Friday, February 13, 2004
The Mayor & Trustee as Developer
Making Things Happen
Beth Ruyle & Craig Hullinger AICP
February 13, 2004
You can make things happen. You can lead development that will improve your
community. You can build a better town by working with the political and economic
leadership of your town. As the Mayor or Trustee of your community, you are in a
unique position to improve your town.
The following is an outline what local government can do to make things happen. Local
government leaders are often so busy reacting to citizen problems and concerns that it
is difficult to plan and lead quality developments. This article will summarize steps that
can be taken to:
WIN FRIENDS & BUILD YOUR PYRAMID
There is nothing wrong with running a tight fiscal ship, and keeping taxes low. Running
government “lean and mean” is an efficient way to manage our local governments. If
this is your main focus, than by all means keep spending to a minimum. But if you want
to bring quality improvements to your community, some risk and some spending is
required. You will be remembered by the tangible built projects that were begun or
completed under your administration. The “pyramid” of your time in office is the major
physical improvements to the community.
WHY PLAN, WHEN YOU CAN REACT ?
Any road will do when you don’t know where you are going. You can simply wait till
developers come forward with projects. But if you are going to be proactive, you must
plan. You should develop a plan to get to where you want to be.
The first step in your planning process is identifying shortcomings or opportunities in
your community. Identify what is wrong. An common example for many communities is
a declining downtown with outmoded buildings and uses. You may have identified
these problems during your campaign for office - now you need to figure out what to do
about the problem
Most redevelopment efforts require a public private partnership. The government does
what it does best - improving infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water, enhancing
streetscape, etc. The private sector
get developers to do what you want -
Planning, Economic Development, Promotion, Public Private
Hot to keep land owners from doing things that hurt the community
Planning, Zoning, Subdivision Ordinance, Impact fees
How to build concensus for projects, and make them happen
TABLE OF CONTENTS
COMPREHENSIVE PLAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
SMART GROWTH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
PROMOTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
FINANCE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
OGM (Other governments money). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
ZONING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
MAKING YOUR TOWN LOOK GOOD - THE APPEARANCE PLAN . . . . . . 36
DEVELOPMENT FEES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
GOLF COURSE & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
GIFT CATALOG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
PUT IT ON THE INTER NET. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
ABOUT THE AUTHORS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
INDEX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Preliminary prior planning prevents poor performance
The COMPREHENSIVE PLAN is the formal planning tool for municipalities. For most
towns, the plan is a general guideline that is updated every 5 to 25 years, and left on
the shelf. But in some towns the plan and planning process are a way to galvinize
public opinion. For the Mayor or Trustee who wants to make things happen;
MAKE NO SMALL PLANS !!!
The Burnham Plan guided the development of the Chicago region. It had the
"magic to stir men's blood", and it "aimed high in scope and work." The City, region,
and State are justifiably proud of the Burnham Plan, and the significant improvements
that developed from the plan.
The Plan for your community should be:
A "noble logical diagram"
A bold vision for the future
Specific major proposals
The Plan should not be:
Just a Land Use Plan
Just a Transportation Plan
A citizen participation effort with no product
1 year time frame, start to finish
Coordinated by Regional Planning Agencies
PLAN TO GET THE STATE TO SUPPORT
Discussion with civic and planning leaders
Gain support from local government and business
Your community can develop a vision and mission statement as part of the planning
process. The Vision and mission statement can be developed by the leadership of the
organization, or by the citizens. The following Vision and Mission Statement were
developed by a County Planning Staff.
The County land use pattern will be harmonious, balancing
residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural land uses.
Transportation will be safe and efficient. Natural resources and
open space will be protected and enhanced. Urban communities
will be improved, and the rural heritage preserved.
Stormwater will be managed, and flood damage minimized.
All construction will be of high quality. Solid waste will be safely
and properly disposed. The environment will be protected and
Protect and enhance the Public Health, Safety, and Welfare
by effective land use planning, regulation, and enforcement.
We will always endeavor to:
Act with integrity
Be fair and consistent
Exercise good judgement
Treat people with respect
Be cooperative and professional
Maintain positive mental attitude
Be responsive to citizens and elected leaders
Be committed to the professional development of our people
Prepared by the Leadership of the Will County Land Use Department
December 15, 1995
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The first step in the planning process is to develop the goals and objectives. There are
many different approaches;
Plagiarize - You can copy from another towns plan.
Written by planning staff or consultants
Developed by a small leadership group
Developed by a large group of citizens
It is probably best to involve a large group of citizens to generate the goals of the
community, and then refine those goals. The goals are general statements. You will
later design strategies and programs to achieve those goals.
The following was developed by citizens of the Village of University Park as part of the
development of the first Village Comprehensive Plan. Not that the objectives are
The citizens of University Park, in order to create a balanced community in which all
people can develop their full potential and in which they can determine their future in
harmony with others, agree to the following objectives to guide the development of their
1. Attract all kinds of people to all neighborhoods.
2. Provide unstructured open space for all; i.e., open space where you do
not have to do anything.
3. Provide for cultural opportunities at neighborhood levels.
4. Provide recreational opportunities for all.
5. Provide a safe and secure community.
6. Establish an equilibrium with nature providing a minimum of disruption of
the natural systems.
7. Reestablish man's relationship with his natural environment.
8. Provide adequate, efficient, and economic systems for transportation of
people and goods.
9. Provide for residents who need care, assistance, or support.
10. Create an economic environment conducive to participation by both the
private and public sectors.
11. Provide educational opportunities for all.
12. Provide for a fiscally sound, balanced economy with a broad base of
13. Provide opportunities for participation by all in community life.
14. Encourage social and political responsibility both within the community
and with other units of government.
15. Provide the opportunity for people to participate in reevaluating their
community in order to make changes they feel are necessary for the
future they want.
16. Provide opportunities for spiritual expression.
17. Provide physical and mental health care for the individual.
18. Provide the opportunity for people to be informed.
The Village also periodically develops a list of improvement efforts designed to
implement the general objectives of the Village.
MAJOR PROPOSED VILLAGE IMPROVEMENT EFFORTS
Lead the development of the new interchange at I-57 and University Park Way.
Upgrade and improve University Park Way from I-57 through the Village.
Lead the development of the University Park Country Club and University Park
Golf Course in flood plain areas west of I-57, surrounded by a high quality office
park and commercial area and pedestrian walkways.
Enhance the public transportation plan, with emphasis on the METRA ICG
station and bus transport within the Village to the station, commercial areas, and
to the industrial park.
Improve and enhance the University Park Technology Center, by reconstructing
Central and Hamilton Roads and by building recreational amenities into the
Encourage the continued improvement of the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park.
Create a landscaped pedestrian and bike trail connecting the residential area of
the Village to the industrial park, ICG Metra train station, Governors State
University, Thorn Creek Woods, and to Park Forest and Richton Park.
Develop a greenways trail system in flood
plain and wetlands.
Require the first 30 feet of property on all
developments devoted to attractive and
Add street trees to the all parts of the
Village, especially in the Technology Centre.
Work with the school system to ensure
quality education, with schools located with
parks adjacent to the greenway system.
Work with Governors State University to improve the Village and campus by
supporting the development of a not for profit office and research park on the
north end of the campus.
Improve Village identification signs at the major intersections.
Acquire the wetland pond at Hamilton and Palmer, and convert it to an attractive
LAND USE PLAN
Begin with a capital improvements plan. This plan should outline desired capital
LOSE YOUR MARBLES
When you take your local government job, you are issued a bag full
of marbles. Each time you make a mistake, one marble will be
taken away. No new marbles are ever added for any reason.
After a while, you will loose your marbles.
Smart growth, sometimes referred to as sensible growth, is the latest buzzword
among city planners. The definition is evolving. It means different things to
We will define Smart Growth as “Good Planning”. The logical expansion of a
community, with the new development tied into the utility and road system, is
smart growth. Developments that have quality parks and open space, and
property flood control measures, are smart growth.
Infill projects are a major component of smart growth. Metropolitan areas have
parcels of land “left over” from periods of rapid development. Often these areas
are small but strategically near community shopping facilities, schools and utility
lines. They make ideal sites for small housing developments.
Nevertheless, as many elected officials, planners and economic development
professionals know, while establishing a community objective to foster new
housing development is easy, there is no assurance that it can be accomplished.
THE BUCHANAN EXPERIENCE
The City of Buchanan, Michigan had the ideal “overlooked” site meeting this
definition. The 16-acre rolling wooded parcel was close to schools, near the
downtown, and served by City streets and utilities. A developer who retired to
Florida owned the property and wanted to dispose of the land by any reasonable
A new housing development was wanted by City Commissioners, Chamber of
Commerce members and economic development officials, as a demonstration of
Buchanan’s growth and prosperity. City leaders also viewed a new housing
development as a chance to provide homes for employees willing to work at jobs
in the city.
According to Mayor Tom Hoetger, “since the last residential subdivision
developed in Buchanan is older than most City residents and this site seemed a
natural for the City to promote as a single family home development project, we
were interested in helping a developer take-on the project any way we could. ”
All-in-all, the site, attitude of City leaders and the willingness of the owner made
it appear that this was a proper site for an infill housing development project.”
MARKETING THE SITE
The City undertook three efforts to encourage development of the site. First, it
contacted the retired developer to persuade him “take-on one last Buchanan
project.” In a second attempt, City staff contacted reputable local residential
builders and real estate developers. Lastly, City staff began the process of
recruiting an outside real estate investor/developer to work jointly with the City to
develop the property.
Success was not easily achievable, according to Mayor Hoetger, “they gave us
many reasons why not to do the project. They included the number of jobs lost
due to the closure of Clark Equipment Company operations in the City, the fact
that we had built no residential subdivision in the City for more than forty years
and the lack of a market as shown by the limited number of new houses built in
the City during the past several years. In reality most of the locally
knowledgeable real estate, home builders and some bankers felt there was
limited demand for new single family housing in the City.” This widely held view
and the financial risk for installation of water, sewer, drainage, sidewalks etc.
made the development of the site far to risky for most local developers, in the
minds of several City Commissioner and business leaders.
