Citizen Participation in Land Use Planning
Val Slack, Ag & Natural Resources Educator
Communities are not made of just buildings, roads, trees, and land.
Communities need people to complete their landscape. Communities need
citizens who are interested in planning their future growth to list
priorities and make choices.
If your county has a plan for growth, whether it is a comprehensive
plan, a strategic plan, or a vision for the future, get a copy. If your
county has planning and zoning, check out the subdivision ordinances and
local zoning ordinances. These documents are the basis for any decisions
made con- cerning land use. If there is no plan, work with local officials
to begin the strategic planning process.
In creating a vision for your community, which is what a plan does, you
need to discover the appro- priate balance of land used for farms,
industry, retail, recreation, and housing. It is also important to assess
the infrastructure, current needs, and projected needs for your area.
Remember, every citizen, business, and industry is affected by the choices
and decisions made.
What Can You Do?
There are several way for you to become involved if you want to affect
your community's future.
Be Aware of Local Developments Patterns
Observe where and what type of growth is occuring. Ask what the effects of
this growth are on your community. Read the local papers for notices of
proposed changes in both zoning and zoning ordinances.
Attend Meetings About Land Use, Growth, & Planning
Meeting with land use, growth, and planning on their agendas may include
city or county plan commission meetings, city or county council meetings,
and county commissioner meetings. Learn how local land use decisions are
made. Ask questions. How will the proposed change improve the community?
Does this change follow the community's plan?
Most regular commission meetings have public comment periods. You will
have an opportunity to respond to the proposed change at that time.
Commissions have many rules that govern the way the hearing is conducted.
They also have rules to follow regarding their decisions. In many cases,
they base decisions on a set of criteria. If the criteria are met, they
must make a favorable recom- mendation. If you are better organizing your
thoughts on paper, you can also write the commission(s).
Talk to Elected Officials
Share your concerns and potential solutions with them. They are elected to
serve the public, but they often hear only complaints and criticisms. You
can be more effective by expressing your concerns and then suggesting
alternative solutions. Be knowledgeable about your topic, and have
accurate facts. However, remember that Indiana has a statute barring
discussion of a specific request with a Board of Zoning Appeals or Plan
Commission member, outside of the public hearing. Be certain your input is
within legal limitations.
Communicate with Neighbors
Talk to other citizens aout what you have learned. If others share similar
views, gather information to develop alternative solutions. Although an
individual can make a difference, most efforts are more successful when
people are organized.
Look for Solutions
If you are concerned about the current pattern of development in your
community, identify other ways to accomplish your needs as well as
community needs. Gather information from other communities. Learn about
tools and techniques used in other states. What might work for your area?
Research new techniques that are used in other states, such as the selling
of development rights, the transfer of development rights, restrictive
covenants, density rules, infrastructure access, and other measures
designed to protect land when a community starts to go out of balance.
Value Community Consensus
We all depend on some degree of cooperation and common interest to
accomplish broad community goals that are beyond the ability of
individuals to accomplish. A community's values should reflect the values
of its residents. Participation is the key to making your voice heard. The
secret of success is being solution oriented, not problem oriented, and
having faith that for every problem an inherent solution exists.
There are many ways to learn about planning, zoning, and development in
your county. There are opportunities to make your concerns heard to your
fellow citizens serving on plan commissions, boards of zoning appeals, and
legislative bodies. If you have an interest in guiding the future of your
town, city, or county, consider volunteering to serve on a commission or
running for an office. Commission members' terms revolve on a regular
basis, and interested, enthusiastic volunteers are always being sought.
References & Additional Resources
Daniels, T. & Bowers, D. (1997) Holding Our Ground: Protecting
America's Farms and Farmland. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Hutcheson, Scott (1999) Plan Commission Public Hearings: A Citizen's
Guide. ID-224. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.
Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Association of Indiana Counties,
and Indiana Planning Association (1993). The Community Planning
Handbook. Indianapolis, Indiana.
Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indiana Bar Association
Governmental Practices Section, and Indiana Planning Association, Inc.
(1995). Indiana Planning and Zoning Laws Annotated 1995 Edition.
Charlottesville, VA: Michie Company.
Indiana Land: Get Informed, Get Involved. (1997). Purdue University
Cooperative Extension Service.
Learn more about communities, land use, growth, and how you can be
involved from your local office of Purdue Extension.
It is the policy of Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service that
all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and
facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin,
age, or disability.
Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer.