• We're a fun, friendly, and diverse group of planners, placemakers, built environment shapers, students, and other folks who found their people here. Create your FREE Cyburbia ID, and join us today! Register through your Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Microsoft account, or use your email address.

Zoning proposed to a rural municipality

Dean Lapp

Member
Messages
1
Points
0
A Planning Commission is about ready to present a zoning ordinance for the first time to a rural Pennsylvania township. There is a fairly vocal "no zoning" group attempting to at least make major modifications to the ordinance. My question has to do with best methods of communication so that ALL citizens in the township get correct information and help to make the right decision for the township. What should the planning commission do to assure themselves that all the citizens are informed? In other words, how do we make sure that opposition is sincere and well-supported, and not just loud voices?
 

Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
Messages
1,441
Points
28
Wow! That's a huge question.

I would recommend having informal public meetings before the more formal Commission meetings. Have meetings that aren't on the normal meeting night, and if possible, not the normal place. Try a restaurant or something with a private room rather than City Hall. Have just two or three people lead the meeting, and not the whole commission. Maybe just a planner, an elected official, and a commission member. Don't run the meeting by the clock, let people ramble on or vent more than you would in the official public meeting. These meetings may help to get the knee-jerk reactions out of everyone's systems before the official, formal public meetings. And you'll be able to scout out what the most important and/or emotionally sensitive issues are, and be ready to address them at the formal commission meeting. And don't just invite the general public and the opposition. See if you can get other representatives of the community to come, the chamber of commerce, the school district, non-profit groups, church leaders and ministers (they can be very helpful), etc. The opposition will see it's not just the government that wants to zoning but a broad cross-section of the community, and the people you invite will see you need their support to get zoning adopted.

At the meeting, I'd reinforce two important basic facts about zoning often forgot in the noise of loud voices. First, zoning regulations and designations are always adopted and changed by elected officials, and if the public is unhappy with how those officials are using zoning, they can vote them out of office. It wouldn't be the first time zoning decisions prevented some mayor or city council person from getting reelected. Second, remind everyone that this is a public process. Meeting are open to the public, notices are sent out, minutes and records are available to the public, etc. People sometimes fear the Commission is doing things in secret.

Another way to get the whole word out on zoning is to work with the local newspaper(s). See if they'll do a whole section on the proposal, something with pictures, graphics, etc. Try and provide more than just the "headlines", fill in some details, and maybe give some examples. Maybe reference other areas that have zoning, but be careful to be very clear that your zoning will be unique, and not just like their's.

Lastly, to the greatest extent possible, I'd ask the loudest voices of opposition to get involved in the process. See if they'll serve on the commission, or a committee or board or whatever. Sometimes your greatest adversary can turn into your greatest supporter if you can get them involved. "Converting" or at least incorporating a voice of opposition to a participant can score you big points.

Let us know how things turn out.
Good Luck!
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
28
The key is to involve everyone, including potential opponents, in formulating the zoning proposal from the very beginning. It sounds like you missed that step. Having done so, go slow now, hold as many meetings as necessary that are not formal hearings, but that are structured so as to require people to talk to each other about zoning and to stick to the facts. Speaking of which, you need basic facts, as Joe suggests. Have you documented undesireable changes that will occur without zoning through a buildout study or some other means? The average time for zoning to re-appear after a failed attempt is roughly 10 years. so slow down and work your way through the process.
 

burghopolis

Member
Messages
2
Points
0
Be very careful of informal meetings. You should follow the procedures found in the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act 247 as amended (MPC) The MPC was recently amended, 2000, and the new code is being published as we speak. Although there are "official" unoffical copies available through the Local Government Commission. www.lgc.state.pa.us

Your municipality MUST follow the procedures as set forth in the MPC. The MPC is enabling legislation. If your municipality does not follow the procedures and your ordinance does not include certain provision of the MPC, it may be subject to challenge by the groups that oppose such regulation. In which case you'll be back to square one. There are very specific provisions regarding the enactment and adoption of a zoning ordinance, including public notice of meetings.

good luck.
 

Joe Iliff

Reformed City Planner
Messages
1,441
Points
28
Please don't misunderstand my previous message. I am not advocating replacing formal meetings with informal ones, and certainly not any meetings required by state law. I am only suggesting having informal meetings in addition to (and ideally before) any required and/or desired formal public meetings with the entire Planning Commission and/or legislative body. You will still need to have all the required public hearings with the required notice and public records kept before taking any action.

Informal meetings do not have to be held by a public entity. Does the Chamber of Commerce have a monthly meeting? The Kiwanis, Lions, or Eagles? The local ministerial alliance? See if one of them will host the meeting. Be sure you've either met or avoided the requirements to provide public notice. In the states I'm familiar with, if a certain number of Council or Commission members are going to attend to discuss an item before them, the public has to be notified ahead of time, and allowed to attend, and minutes kept. That's why I suggested having just one member of each board.

Be sure that anything that you want to include in the record is part of the formal public meetings. Also, though their are not records kept, be sure you're comfortable having anything you say at the informal meeting being brought back up later. Most people will remember what was said and they may treat it as "official".
Good Luck!
 

Mary

Member
Messages
127
Points
6
I support the addition of informal public meeting(s) myself.

Break people up into smaller groups to look at the plan elements etc. Have a member of the commission (or if you run out of them other public officials who know what's going on) with each group. This way people with agendas get individual attention and know that they are being heard, even if the results not what they wanted. Also this way the louder people wont be able to rule the direction of the entire meeting. This way other people will get to express their opinions and get their questions answered as well. Also people with single issues will have to look at the bigger picture (at least a little bit) when they sit down at a table on transportation with maps of the road system and kinds of roads etc. even if their big issue was related to housing. Have each station have a note pad for recording what people say while they are there.

Feel free to invite and encourage council and everyone to attend these meetings. Don't be surprised if you don't have a huge turn out. Enough people will come to make it work.

I wouldn't consider or present things as final until after the public gets to look at it and really voice their opinions. You really do need to hear their voices and you might even find that they have ideas that you have missed or issues that force you to change some of what you though was the correct way to go. Meetings earlier in the process are always preferable.
 
Top