CREATING AN INDUCEMENT
City officials contemplated the need to develop an inducement program that
would attract an outside investor to undertake the project. Research reveled that
the City was limited in what it can offer as an incentive to attract a developer to a
higher risk residential development site. Unlike an industry locating in the City,
there is no state grants that can be used to pay for infrastructure and no tax
breaks can be offered to the developer to support construction of market priced
City staff identified several categories of development costs that they could
Application and Review Fees - fees paid by the developer to the
City for processing planning and zoning approvals, subdivision plat
review and engineering design review.
Development Inspection Fees - fees paid by the developer for
the City engineer to inspect and approve construction of the utility
system and streets to be deeded to the City.
Infrastructure Expenses - costs of water, sewer, drainage, streets
and street lighting which the developer has paid and given to the
Connection “Tap-In” Fees - payments to the City for connection
to the City water and sewer system.
While no formal policy was established, City officials recognized they may need
to consider offering a financial incentive package that would include fee
THE DEVELOPER EMERGES
In 1994, a real estate investor group from outside the City purchased the
property. The City approved a preliminary plan in May 1995. Mayor Hoetger
notes, “We were pleased when owner sold the property to the investment group.
They purchased the property at the recommendation of a local planning
consultant who worked with the City and felt there was a market in-the-making
for new subdivision housing units in the City.”
The investment group having received the preliminary plan approval,
documented the market potential and prepared a financial analysis for the
development project. They subsequently used these materials to sell the land
and approved plan to a real estate development company that specializes in raw
OTTAWA RIDGE SUBDIVISION GROUND BREAKING
On August 26, 1998, CITE Partners, the Illinois real estate development
partnership broke ground for the subdivision. The final approvals granted by the
City allowed for thirty-four residential lots ranging between 10,000 and 28,000
square feet in size. CITE Partners requested no incentives that the City was
prepared to discuss. The City agreed to accept utilities and streets plus a 1¼
acre storm water detention basin. They also waved application, review and
The groundbreaking was viewed as a mile stone accomplishment. Along with
introduction of new City Manager, Jeff Wilkins, who was experiencing his first
day on the job, Mayor Hoetger, thanked a large number of people who helped
make the development a success. Ken Baldwin, Managing Partner of the project
credited the Mayor and City officials with “building a unique spirit of cooperation
not found in any other community he has undertaken a development.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS
There are several keys to the success of this infill development including:
Right time - Right place There is no doubt the strong economy
that pushed down mortgage interest rates contributed to the
success of the project. The availability of lower interest rates has
expanded the number of potential customers in the local market.
Local Job Creation City efforts to create new jobs in the market
area were successful during the two-year period before the start of
the subdivision. The vacant Clark offices were sold to a new
company. Abandoned factory buildings were raised in anticipation
of sale to a new business. There was a documented increase in
the number of jobs locally which resulted in a renewed positive City
Incentive Package Because lenders viewed the infill opportunity
as more risky than other development proposals, the developer
needed to increase equity in the project and accept a higher level
of development risk. To offset up-front expenses, the City waved
out-of-pocket up-front costs and other application, review and
Spirit of Cooperation The City viewed its role similar to that of a
partner in the development process. Recognizing that the City
could only achieve its goal of having a new subdivision in the City
by helping the developer, the planning, zoning and engineering
review process was viewed with the spirit of “making the project
work.” This allowed approval of the initial and final documents to
occur in a faster than normal process.
SEPARATING THE RISK To make the financing work, CITE
Partners secured a large home builder to construct homes in the
development. The builder, which has a sizable market presence
would be able to dedicated the marketing and promotion dollars
necessary to lure prospective home buyers to come to Buchanan
to view the subdivision and tour model homes.
This strategy divided financial risk into two categories: the land
development and home building. If the project did not sell as
quickly as needed, the land developer and home builder would risk
less personal resources.
SUCCESS - INFILL SUBDIVISION GOAL ACHIEVED
Today, six months after the completion of the infrastructure, one home is ready
for occupancy, two homes are nearly completed and three foundations under
way. The first scheduled open house had eight people in line to enter the sales
model when the real estate sales agent drove into the driveway.
Bob Baldwin, President of Buchanan-based LaSalle Federal Savings Bank
which is the project’s principal lender, smiles at this activity. “Our bank is
pleased with the outcome of the project. We knew that the market was unproven
but ready for something to happen. The developer - home builder combination
really made us feel good about the chances for success. Both have strong
track records in their field. Our bank felt that the combination of talents plus the
City cooperation seriously added to the chance for success - they can make the
Jeff Wilkins is all smiles today. Along with the new job, Jeff and his family will
reside in the first home in Ottawa Ridge, “We chose the new home, for all the
right reasons. It’s new, close to downtown, my kid’s can walk to school when
they’re old enough, and I get to live in a new home where we could pick-out
many finishing touches that make it our home.”
Stop planning and Just do it!!!
Economic development is the process of retaining and attracting jobs and tax
base to your community. Some towns do little or no economic development.
The rules for economic development
Keep what you have - Make sure your commercial and industrial owners
are satisfied with your community
Grow your existing business
Attract new development
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
their 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. The State of
Illinois has been planning the third airport for the 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 northen boundary of the Village. The park was 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.
Beecher is a small rural community on Illinois Route 1, a state north-south
highway. The Village is twenty minutes south of I-80/I-294 Interstate roadway.
