Easier to Find and Read copies of these articles can be found at

309-634 5557


Charles Eckenstahler AICP and Craig Hullinger AICP

Many planning and zoning practitioners have found that good zoning enforcement starts with helping applicants understand the goals of the community, ordinance provisions, and application procedures.  Surveys indicate that almost ninety percent of residents recognize that the use of land and building construction is governed by local ordinances.  These surveys show that less than twenty percent of residents ever read or process an action before the plan commission or zone board of appeals.

It is easy to realize that most applicants have limited knowledge of the ordinance and procedures for requesting consideration of a zoning ordinance amendment or the approval of a variance, special use  or any other decision rendered by the plan commission or zone board of appeals.  How a community administers the ordinance, including assisting an applicant to complete the application and prepare for any presentations, is viewed as an important duty of the zoning and/or planning staff.


Bill Ernat, Community Development Director for the Village of Homewood, was interested in determining the level of satisfaction applicants felt for action before the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals over the past two years.   “We recently completed an update to our Comprehensive Plan and are scheduled to begin an update of our zoning ordinance.  We wanted to assess how well our application and staff procedures work so we could make changes if necessary.”

A nine question survey was prepared and sent to over 70 individuals who sought zoning action.  Twenty-nine were returned for a 40.3 percent response rate.

The survey was designed to collect several specific items of information, including the type of action  requested by the applicant, how complex was the application process, appropriateness of comments from the Plan Commission (or ZBA), and their satisfaction rating of the overall process.


1. Almost 65 percent of the applicants sought approval for a zoning variance or special use permit, with over 24 percent to locate an accessory structure on their property.

2. Over 75 percent of the applicants stated they had little or no difficulty in completing the application paperwork.

3. Almost 90 percent stated staff was helpful and assisted in gathering information for the application.

4. Over 96 percent stated the paperwork reasonable and, in their opinion, satisfactory for the process.

5. Over 72 percent stated they were very prepared, with help from staff, for the oral presentation.

6. That 63 percent said they understood all of the procedures and another 33 percent most of the procedures.

7. While 46 percent noted that some questions and comments  made during the oral presentation were inappropriate, 54 percent noted that question and comments were appropriate.

8. That 96 percent indicated satisfaction with the application and process procedures.


Overall, the Village earned a satisfaction rating of 3.3 on a rating scale of 1 to 4; with four being an excellent rating.  In comparison to other communities, this is significantly better than similar communities surveyed by the authors.  

The results indicate that staff consults with the applicant, educates them and helps them through the process.  The applicant most often receives a positive response to their request, in part due to staff providing guidance and advice concerning what is allowable under the terms of the ordinance, desired by Village policy, and what has been  approved in the past.  This administrative assistance reduces the number of applications for variances and/or special uses.  This guidance leads to a higher approval rate and ultimately greater customer satisfaction.


Mayor Richard Hofeld was especially interested in the last survey question.  Over 80 percent indicated support for the statement that “Strict Zoning Ordinance provisions and careful administration by the Plan Commission, Zone Board of Appeals, and Village Board of Trustees has contributed to the high quality development for which the Village of Homewood is noted.”  

According to Hofeld, “We are delighted with the results of the survey.  Customer service ans satisfaction is just as important in the public sector as in the private.  The Trustees and I are pleased that Village staff does a good job helping applicants through the process.  We intend to used the results of the survey to improve our ordinance and the approval process as we complete the zoning ordinance update.”

About the Authors

Preparing and Economic Development Strategy in Ten Easy Steps



Chuck Eckenstahler and Craig Hullinger


Every local governmental official is now challenged with the need to promote jobs and new investment in their community. The question asked is “How does our community accomplish this task?”

This question is often answered by chamber of commerce members, government employed professional economic developers, and/or an assembled group of academics. These individuals usually work with a large group of interested individuals offering their opinions of what programs and activities should be undertaken by businesses and government to stimulate the local economy.

The recommendations might include an improved effort to retain existing businesses or an effort to attract new businesses. Tasks could also include developing a business park or improving education to provide more skilled employees. It may also include efforts to improve our neighborhoods and downtown business districts to attract young well-educated adults who wish to live and work in an attractive and exciting community.

The responses differ, typically having as many variations as there are people discussing what should be done. To the lay person preparing the community economic development strategy can be an overwhelming and complex task; being something “best left to the professionals.”

