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Thread: Surveying the public on how the Zoning Ordinance can be improved

  1. #1

    Surveying the public on how the Zoning Ordinance can be improved

    We are beginning a process to rewrite a County Zoning Ordinance that has'nt been updated in 20+/- years. We are going to follow the newly adopted land use plan for guidance, but first would also like to get from our citizens their impressions of what parts of the ordinance need to be updated, simplified, etc. Does anyone have a survey to hand out to the public (citizens, planning board members, et.al.), that addresses improvements/revisions to their zoning ordinance?
    Thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve
    How much of the general population of your county understands zoning?

    Wouldn't it make more sense and be more productive to only survey those who have been involved in using the zoning code, like developers, planning/zoning board members, other municipal officials, etc?
    All these years the people said heís actiní like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  3. #3


    Your right. We had thought about primarily surveying members of the planning board, board of commissioners and developers.

  4. #4

    May 1997
    Williston, VT
    I always feel compelled to ask whether a community that wants to update (or just toss, which most ordinances that old probably should be) has done a comp plan first. And whether that plan sets specific goals and strategies that should be in the ordinances. If you do, and the plan was done with sufficient input, you should have a road map.

    If not, the last thing I would recommend is a survey. SGB is quite right in asking how many people understand the function, structure, etc of ordinances. I would use a focus group technique with the major constituencies: electeds, planning comm'n, staff in other departments, builders, realtors, homeowners associations, etc.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
    Aug 2001
    Capital Region, NY
    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    If you do, and the plan was done with sufficient input, you should have a road map.
    ...and more importantly, a legal leg to stand on. a zoning ordinance that isn't supported by a comprehensive plan can be thwarted...
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  6. #6

    Surveying Citizens about changes to Z.O.

    Yes, a comp plan has been completed. In my ordginal message I called it a land use plan, but it is essentially a comp plan. Lots of public input was used in developing the plan, but as you know a comp plan does not address specific aspects of the z.o. such as what specific parts of the ordinance should be revised. Typically, as is the case here, the comp plan addresses broad principles such as
    " future development should be guided toward areas where infrastructure already exists, etc., etc.". Now, we are going to use the comp plan to guide us through these revisions to the z.o. but we are working with a steering committee and would like to get some practical/specific input from them and other citizens to not only seek out area in the z.o. that can be made more clear for instance, but more importantly to make the steering committee members as well as other citizens feel that they are a part of the process - to encorage "buy in" to the process. That is the primary reason for the survey. Guess I should have been more clear.

  7. #7

    May 1997
    Williston, VT
    There are some of us who believe that a comp plan does need to get down to the specifics of implementation, at least as regards major policy questions (it certainly doesn't have to talk about procedural clarifications), but they typically do not. I would still use the general policies you do have in this process, and ask the steering committee to help you determine how each is or is not being implemented by the existing ordinance.

    I would also consider using the steering committee to compile a list of whose input (other than theirs, of course) is needed, and host discussions with those people. Putting them in such a leadership role is a good way to ensure their buy-in.

    I would also try not to hurry. It is very tempting for me, at least, to try to push on through the procedural parts of an ordinance because I perceive that there aren't many choices to make if you are going to observe the statutes and provide for an ironclad level of due process. But your troops need at least a little education in the fundamental principles. It can be a good idea to have a training sessions with a land use attorney.

  8. #8
    I have been involved with a couple of different zoning ordinance updates. One as a City employee and one as a consultant. For the City update we had the sub-committee that formed the master plan review the zoning updates. I left the city before it was finished but from what I hear it was a disaster. When you have Citizens making decisions on the nuances of a zoning ordinance it can get very messy. They rarely understand what impact their decisions have. For example they may think it is a great idea to decrease the maximum lot coverage but without looking deeper into the issues they may not realize that this would make numerous structures legal non-conforming and would prohibit any additions. So my recommendation to you would be to send your surveys out to developers you trust, plan commission members, elected officials, city employees that use the ordinance, and the steering committee but not the general public. They had their input on the comprehensive plan. As long as your ordinance specifically addresses the policies in the Comp plan, there is no need to survey the public on this.

    Another thing you donít want to do is get into a situation where you spend meeting after meeting editing the ordinance. In the City where I worked on it they had meeting after meeting with committee members arguing about every word in an ordinance.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
    Aug 2001
    South Milwaukee
    Lee and Repo have good points. Unless Joe Citizen has significant contact with the zoning administrators during the course of business, their experiences are likely to be on the receiving end of an enforcement order. -Not a good place to gather input for meaningful recodification...

  10. #10
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
    Sep 2001
    skating on thin ice
    I'll add similar advice I provided elsewhere. Look at the variances you've granted and see if a change to the Zoning By-law would have reduced the number of variances and still maintain the intent of the Plan. We recently did this with signage and accessory buildings, working well.

    It is kind of like public participation, you'll be responding to what people have expressed as a concern in the past.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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