The Village leadership 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 is 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
Village Administrator Bob Barber spearheaded the pre-ground breaking
preparation. Besides the ground breaking 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 Ground Breaking
The first job to complete was to set the date and time for the ground breaking.
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
key 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 key speakers. However, this made media attendance less
Ground Breaking Announcement and Invitation List
A list of more than 300 names was identified. 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 ground breaking.
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 also used for a one-page (faxable) illustration
the Village intended to use for further economic development promotion
Media Kit and Photography
The last item prepared was a fact kit to be given to the media before the ground
breaking. The objective was to provide all the information that 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 they needed to “cover the story,” hoping that Beecher’s
groundbreaking would be carried in many publications that would otherwise not
be very interested.
The media kit included a one-page summary of the industrial park 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 ground
breaking, which were taken previously to provide photos for media who could not
A SUCCESSFUL GROUNDBREAKING
Village President Lohmann was delighted with the turn out for the ground
breaking, “We had more than ninety persons attend, including representatives of
our state and federal legislators, DCCA, the Will County Center for Economic
Development, the Southland Economic Development Alliance, local and regional
chambers of commerce, county board commissioners, and a number
businesses and Realtors. 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
Barber summarizes 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 businesses familiar with our community who may thinking about moving or
expanding their business. Since we didn’t have a big budget and 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.”
Coverage of the ground breaking was carried in two regional news papers 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 media. Here are some
good rules to follow:
Develop the Right Mind Set
Writers have responsibility to decide what is newsworthy and how to present the
information in their publication properly. While your project may be the most
important event in your community, it may be insignificant when viewed among
other events happening right now.
Timing 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 writer can quickly prepare
written copy can also make your groundbreaking newsworthy, when a writer’s
time is scarce.
Prepare a Media Kit
The fact sheet, a one or two page description of the project, answering the
reporters questions; Who? What? Where? Where? and Why? is the most
important item to prepare. The fact sheet has to 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 any 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 they key
contacts 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.
Take Groundbreaking Photos for Distribution at the Groundbreaking
Most writers like to have good quality photographs which they can reproduce
and use to highlight the article. In many situations, it is advisable to hold a
“photo shoot” and prepare the ground breaking photos before the actual date of
the ground breaking. 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 new media who cannot sent
a photographer or where the weather conditions will limit the quality of the
It sounds 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 easy.
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 is the fundamental step
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.
As a general rule, it is best if you can actually pay for all the wonderful pyramids
that you build. There is nothing more depressing than undertaking a wonderful
project, and having it end in failure because it cost far more than you thought it
would, or you the usage and income collected from the facility was less than
It is advisable to hire an outside consultant who will provide you an objective
view of your project. And then it is wise to follow the consultants advice.
FAMOUS AND NOT SO FAMOUS FAILURES
OGM (Other governments money)
OGM is critical for implementing desired capital improvements. Many of the
major transportation improvements require State and Federal funding. And it is
always easier to get support for a costly project if someone else is paying for
much of the cost.
Stuff Happens - Zoning is intended to keep bad stuff from happening
Always remember that
Socrates was a famous ancient Greek philosopher. Like many local
government officials, he was always telling people what to do ......
They poisoned him.
Is it time to update our zoning ordinance? Almost every elected official at some
time will be faced with this question. Concerns about 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
How does an elected official know when it is time to update the zoning
ordinance? Illinois law does not specify when codes should be updated.
Communities sometimes 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 ordnance at a specific time period.
This trigger is this forgotten or ignored.
This article proposes a three-part test that gauges the need to update the zoning
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 issuance 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 plats/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, someone
must inventory actions taken in each category and assess what “fixes” are
required. This assessment should address the zoning process from distribution
of the 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 the update. We recommend the test be given to members of 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 staff required to help applicants’ fill-out our standard
❑ Never ❑ Sometimes ❑ Often ❑ Frequently❑ Very
2. How often does staff refer an applicant’s request to the Plan Commission or
Zoning Board of Appeals?
❑ Never ❑ Sometimes ❑ Often ❑ Frequently❑ Very
3. How often is staff required to seek an interpretation of the ordinance to clarify
a definition or ordinance language
❑ Never ❑ Sometimes ❑ Often ❑ Frequently❑ Very
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
❑ 0% ❑ Less than 25% ❑ 25% to 49% ❑ 50% to 75%❑
More than 75%
5. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage
required the issuance of a special land
❑ 0% ❑ Less than 25% ❑ 25% to 49% ❑ 50% to 75%❑
More than 75%
6. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage
requested zoning map changes?
❑ 0% ❑ Less than 25% ❑ 25% to 49% ❑ 50% to 75%❑
More than 75%
7. Of the total number of zoning matters considered last year, what percentage
requested language changes?
❑ 0% ❑ Less than 25% ❑ 25% to 49% ❑ 50% to 75%❑
More than 75%
8. In the past five years, has an applicant challenged a decision in court?
❑ Yes ❑ No
9. In the past year, has legal counsel suggested a review be conducted?
❑ Yes ❑ No
10. Please indicate how many time during the past five years a text change
ordinance has been enacted?
