2018 National Planning Conference

Wrangling the Very Complex Zoning Code

Saturday, April 21, 2018 from 10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. CDT

CM | 1.50
L | 1.50

Activity Type: Educational Sessions

Activity ID: NPC188255

Location: 213

Now Available from APA Learn

This course is now offered on the APA Learn educational platform.

Open in APA Learn Browse APA Learn catalog


  • How to identify the types of complexity that make it most difficult for the public to understand and most difficult to align with many current planning goals
  • How to engage the public, stakeholders, and appointed/elected officials throughout a code reform process to build confidence in a fair, balanced, and inclusive process that will lead to successful code adoption
  • How to understand the variety of federal legal requirements for a revised zoning code, including those related to due process, religious institutions, fair housing, accessibility, signs, telecommunications, and manufactured housing


Community plans need to be reflected in land use regulations if they are going to be implemented, but many zoning ordinances are woefully out-of-date and have become so complex that they are unintelligible to planners, citizens, and developers. In addition, many older zoning codes no longer comply with many important limits on local land use regulation contained in federal law. This session will draw on the experiences of a national planning and zoning consultant and three experienced planning managers to discuss how even the most complex zoning codes can be simplified and aligned with local planning goals and federal legal requirements promoting inclusivity and free expression. The Planning Director of Columbia, Maryland, will discuss moving from a planned to a dynamic development code. A Director with Clarion Associates will discuss tools and techniques to "pull apart" an unintelligible code and re-assemble it with straightforward and legally defensible controls. A Planning Supervisor with rapidly growing Aurora, Colorado will discuss how to balance powerful competing interests in the code rewrite process. Finally, a Senior Planner with Albuquerque, New Mexico, will discuss key decisions that made its recent total rewrite of its land use regulations a success.

Session Speakers

Karen J. Hancock
City of Aurora
Aurora, CO

Donald L. Elliott, FAICP
Clarion Associates
Denver, CO