activities and photographs that would be taken. The illustration for the sign was also used for a one-page (faxable) illustration the village intended to use for further economic development promotion activities.

Media Kit And Photography

The last item prepared was a fact kit to be given to the media before the groundbreaking. The kit provided all the information the media would need to write a story. This information kit could also pique interest of the media to attend the session. In either case, Barber felt that media would have all the information necessary to “cover the story,” hoping that Beecher’s groundbreaking would be carried in many publications that would otherwise not be interested.

The media kit included a one-page summary of the industrial project and illustration and a one-page description of Dutch American Foods, the first occupant of the business park. It also included.directions to the industrial park accompanied with a groundbreaking invitation, and photographs of groundbreaking, which were taken previously to provide photos for media who could not be present.

A Successful Groundbreaking

Village President Lohmann was delighted with the turn out for the groundbreaking. “We had more than ninety persons attend, including our Congressman and area legislators and representatives from the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, the Will County Center for Economic Development, the Southland Economic Development Alliance, local and regional chambers of commerce, county board commissioners, and a number of businesses and Realtors,” he said. “We took photographs of each dignitary and sent them a commemorative photo with a thank you for attending. Many of these photos were published in their newsletters that further spread the news about our groundbreaking.”


Barber summarized the ground breaking quite simply. “We wanted to tell the world about our success in developing our long-awaited business park. We wanted the promotion effort to target the real estate community and catch the eye of the businesses familiar with our community who may be thinking about moving or expanding their business,” he said. “Since we didn’t have a big budget and we knew that the regional and national publications wouldn’t send a reporter to cover the groundbreaking, we prepared their information for them in hopes they would write about our success and they did,” he added.

Coverage of the groundbreaking was carried in two regional newspapers that traditionally do not cover Beecher news. Most impressive was front page coverage in Chicago Industrial Properties, a monthly real estate publication distributed to commercial and industrial real estate professionals and corporate real estate interests.

Results are shown by the number of prospects that responded to an article in the media or the announcement, according to Barber. “From our promotional efforts, several phone inquiries were received. When boiled-down these have resulted in three businesses interested in locating in the new business park.”

Some Things To Remember

Positioning yourself for media exposure requires careful planning, especially if you do not already have a working relationship with the medial. Here are some rules to follow:

1. Develop The Right Mind Set

Reporters have responsibility to decide what is newsworthy and how to present information in their publication. While your project may be the most important event in your community, it may be insignificant when viewed among other events happening now.

Scheduling the groundbreaking to a date and time when there will not be competing events is a good strategy to raise the importance and news worthiness of your groundbreaking. Providing a media packet, so the reporter can quickly prepare written copy, can also make your groundbreaking newsworthy, when a reporter’s time is scarce.

2. Prepare A Media Kit

The fact sheet, a one-or-two page description of the project, answering the reporters questions: Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why? is the most important item to prepare. The fact sheet should be written to relay information in a quickly read and easily understandable fashion.

The transmittal letter to the media contact is also important. This letter should state why you are submitting the information and why it will be of interest to the readers of the magazine or newspaper.

Follow-up contact information is also important. A spokesperson for the community, industrial park developer and business should be designated and included in the packet. Most important is the phone number(s) where key contracts can be contacted.

Professional quality illustrations, site plans, project logos and building drawing should also be enclosed. Providing “professional quality reproduceable” art work increases the chance that the publication will include the art work with the narrative story. A simple, clearly drawn site plan of the development is far more acceptable than drawings with lots of information that when reduced cannot easily be read. 3. Take Groundbreaking Photos For Distribution At The Groundbreaking

Most reporters like to have good quality photographs which they can reproduce and use to highlight an article. In many situations, it is advisable to hold a “photo shoot” and prepare the groundbreaking photos before the actual date of the groundbreaking. This does two things. It allows the photo shoot to be done on a day with the most favorable weather conditions. It also allows the community to have photos available to distribute to news media who cannot send a photographer or where the weather conditions will limit the quality of the photographs.

It sound logical, but remember to include the names and affiliation of all persons in the photo on the back of any photo sent to the media, including the name and phone number of a contact person. Often the person responsible for the photo will not be the writer and having the name of the contact person available makes getting the last minute question answered an easier task.