❑ None ❑ Less than five times ❑ 5 to 10 times ❑ 11 to 25 times❑
More than 25 times
For questions one through three give the following scores for each answer; a 1
for never, a 2 for sometimes, a 3 for often, a four for frequently and a 5 for very
frequently. For questions five through seven give the following scores for each
answer; a 1 for 0%, a 2 for less than 25%, a 3 for 25% to 49%, a 4 for 50% to
75% and a 5 for more than 75%.
For questions 8 and 9 give the following scores; a 5 for yes and a 1 for no. For
the last questions, question s 10, give a 1 for none, a 2 for less than five times, a
3 for 5 to 10 times, a 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
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 they may also have identified specific issues to be
address 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 their 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
APPROVE THIS REZONING - IT’S THE HIGHEST AND BEST LAND USE!
It is common in today’s zoning administration to hear someone call upon the
board to recommend the rezoning of a parcel because the proposed use will be
the “highest and best use” of the parcel of land. Typically, the statement is
made by the applicant or the applicant’s attorney, in a effort to persuade the plan
commission to issue a decision in their favor.
Planners hear a lot about highest and best land use. In common usage, highest
and best land use is nothing more than an individuals’ personal opinion
concerning how a parcel of land should be used. However, in real estate law
and real property appraisal practice, the concept of highest and best land use is
a technical analysis which can be used to determine the best use of land,
subject to certain assumptions.
This chapter is designed to review the technical process of determining highest
and best land use, as viewed by judges and real estate appraisers. This review
will provide background for community planners and local zoning officials to
separate the petitioner’s personal opinion from judgements made from factual
technical analysis about the pot ential use of a specific parcel of property.
HIGHEST AND BEST LAND USE - A DEFINITION
The concept of highest and best land use originates from the real estate
appraisal field. Appraisers, define highest and best land use as:
The use, from among reasonably probable and legal alternative uses,
found to be physically possible, appropriately supported, financially
feasible, that results in the highest land value.
What this definition states is the highest and best land use is a use which meets
a four part test demonstrating the use is (1) physically possible, (2) legally
permissible, (3) financially feasible and (4) maximally productive.
Physically Possible - Not all parcels of land are created equal. In
planning a use for the parcel of land, consideration must be given to the size of
parcel, roadway access, subsurface conditions, presence of environmental
concerns (wetland, endangered species) and even contamination from prior use
or illegal dumping.
Many times the size of the parcel or other design factors prohibit the
development or use of the parcel of land for specific uses. For example, a small
parcel of land along a major roadway cannot be use for a fast food restaurant if it
cannot obtain a “curb cut” allowing a safe driveway entry to the property.
Uses which pass this first test are the uses which can be developed or built on
the property and are usually determined in consultation with a design team
composed of land planners, engineers and architects, land surveyors, geologists
and environmental consultants. Based on their combined expertise they can
eliminate uses which cannot physically be developed on the parcel.
Legally Permissible - Local, state and federal government have laws
and regulations which govern the use of land. In this test, the only permissible
uses of the land are those which are permitted by these laws and regulations. In
addition to local zoning, development of a parcel of land must adhere to
strormwater management regulations, wetland protection, endangered species,
“curb cut” access from roadways and many other rules. Each regulation may
establish a rule which impacts what may or may not be legally permitted.
From the developers view, where the regulation prohibits development of the
parcel of land as desired, an appeal to the local government or regulating
agency to vary the strict terms of the regulations may be considered. The
probability of receiving favorable consideration for the request must also be
considered to determine whether the proposed use will pass this test.
Financially Feasible - With enough money you can develop any use on
any site, assuming its size is adequate. With modern engineering techniques a
developer can correct subsurface soil problems, move wetlands and construct
parking garages to get more parking spaces per square foot of and area to meet
applicable zoning regulation.
The test of financial feasibility however, addresses the question of can a profit
be made on the investment of funds in the development. Building a shopping
center which requires rent of $12.00 per square foot of floor area in a market
where shop keepers can only pay $7.00 per square feet would not be a
financially feasible investment.
To pass this test, a proposed development is subjected to a financial feasibility
analysis. The analysis included projecting the income generated from the
development compared to the cost to develop the parcel of land. The profit
(excess income) after payment for developing the parcel is compared to profit of
comparative projects or other investments such as returns and investor would
gain in a stock market portfolio. In the real world today, a developer of property
seeks a 20-25% return on their invested funds for developing real estate.
Maximally Productive - Understanding this concept is rather easy. It
suggests that a developer will seek to develop uses which provide the highest
profit and largest amount of financial return.
DETERMINING HIGHEST AND BEST LAND USE
Highest and Best Land Use is much more than a personal opinion. The uses
which pass the four part test are those which meet the needs of the local
government, have development costs which can be supported by rents or sales
prices offered in the current or future market, provide for a market rate financial
return to the developer, and lastly have been deemed allowable by the local
Local governments share the duty of determining the highest and best land use
in their communities with property owners, realtors, developers and others. The
process of determining the highest and best land use is embodied in the process
of preparing the Comprehensive Plan for the community. Community-wide
highest and best land use decisions are made as part of the land use planning
process (especially the physically possible criterion) and subsequently identified
and regulated in the zoning ordinance. Implicit is the process of preparing the
plan and zoning ordinance map is the designation of which areas of the
community should be used for residential, commercial and industrial uses.
