Do not be afraid to benchmark your zoning code

One of the most important local regulatory documents that Michigan Communities control is their local zoning ordinance. This ordinance literally defines how land will be used and how uses affect and interact with other uses.

The local zoning ordinance is one of the most important local regulatory documents that local communities control. The ordinance can also be the most controversial, because it defines how property can or cannot be used. When local codes are updated or replaced with new ones, the professional planning advice is to develop a code specific to the particular community. Communities are different, and it is those differences that should be taken into consideration when developing a code. The mix and diversity of land uses vary between communities. For example, topography may be one of those differences that should be accounted for and may have a significant impact on the placement of parklands and potential construction in floodplains (which should be discouraged). So there are differences like those that should be appropriately accounted for and addressed. However, similar communities with similar land uses can provide a very economical way of testing the impacts of ordinance changes.

Michigan State University Extension has a governmental benchmarking program that allows communities to benchmark their governmental services against other communities. The goal is to identify inefficiencies and to correct them and to improve the overall quality and costs of providing services in Michigan cities, villages and townships. A similar process can be conducted for zoning codes. One of the positive outcomes of benchmarking is the identification of the best governmental practices. For example, how long does it take your community to process a rezoning application? How long does it take a similar community to process a similar application? Do your fees encourage or discourage development? How do they compare to communities similar in size and operation?

The process of comparing your zoning code to other similar communities can provide invaluable information to be used to eliminate inefficiencies and improve overall service delivery. The first step may be the willingness to accept that we may not have all the answers for our individual community and that we can still learn from some of our more successful neighbors.

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