4. Follow-up

Media contact does not stop after the media kit is placed into the mail. Follow-up is important. It allows you to check whether the publication will publish the information and gives the community the opportunity to develop a relationship with the media for the future.

The follow-up probe should include confirmation that they received the media kit, an offer to answer any questions and an indication of your willingness to provide any additional information. If an article was published, the follow-up should be a thank-you to the editor or writer.


Having the right mind set, identifying the specific media sources, preparing your materials, mailing the media kit and completing follow-up are the fundamental steps required for a successful media announcement effort. Media relations takes time. However, a carefully planned program assures a greater chance that the editor or writer will include your information in their publication. n


Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm engaged by the Villages 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, and currently serves as the Manager for the Village of Minooka.

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 n


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.

You Can’t Do That - It’s Spot Zoning!



Almost every Plan Commission has heard the statement that the Commission cannot approve a rezoning request because it will create a spot zone. Most often this statement is made by a disgruntled adjoining property owner who objects to the proposed use. The objector infers the Plan Commission is doing something wrong and possibly illegal by creating a spot zone.

This article is intended to demystify spot zoning. The term “spot zoning” is a misnomer. A spot zone cannot be created if the Plan Commission carefully considers the facts of the property, the proposed land use and relies on an up-to-date adopted Comprehensive Plan as the guide for the application of zoning regulations for the specific property.

Spot - A Definition

The term “spot zoning” is not used or defined in most planning and zoning legislation. Spot zoning is a colloquial term developed to describe the application of a specific zoning district classification to a small area surrounded by a larger different (usually less intense) zoning district.

Webster defines a spot as 1) a particular place of relatively small definite limits, 2) a mark on a surface differing sharply in color from its surroundings, 3) a position or location and 4) a set of circumstances; a situation, especially a troublesome one.

In the case of Landcaster Development Ltd. v. Villages of River Forest (1st Dist.1967) the Illinois court stated for a decision “to constitute spot zoning, two requisites must coexist: First, a change of the zone applicable to a small area and second, a change that is out of harmony with comprehensive planning for the good of the community.”

The term spot zoning is most often used to describe an action where a municipality has rezoned a relatively small parcel of land and granted some special benefit. The parcel of land is then shown on the community zoning map as one color within a larger zoning district of a different color. However, the accusation could be made in many other rezoning situations.

Rezoning Issues To Consider

In Illinois standards were established in the courts in two major cases; LaSalle National Bank and Richton Park. These standards will be considered by the courts in evaluating challenges to municipal zoning decisions. Municipalities should obviously consider these standards when deciding zoning decisions:

1.The existing uses and zoning of nearby property.

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

3.The extent 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 the hardship imposed upon the 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

By carefully considering these criterion, a Plan Commission can be more confident that a court will subsequently support the municipal decision. Including this criterion in the decision record of the zoning case is logical, with a short statement explaining how the municipal decision is consistent with these eight standards. Also note that no concerns about spot zoning are listed in these standards.

Preventing Spot Zoning

Good planning practices will prevent appearances of spot zoning. Adherence to the standards and an up-to-date comprehensive plan describing the intended use of the land that is in the best interest of the community virtually eliminates the problem.

Zoning decision-making which relies on the eight zoning standards, clearly establishes a rationale why a requested rezoning should be granted. Secondly, the use of the comprehensive plan for justification of the decision documents that the decision was made “for the good of the community.”

Spot Zoning — Dos And Don’ts

•DO - evaluate each rezoning on its individual merits using the eight standards. A written record of the rationale should be prepared.

•DO - reference the Comprehensive Plan as documentation for why a decision has been made.

•DO - amend the Comprehensive Plan (preferably before granting the rezoning) if a decision is made which is inconsistent with the current plan.

•DON’T - succumb to public pressure. Spot zoning is often used as a threat by those who may object to the rezoning.

•DON’T - worry about the size of the parcel(s) of land under consideration. Rather, consider the importance of the proposed land use and its interrelationship with surrounding properties.