RULES TO CONSIDER FOR ADJUSTING THE PLAN AND ZONING MAP
Developers often use Highest and Best Land Use as a reason to change the
plan and rezone a parcel of land to another use. Recognizing the community
planning process does not truly consider each of the four part of the Highest and
Best Land Use test, there is good reason to listen to the claim and adjust the
community plan and zoning when appropriate. Below is a list of questions to ask
yourself when faced with the claim, approve this rezoing - it’s the highest and
best land use!
9. Who is making the statement; does the opinion come from a independent
10. Is the proposed use a complete change of use (residential to commercial)
or a refinement to a designated use (single family residential to multi-
Local communities hold the “key” to the determination of the highest and best
use of any property under their planing and zoning control, since they establish
what is legally permissible. Typically, the comprehensive planning process
analyzes the physically possibility for development of the land and may consider
(although sightly) the financial feasibility of development.
Claims made by developers must given due consideration, especially when the
claim is based on technical information, data and analysis prepared by a
professional development team organized by the developer. A claim, based on
the four part Highest and Best Land Use test will provide detailed information
concerning the physical development of the parcel, an analysis of why it
cannot/should not be developed under the terms of the current plan and zoning
ordinance, and why it is necessary to change the plan and ordinance to meet
current real estate development investment expectations..
Planners and local officials serve their communities when they listen to all claims
that a property should be rezoned because it is the highest and best land use of
the parcel of land. They serve the community best when they disregard the
impassioned personal opinion plea and seriously consider the well prepared and
documented claim substantiated by independent third parties, even if engaged
by the applicant.
COMMON SENSE RULES TO REDUCE VULNERABILITY
Charles Eckenstahler AICP and Craig Hullinger AICP
The days when municipalities were not subject to litigation over disputed
planning and zoning decisions 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
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 Mayor and Mangers
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
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
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
2. UP DATE 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 indivduals 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
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 decision 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
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, prime
farmlands are all relevant information. The distance to utilities is also
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 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 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
rezoning 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
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
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 AND DECISION REASONING
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
decisions, 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 their 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 decisions.
No criteria can replace knowledgeable specific legal advise.
YOU CAN’T DO THAT - IT’S SPOT ZONING!
Almost every Plan Commission has heard the statement that the Commission
cannot approved a rezoning request because it will create a spot zone. This
statement is often made by a disgruntled adjoining property owner who objects
to the proposed use. The objector implies 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 which is
surrounded by a different (usually less intense) zoning district.
Webster defines spot as 1) a particular place of relatively small a definite limits,
2) a mark on a surface differing sharply in color from the surroundings, 3) a
position; location and 4) a set of circumstances; a situation, especially a
In the case of Landcaster Development Ltd. v. Village of River Forest (1st
Dist.1967) the 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 which is out of harmony with comprehensive planning for
the good of the community.”
The term spot zoning is most often used to describe action where a relatively
small parcel of land is rezoned 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. But, the accusation could be made in a
number of other rezoning situations.
A typical situation is the corner convenience store on a main road in a residential
neighborhood. Some will consider this a spot zone, where others would find this
to be a compatible use. The same situation with a gas station will draw similar
opinions, with more opposition.
REZONING ISSUES TO CONSIDER
In Illinois standards were established in the courts buy two major cases. These
standards will be considered by the courts in evaluating challenges to municipal
zoning decisions. Municipalities should obviously consider these standards
when making zoning decisions.
LASALLE NATIONAL BANK v. COUNTY OF COOK (1957)
SINCLAIR PIPE LINE COMPANY v. RICHTON PARK (1960)
1. The existing uses and zoning of nearby property
2. The extent to which property values are diminished by the particular
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
By carefully considering these criterion, a Plan Commission can be more
confident that a court will subsequently support the municipal decision. It is
logical to include these criterion in the decision record on the zoning case, with a
short statement explaining how the municipal decision is consistent with these 8
standards. Also note that no concerns about spot zoning are listed in these
PREVENTING SPOT ZONING
Good planning practices will prevent spot zoning. Adherence to the standards of
an up-to-date comprehensive plan describing the intended use of the land which
is in the best interest of the community virtually eliminates the problem.
Zoning decisions which rely on the eight zoning standards clearly establish a
rationale why a requested rezoning should be granted or denied. 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 — DO’S AND DON’TS
∙ DO - evaluate each rezoning on its individual merits using the eight
standards. A written record of the rationale 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. Recognize spot zoning is often
times 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 are
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 it’s Future
Land use Plan. The decision record should clearly state the reasons why the
request was approved or denied.
MAKING YOUR TOWN LOOK GOOD - THE APPEARANCE PLAN
GOLF COURSE & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
THE PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
Golf course development with high quality residential and commercial
development has become increasingly popular and is likely to increase.
The amenity of a golf course enhances the attractiveness of an
area for development. It can enhance the marketability and
acceptance of the project.
Golf courses are expensive, however. They typically require two to three million
dollars of investment, and the cost of 140 to 170 acres of land. Courses can and
should be profitable, but the return on investment may be slow and is not
comparable to the return on conventional development.
The initiative for the golf course development can come from the public or
private sector. The local government can, as a part of its comprehensive plan,
designate a logical area for the course. Alternately, the developer can propose
the course as a joint venture to the community.
