2018 National Planning Conference

Should Zoning Be Simple?

Saturday, April 21, 2018 from 2:45 p.m. - 4 p.m. CDT

Location: R06

CM | 1.25

Cost: Included in Registration

Activity Type: Educational Sessions

Activity ID: NPC188212


  • Three underlying reasons for the complexity of many contemporary zoning codes
  • Three opportunities to simplify substantive and procedural zoning provisions
  • Three reasons why simple zoning isn’t necessarily better zoning


One of the most common critiques of zoning is that it’s too complicated. Some commentators place the blame on a gluttonous approach to zoning reform, wherein codes greedily absorbed each new idea with little concern for page count or administrative efficiency. Others blame a system addicted to discretionary approvals, which necessitates hundreds of pages of procedural standards to avoid the appearance of illegal contract zoning. While calls to simplify zoning aren’t new, the rallying cry of the day is “lean coding.” Few argue with the basic premise that complex zoning standards and procedures favor deep-pocketed developers operating at a grand scale over a long time horizon. But that doesn’t mean there’s a broad consensus about how to put zoning “on a diet.” In this panel discussion, public- and private-sector zoning experts will weigh in on some of the key tensions underlying efforts to simplify zoning. Following a brief introduction, the moderator will pose questions that give each panelist an opportunity to share his or her perspectives on why so many contemporary zoning codes are so complicated and to highlight opportunities to “trim the fat,” both substantively and procedurally. The final portion of the session will be devoted to answering questions from attendees.

Session Speakers

David Morley, AICP
American Planning Association
Chicago, IL

Lee D. Einsweiler
Code Studio
Austin, TX

Derick P. Berlage, AICP
Upper Marlboro, MD

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