The truth is that strategic economic development planning is rather simple. It is not rocket science. This article seeks to demystify preparation of an economic development strategy, simplifying the process into ten easy tasks. By answering simple, easily understood questions, a group of people can prepare a strategic plan organizing an economic development program for their community.

Question 1 - Who are we?
A simple question! Yes, we know we are a community of, for example, 5,000 people. That’s correct, but what do we know about ourselves? How many people do we have in the workforce and what are their ages? What jobs do they do and how much and what type of education do they have? How many are unemployed or underemployed? How many kids are in school, when will they graduate, how many will go on to college and how many will obtain other advanced technical training?

Many of these questions can be answered by data obtained primarily from the US Census. This information can provide a narrative and quantified description of who we are and who makes up the workforce. It can also identity their education and job skills. According to business site locators, available workforce is one of the top criteria of any firm seeking to expand or locate a new business operation.

Question 2 - What is our economy?
It is usually simple to identify the major employers. This typically includes school district and hospital. The city or county government and a few major businesses are also major employers. They account for a substantial number of jobs located in the community. However, there is a large segment (some estimate 80%) of jobs that are provided by smaller business that often times are overlooked in this simple tabulation and small businesses are the primary generator of new jobs.

Data from the US Census, US Department of Commerce and state employment agency can be useful in providing a narrative and quantified description of the number and type of jobs in the community. This data allows examination of the number of jobs and wage scale of the current jobs in the community. It can also help identify the growth (or decline) of these jobs over time, which is important to know to determine what specific jobs the community currently has and what types of jobs that the community would like to attract.

Question 3 - What are our problems and opportunities?
This is a more difficult question answered by a detached unemotional critical evaluation of “community competitiveness”.

One way to answer this question is to complete what researchers call a “SWOT” analysis. To complete a SWOT analysis, the community lists its economic Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The completed list provides information identifying unique opportunities for existing business expansion and opportunities for recruiting new businesses. It also identifies weaknesses and future threats which may discourage business expansion and new business location, which may be remedied by specific community action.

For example, the SWOT analysis might disclose that the workforce has a concentration of skilled computer operated machine tool makers. This workforce can be offered to prospective businesses needing such workers. It may also disclose that the farmland designated for industrial development has no water and sewer and is not “shovel ready” for a business to immediately begin construction.

Question 4 - What are our strengths?
Like a well trained prize fighter, who patiently waits to use his “best punch” to win the fight, an economic development strategy must identify the community’s economic development “best punch”. Completing the SWOT analysis helps identify unique economic strengths that can define the “economic development knock-out punch” for use in the fight to create new employment opportunities in the competitive global environment.

Identifying the “knock out punch” is sometimes easy. It might be a unique geographic location affording superior logistic transportation amenities. Or it might be proximity to a nationally rated university. Or perhaps it might be a young highly educated available workforce. It could be an attractive recreational or small town residential lifestyle that the community offers to new residents. Regardless of the type of strengths identified, analysis of community strengths is necessary to select those specific opportunities that can be used to create new jobs within the community.

Question 5 - What do we want to be - our future vision?
Of the ten questions, this question is the most difficult to answer - what do we want to be?

This question is most often answered by a carefully worded vision statement, prepared by the consensus of interests that places into words a mental image of what the desired future should be. The phrase “Our Future Vision is that our community will be the premier regional location for business investment in 2015” is an example of a vision statement.

This statement tells a big story. It proposes that the community will be the premier location for new business investment when compared surrounding areas. It also provides a means to measure comparative success by measuring economic indicators such as 1) increased jobs, 2) an increase in number of businesses and 3) and an increase in business tax base within the community. It also gives a time period to measure success.

Question 6 - How do we get there?
With an understanding of our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities plus a vision of what the community wants to be in the future, answering this question may become clear. The answers become a list of specific actions that must be completed to either eliminate defined weaknesses, or maximize identified strengths to capitalize on identified opportunities.

For example, the lack of “shovel ready” sites can be remedied by investment in utilities, roads, and governmental approvals necessary to have the site ready for construction immediately upon receipt of a building permit. Another action may be a Tax Increment Financing District or a Business Development District or a Special Service Area to provide incentives for business investment. Other actions may include completion of community appearance projects, securing worker skill training programs for laid-off workers, or conducting a national marketing program to recruit new businesses to locate in the community.