The case for a public private partnership in golf course development is strong,
especially for office and industrial projects that will enhance the local tax base.
The development of a golf course to key private sector development is a
legitimate public purpose as illustrated as follows:
A PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP GOLF/OFFICE DEVELOPMENT CAN:
FOR THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Spur economic development;
Enhance the prestige of the area;
Increase open space;
Secure wet land preservation;
Provide storm water detention;
Improve the appearance of a community;
Assist in annexation of key property;
FOR THE DEVELOPER
Spur sales of surrounding development;
Enhance the prestige of the development;
Secure an owner of the golf course;
Assist in financing the golf course;
Lower costs for storm water detention;
Assist in utility connection;
Ensure governmental approval;
The financing of the course can be entirely municipal, or private, or a mix of
public and private capital. Normal, Illinois recently developed a quality course
surrounded by development near I-55. The developer initiated the idea, and
gave the land to the City with the condition that the City develop the course.
Park Forest, Illinois, expanded its successful executive nine hole course with
Naughton Development. The developer is constructing town homes and single
family homes around the course.
Munster, Indiana designated a golf course in its office and industrial park directly
adjacent to a municipal airport. Munster is seeking a developer to key the
Country Club Hills, Illinois proposes a golf course along I-57 in Forest Preserve
land next to private sector land. The City is lobbying with the Forest Preserve to
bring the course into reality.
The Kankakee Community College has a free three hole golf course on campus.
This is a simple and economic way for a community to begin a small golf course
and to make an attractive entryway feature into the community. The course could
later be expanded.
Ideally the Golf Course and Club should be in located in flood plain areas,
providing storm water detention and some wet lands area. A flood plain area
along a creek or river is an ideal location. Building is prohibited in flood plain,
and the best use of the property is for a natural area, park, or golf course.
The ideal location is distant from utilities so that land costs are
low. Government is a partner and their cooperation and financial
support for extension of utilities could be a part of their
participation. An additional benefit to the local government is
annexation expansion. The annexation of the course can help
bring an entire area into the community if the community is
competing for annexation of the property with other communities,
or if the community wants to limit unincorporated development.
Soil and site conditions must be suitable for a golf course
development. Flooding during 100 year floods or other major
storms is acceptable. Frequently flooded areas are inappropriate.
Soil maps and tables list the potential for golf course development
by soil type.
Attractive rolling terrain and mature trees are desirable. Since the course will
usually be in the low ground around a creek or drainage way some mature
vegetation is likely.
The ideal site is large enough to allow development on the entire perimeter of
the property. Ideally, a 170 acre course should be located on a 320 to 640 acre
tract to ensure enough development land around the course. Typical traditional
courses did not follow this principle. Golf courses were developed on a
quarter section of land contiguous to roads. This encouraged little golf
course oriented development or gave the views of the course and the
resultant increase in value to adjacent landowners.
Surrounding the course with an ugly high fence with barbed wire on top
is not desirable. The course should provide the maximum exposure to
adjacent development property. It should become an attractive part of the
The course should be public for use by all residents since the development is a
joint public/private partnership, and public money and support are involved. A
walking and jogging path should surround the course for use by non golfers. A
health club would be desirable. An office research park overlooking the course
would make an outstanding location for a city hall for a pro development
community. The economic developers for the city would have an ideal location
in which to sell the community to prospective investors.
The course should also provide some exposure to major roads close to the
course. Attractive vistas of the course should be exposed to potential buyers as
they drive by the development.
What's in a name? Quite a lot. A major benefit is the enhancement to the image
of the community and development when the name of the course is linked to and
similar to the name of the community and development. The Munster Golf
Course, Munster Country Club, Munster Office Research Park, and Munster
Golf Estates are the appropriate names for a golf course development in
The prestige and marketability of the community and development are
enhanced by the name. The community name linked to the development also
helps buyers find the development.
The current cost of developing an 18-hole course is two to three million dollars
plus land costs. A nine hole course is less expensive. Fees should cover most or
all of the costs. The town, park district, or forest preserve district, as owner,
should make a profit, although losses should be expected until the course and
surrounding development has matured. Golf courses are for the most part
profitable. Local government has the advantage of not paying property and sales
taxes and may have existing maintenance facilities and personnel. Since
recreational amenities are a legitimate function of local government, the course
does not have to be profitable if for some reason the course is not well received.
The public/private partnership can take many forms, but the most obvious is the
local government owning and financing the course while the developer controls
the surrounding development. The actual financing arrangements would vary,
with the level of participation of the local government. This ranges from very
limited to acting as the major financier and developer.
The municipality often has financing capabilities and good access to tax free
capital markets. The use of municipal funds can provide part of the equity for
the project. In some cases, where the community is affluent and very pro
development the community could even finance the entire project.
The local park district, community, or forest preserve district could operate the
course directly. A private operator could also be employed. Both approaches
are workable. The use of an experienced golf course operator is probably the
best choice, if the local government has not previously operated a course.
Public/private partnerships are difficult. Local government operates in the "fish
bowl" of public scrutiny. It must ensure that the development is not viewed as a
"give away" to a developer. Local government reviews and approves
development proposals, and conflicts between developers and communities are
The best partnership is one that keeps public functions separate
from private functions. Once plan approval is granted and
responsibilities assigned, the community should concentrate on
the operation of course. The developer should work on making
the surrounding development a success. The community has
an interest in the success of the surrounding development. The
community will help market the property if the relationship of developer
local government has remained good during the planning process.