Careful adherence to the comprehensive plan and the eight legal standards is the best method of ensuring that zoning decisions are fair. The best defense to a challenge of spot zoning is reference to the action being in the best interest of the community documented in the Comprehensive Plan and shown on its Future Land Use Plan. The decision record should clearly state the reason the request was approved or denied.
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.

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.


Sauk Village, IL 60411


Fax: (708) 758-9044
Zoning Case:_____________________________________________

Date: ___________________________________________________

Commissioner: ___________________________________________



1. Is the accessory use to be conducted on the same lot as the principal permitted use? Yes
2. Is the proposed accessory use customarily found in connection with the principal permitted use? Yes
3. Is their unity of ownership between the principal and accessory uses? Yes

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. n
Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is the President of Planning Development Associates. He has 25 years of experience. He has recently served as the Assistant Manager for the Village of Tinley Park, and the Director of Will County Land Use Department where he was responsible for the planning, zoning, engineering, building and solid waste functions for the rapidly growing county south of Chicago.
Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, CED, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm engaged by the Villages of Beecher and Sauk Village to serve as their planner. He is the former Executive Director of both the Berrien County and Southwest Michigan Regional Planning commissions.

Congratulations: You’re Our Newest Plan Commissioner. So Now What Do You Do?



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 portions 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.


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. n


Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is the Assistant Manager for the Village of Tinley Park. He served more than 25 years as a governmental planning consultant and President of Planning Development Associates.

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, CED, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm engaged by the Villages of Beecher and Sauk Village to serve as their planner. He is the former Executive Director of both the Berrien County and Southwest Michigan Regional Planning Commissions.

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. n
Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is a governmental planning consultant and President of Planning Development Associates. He recently entered private practice after serving as the Will County Director of Land Use for a second time. He was responsible for the supervision of the planing, zoning, engineering, building, and solid waste functions for the rapidly growing county south of Chicago. Craig presently serves as the planning consultant to the Villages of Tinley Park, Frankfort, Munster, IN, and several other communities.
Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, CED, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planing consulting firm engaged by the Villages of Beecher and Sauk Village to serve as their planner. Chuck has written numerous zoning codes and amendments. His is the former Executive Director of both the Berien County and Southwest Michigan Regional Planning Commissions.

Is It Time To Update Your Zoning Ordinance?



Is it time to update our zoning ordinance? Almost every elected official at some time will be faced with this question. Prompting the need for changes to the code may be expressed by the planning staff, members of the plan commission or zoning board of appeals, other elected or appointed officials, developers, or concerned citizens.

How does an elected official know when it is time to update the zoning ordinance? Illinois law does not specify when a community should update its zoning ordinance. therefore, the decision to update the zoning ordinance is made by the plan commission in conjunction with its legislative body.

Some communities embed an artificial time trigger into the ordinance or other planning document that requires the plan commission and /or zoning board of appeals to review and amend the ordinance at a specific time period. More often than not, this trigger is then forgotten or ignored.

This article proposes a three-part test that gauges the need to update the zoning ordinance. It can be used to identify whether it is time to take action to complete a serious review of the zoning ordinance.

Three Components Of Zoning

Daily administration of the zoning ordinance functionally falls into three duties:

Staff Administration - handing out applications, helping applicants in completing the application, review of applications, conformance decision making, referral of applications matters to the plan commission or zoning board of appeals, scheduling of plan commission and zoning board of appeals actions and insurance of documentary paperwork.

Plan Commission - consideration of applications for map and language rezoning actions and issuance of special land use permits, as specified in the ordinance including special land uses, planned unit development approvals and approval of plat/site plans.

Zoning Board of Appeals - Issuance of variances (or special land use permission, if applicable), interpretation of the administrative actions or decisions of the zoning administrator and interpretation of ordinance language.

To decide when the ordinance is “broken” and in need of an update, an inventory of actions taken in each category and an assessment of what “fixes” are required. This assessment should address the zoning process from distribution of an application through issuance of final documents to the applicant.

A Zoning Validity Test

Below is a sample test instrument that can be used to help determine if it is time for an update. We recommend the test be given to members of the plan commission, zoning board of appeals, administrative staff and elected officials. The tabulated results will reflect a consensus score and show whether it is truly time to update the ordinance.