Question 7 - What resources do we have and need?
Every community has resources, typically scattered among a large number of separate organizations. Key to answering this question is identifying these resources and involving them in developing the economic development strategic plan with agreements to “take-on” and fund specific work tasks.

A chart can be prepared listing the specific work task identifying the person or organization that is responsible for the task, when the work is to be completed and how it will be funded. Preparing this chart early in the strategic planning process also identifies work tasks that do not yet have a sponsor or funding.

In our example, a work task to install infrastructure for a “shovel ready site” may be assigned to the city public works department. Obtaining necessary planning and zoning approvals would be a task for the city Planning Department. The City Council could be assigned responsibility to begin city council sponsorship of a TIF district for a future business using tool making machinery equipment. The Community College could be asked to sponsor a workforce retaining effort with the chamber of commerce assigned the task of developing and implementing a marketing program.

The chart may also identify the need to involve other organizations or recommend formation of new entities to carry out specific works tasks. We might need a downtown development organization to sponsor a downtown redevelopment plan or a neighborhood redevelopment organization to sponsor redevelopment programs.

Question 8 - Who is responsible?
The key to successful implementation requires gaining commitments from specific individuals to complete work tasks. This “buy-in” of responsibility is critical to success.

In our model economic development strategy, the Mayor, Public Works Director, City Planner, Economic Development Director, President of the Community College and Chamber of Commerce Director would be named as “responsible parties” and charged with the duty to complete one or more specific work tasks.

Question 9 - How much does it cost?
Undertaking an economic development program costs money, typically more that any single organization has within their budget. Answering this question establishes a budget for each work task and identifies who is to provide the funding for the task.

Question 10 - How do we know when we get there?
In every successful economic development program the progress towards completion of each work task is periodically reported. It gives the opportunity to celebrate success and to modify the tasks if necessary to assure successful accomplishment.

Measurement tools to gage progress are critical. Useful milestones to measure success should be included as part of the Strategic Plan.

Some strategies break the process down into a number of separate categories, such as logistics, health care, energy, agri-business, retail, etc. Other approaches include a much quicker and simpler process, with the development of a on page strategy. This approach can sometimes be used as an interim until a full blown strategy can be developed.

On Line Examples

The following web pages show examples of recent Economic Development Strategies. Each effort is somewhat different, but most of them follow most of the ten items.

Preparation of an economic development strategic plan is not an overly complex process and can be accomplished by answering ten questions to define a Vision for an economically improved community. Specific answers lead to identification of weaknesses that need to be remedied. The process also identifies strengths and specific opportunities with can serve as the base for a job expansion and business investment program. It provides a mechanism to identify specific work tasks, determine their cost and assign responsibility for their completion and means to measure incremental progress.

There are numerous resources to help communities prepare economic development strategies, including regional planning organizations and private consultants. While use of outside assistance brings technical skills and greater experience to the process, community representatives are still required to answer all ten questions, develop the vision and work tasks, and accept responsibilities to complete each work task.

About the authors -
Chuck Eckenstahler is 35 year veteran of municipal planning, economic development and real estate consultant serving clients in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, and a past contributor to the Illinois Municipal Review. He teaches economic development subjects in the Graduate School of Business at Purdue North Central, Westville, Indiana and serves on the faculty of the Lowell Stahl Center for Commercial Real Estate Studies at Lewis University, Oakbrook Illinois. He can be contacted at pctecken@comcast.net or by phone at 219-861-2077.

Craig Hullinger AICP has 35 years of experience in economic development, city planning, and transportation planning. He is a Economic Development and City Planning Consultant. He was the Economic Development Director of the City of Peoria, Illinois, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and Lamda Alpha. He was formerly Planning Director of Will County. He publishes a number of blogs on Peoria economic development which can be found at http://peoriaed.blogspot.com/ . He can be contacted at craigullinger@gmail.com or by phone at 309-634 5557.


Economic Development Strategy Questions
1. Who are we?
2. What makes up our economy?
3. What are our problems and opportunities?
4. What are our strengths?
5. What do we want to be - our future vision?
6. How do we get there?
7. What resources do we have and need?
8. Who is responsible?
9. How much does it cost?
10. How do we know when we get there?


Work Tasks
Work Task
Responsible Party

Easy to Print Link Below:

Smart Growth - It's More than Ag Preservation and Stopping Urban Sprawl




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: Vision 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.