The "right" developer and community are clearly critical for the successful
completion of a public/private partnership. The community must want to grow, be
progressive, and be willing to take some risk to enhance the community. The
developer must function in the public fish bowl and be able to take and handle
public criticism. The ideal developer probably has been or is an elected official,
although not currently a member of the government involved in the development
of the course.
The public/private partnership can enhance development. These type of
developments should be encouraged. Both parties can benefit. This type of
development seems likely to increase in the future. MAYOR TRUSTEE DEVELOPER PHILOSOPHY
Don't worry, be happy
This too shall pass
Life has its ups and downs
It will get better
Don't make mountains out of mole hills
What good does getting depressed do?
Take bite size projects, and finish them
Make a decision, and stick with it
Keep plugging away
Get it done
Excuses are like belly buttons, everyone has one
Don't sweat the small stuff
Just do it
sewage, runs down
danger, when in
run in circles,
scream and shout
Preliminary prior planning prevents poor performance
American Land Planning Leadership
Philosophy " Peace through fire
HOARY PLANNING APHORISMS
This too shall pass
Planning, like life, has its ups and downs
It will get better/It's got to get better/I hope it gets better
Don't make mountains out of mole hills
Publish or perish
What good does getting depressed do?
Don't worry, be happy
The longest journey starts with a single step
Keep plugging away
Take bite size projects, and finish them
Make a decision, and stick with it
Avoid extra assignments
Excuses are like belly buttons, everyone has one
Don't sweat the small stuff
Let criticism roll off your back
Do what your boss tells you unless it is illegal or immoral
Criticism, like sewage, runs down hill
When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout
Keep off the sky line
Be firm, fair, friendly
Our community is seeking gifts for public
improvements for the people of our
community. The gifts will enhance our
town while providing a way for citizens to
memorialize a loved one. The following
are some possible gifts.
Sidewalk Replacement (per
Square) $ 100
Street Trees 100
Park Benches 300
Landscaping, flowers, trees 300
Park Improvements 50,000
Jogging, Bike and Nature Trails 150,000
Sculpture and Outdoor Art 200,000
Senior Citizen Park 250,000
Parks, Forest Preserves, and hills 400,000
Swimming Pool 500,000
Parks and Nature Preserves 500,000
Lakes & Ponds 1,000,000
Downtown Improvement 2,000,000
Community Golf Course 5,000,000
Thank you for your consideration. Your gift to the Village will be appreciated,
and the memory of your generosity preserved.
PUT IT ON THE INTERNET
The internet is a great tool for distributing your plan and
economic development strategy. You can put maps, strategies,
solicitations, and requests for proposals. You can put your
maps, minutes, agendas on your Web page. In fact, anything
that you do can be put on to your Web page.
There are numerous companies that develop web pages. You can do it
yourself, or pay someone to do it. The following web pages are examples of
good municipal planning web pages.
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 form Governors State University and the other form
the University of Notre Dame. He is an active writer, having in excess of 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 email@example.com.
Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is a governmental planning consultant and
President of Planning Development Services. He recently served as the
Assistant Village Manager for Tinley Park. He also has served as Will County
Director of Land Use on two occasions. In both positions he supervised
planing, zoning, engineering, and building functions. He is a planning
consultant to the Villages of Tinley Park, Frankfort, Munster, IN, and several
other communities and corporations. He serves as an expert witness for
numerous attorneys with most of his current work centering on the I-355
Corridor. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration and a Master’s
Degree in Environmental Planning. Craig can be contacted at 708/ 532- 8991
or E-mail C-Hullinger@govst.edu, Web page
annexation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37, 38
appearance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32, 36, 37
boundary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16, 32
commercial . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4, 8, 15, 18, 28, 37
County . . . . . . . . . . . 4, 6, 17, 18, 29, 31, 35, 46
demand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12, 29
detention. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13, 37, 38
development. . 1, 3, 5-8, 11-19, 22, 26-32, 34-41, 45, 46
development fees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
drainage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12, 13, 39
economic development . . . . . . 1, 11, 15-18, 37, 45, 46
growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
highest and best . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26-29
industrial . . . . . . . . . . . .4, 8, 15-19, 28, 37, 38
land development . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13, 14, 31, 35
land use . . . . . . . . 3-6, 9, 22, 24, 26-32, 34-36, 46
land use plan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3, 9, 30, 31, 36
office . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1, 8, 37-39
planning1, 3-6, 13-16, 19, 21, 24, 26, 28-30, 33-35, 40, 42-44, 46
road . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1, 11, 34
sewer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12, 13
smart growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
State.3, 4, 8, 12, 16, 18, 19, 21, 27, 30, 31, 33, 36, 46
storm water. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13, 37, 38
subdivision. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1, 11-15, 17
transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4, 7-9, 16, 21
Village. . . . . . . . . . 6, 8, 9, 16-18, 29, 34, 45, 46
water. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12, 13, 37, 38
well . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29, 40
wetland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9, 26, 27
zoning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1, 13, 14, 21-36, 46