Zoning Ordinance Validity Survey

Please place a checkmark to indicate the answer that most closely indicates your answers to the following questions.

1. How often is your staff required to help applicants fill out our standard application(s)?

o Never

o Sometimes

o Often

o Frequently

o Very FrequentlySCORE:

2. How often do staff members refer an applicant’s request to the Plan Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals?

o Never

o Sometimes

o Often

o Frequently

o Very Frequently


3. How often are staff persons required to seek an interpretation of the ordinance to clarify a definition or ordinance language provision?

o Never

o Sometimes

o Often

o Frequently

o Very Frequently


4. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage were referred to the zoning board of appeals to obtain a yard dimension variance?

o 0%

o Less than 25%

o 25% to 49%

o 50% to 75%

o More than 75%


5. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage required the issuance of a special land use permit?

o 0%

o Less than 25%

o 25% to 49%

o 50% to 75%

o More than 75%


6. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage requested zoning map changes?

o 0%

o Less than 25%

o 25% to 49%

o 50% to 75%

o More than 75%


7. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage requested language changes?

o 0%

o Less than 25%o

o 25% to 49%

o 50% to 75%

o More than 75%


8. In the past five years, has an applicant challenged a decision in court?

o yes o no


9. In the past year, has legal counsel suggested a review be conducted?

o yes o no


10. Please indicate how many times during the past five years a text change ordinance has been enacted?

o None

o Less than five times

o 5 to 10 times

o 11 to 25 times

o More than 25 times


Tabulating Results

For questions one through three give the following scores for each answer; 1 for never, 2 for sometimes, 3 for often, four for frequently and 5 for very frequently. For questions five through seven give the following scores for each answer; 1 for 0%, 2 for less than 25%, 3 for 25% to 49%, 4 for 50% to 75% and 5 for more than 75%.

For questions 8 and 9 give the following scores; 5 for yes and 1 for no. For the last question, give 1 for none, 2 for less than five times, 3 for 5 to 10 times, 4 for 11 to 25 times and 5 for more than 25 times.

In our opinion a community should consider updating a zoning ordinance when the total score exceeds 25 points and the following trends have been identified using the results of the test:

•when administrative staff needs to seek interpretations of zoning ordinance language “frequently,”

•when more than 25% of the applications require rezoning or special land use permission,

•when more than 25% of the actions require issuance of a dimensional variance, and

•when more than 50% of the applicants require staff assistance to complete an application.

What To Do And When

If your community tests positive, it is time to discuss an update of the ordinance. Remember, the test serves as a “quick indicator” identifying whether it is time to consider an update. This test should trigger a more in-depth analysis, before expenditure of time and funds for an update of the zoning ordinance is authorized.

If you test positive, we recommend that staff study the matter more fully and begin identification of specific problem areas. Assistance of your legal counsel is advisable at this time, since he/she may also have identified specific issues to be addressed as part of the update process.

We advise seeking outside planning consultant assistance to complete an impartial review and offer recommendations for consideration in the updating process, even if you intend to complete the update process with “in house” personnel. An outside planning consultant can draw upon working experience from a wide range of clients to identify current and future zoning issues that should be addressed as part of the update. The outside consultant also lends credibility to the process, and can absorb some of the blame sure to accrue if you make your ordinance more stringent.

Preparing For The Update

A complete “overhaul” of a zoning ordinance is a time consuming and costly venture. A community is best served when it includes extensive public input. Active participation from the plan commission and zoning boards of appeals is also important. This reduces the preparation time and assures community support during the public hearing and adopting phase.


Updating the zoning ordinance is difficult, but a community should keep its code current. Using the three-part test can help you determine if your code requires an update.

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan, planning consulting firm engaged by the Villages of Beecher, Sauk Village and Homewood to serve as their consulting planner. He is an active writer, having more than 100 articles published on various economic development, land use planning and real estate development topics.

Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is the President of Planning Development Services. He has served as village manager and a county Director of Land Use and Planning supervising planning, zoning, engineering, and building functions. He is currently working with the Villages of Minooka, Mokena, Tinley Park, Munster, IN, the Eastern Will County Regional Council and as an expert witness.