The Citizen's Guide to Planning

Fourth Edition

By Christopher Duerksen, C. Gregory Dale, FAICP, Donald Elliott, FAICP

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Originally published in 2009 — e-book version released in 2013.

APA's popular primer for citizens is all new! For decades, planning officials and engaged citizens have relied on The Citizen's Guide to Planning for a better understanding of the basics of planning. Now, Duerksen, Dale, and Elliott have remade this p...

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Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
Oct. 1, 2013
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

Christopher Duerksen

C. Gregory Dale
Greg Dale is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati office of Clarion Associates. Mr. Dale is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, having been active in the planning profession since 1981. He has managed planning projects throughout the country and has expertise in regional plans, comprehensive plans, growth management plans, land use regulations, citizen outreach programs, planning for historic areas and expert testimony on planning, zoning and land use development issues. Mr. Dale has drafted or assisted with award-winning plans for Charleston County, South Carolina; Beaufort County, South Carolina; Williamson County, Tennessee; Will County, Illinois; City of Franklin, Tennessee; and the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission. Mr. Dale drafted an innovative sustainability chapter in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, plan and is a co-author of an update to The Citizen’s Guide to Planning and The Planning Commissioners Guide. He has also managed or assisted with significant planning projects in Bradley County, Tennessee; Henrico County, Virginia; Hanover County, Virginia; Suffolk, Virginia; Beaufort County, South Carolina; Williamson County, Tennessee; and North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Donald Elliott
Donald L. Elliott is a Director with Clarion Associates, LLC, a land use consulting firm with offices in Denver, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. Don’s practice focuses on land planning and zoning, growth management, and international land and urban development issues. He has also advised numerous local governments in Russia on land use issues, served as the Democracy and Governance Advisor to the United States Agency for International Development in Uganda for two years, and performed independent research on Indian urbanization and slum upgrading in Delhi for two years. He has managed planning and zoning projects that have been state level award recipients from the American Planning Association in Colorado, Arizona, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Mr. Elliott is a member of the Denver Planning Board and teaches a graduate level course in Land Development Regulation at the University of Colorado at Denver. He is the author of A Better Way to Zone and a Co-author of The Rules that Shape Urban Form. He has a B.S. in Urban Studies and Policy Analysis from Yale University, a Masters Degree in City and Regional Planning from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Why Plan?
Where Did Planning Come From?
Aesthetics Roots and the City Beautiful Movement
Civil Engineering and Public Health Concerns
The Municipal Reform Movement
The Social Reform Movement
The Environmental Revolution
Meeting Today's Challenges
Achieving Dreams

Chapter 2: Navigating the Planning Landscape
State Law-the Starting Point
The Local Planning Landscape
The Local Legislative Body
The Planning Commission
Zoning and Other Special Boards
Planning Staff
Special Boards and Commissions
Higher Levels of Government and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
Federal Agencies
State Agencies
Regional Agencies
Nongovernmental Organizations
The Local Planning System
Comprehensive Plan
Special Geographic Area Plans
Transportation Plans
Economic Development Plans
Public Facility Plans
Capital Improvement Plans
Fiscal Plans
Parks and Recreation Plans
Pedestrian and Trail Plans 30
Open Space Plans
Natural Resource Protection Plans
Housing Plans
Redevelopment Plans
Open Space Acquisition
Infrastructure Financing Tools
Economic Development
Strategic Utility Extensions
Characteristics of Good Local Planning Programs

Chapter 3: The Comprehensive Plan
An Overview of the Comprehensive Plan
How a Comprehensive Plan Should Be Used
Creating the Plan
Getting Off on the Right Foot-Organizing to Plan
Defining Community Values-Citizen Participation
A Strong Fact Foundation-Research and Analysis
Demographic, Housing, and Economic Analysis
Growth Forecasts
Environmental Analysis
Public Facility and Infrastructure Analysis
Land-Use Capacity
Community Character Analysis
Fiscal Analysis
Defining the Vision-Goals and Objectives
Bringing It All Together-Plan Recommendations
Parcel-specific Maps
Character-based Maps
Making It Happen-Implementation and Administration of the Plan

Chapter 4: What Are We Trying to Achieve?
Typical Community Planning Values
Housing and Socioeconomic Diversity
Land Use Mix
Density and Intensity of Development
Neighborhood Connections
Pedestrian Facilities
Street Design
Parks and Open Space
Neighborhood Institutions
A Healthy Natural Environment
Preserved Open Space
Community Quality and Character
Efficient Transportation
Community "Connectivity"
A Strong Local Economy
Efficient Use of Tax Dollars
Historic and Cultural Resource Protection
Healthy Community Core
Social Equity
Public Health and Safety

Chapter 5: Putting the Plan to Work-Implementation
An Implementation Framework
Key Implementation Tools
Zoning Use Regulations
Subdivision Regulations
Land Acquisition
Adequate Public Facilities (APF) Regulations
Concurrency Requirements
Transfer of Development Rights
Tools Addressing the Scale, Quality, and Character of Development
Dimensional Standards
Form-based Standards
Design Standards
Parking Standards
Natural Resource Protection Overlays
Scenic View Protection Overlays
Tools Addressing the Impacts of Development
Performance Standards
Transportation Impact Analysis Requirements
Land Dedication Requirements
Fiscal Impact Analysis Requirements
Development Impact Fees
Special Taxing and Assessment Districts
Tools Addressing Equity Issues
Housing Linkage
Environmental and Social Justice Tools
Property Purchases and Eminent Domain
Implementation Strategies 128
Politically Realistic
Financially Realistic
Time Realistic
Understandable to Citizens
Going Further

Chapter 6: The Plan in Action-The Application Review Process
Understanding the Review Process
Preapplication Conference
Neighborhood Meetings
Staff Review, Referrals, and Report
Public Hearings and Meetings
Recommendations and Decisions
Referendum and Initiative
Judicial Review
Understanding the Different Types of Zoning Actions
Conditional Uses
Site Plan Approval
Zone Changes: Text and Map
Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)
Engaging in the Development Review Process
Get Involved Early
Do Your Homework
Support Your Local Plan
Deal with Facts Instead of Emotions
Focus on the Public Interest, Not Just Special Private Interests
Respect the Process and the People
If You Don't Like the Results, Get Involved

Chapter 7: The Law of Planning
The Essential Planning Powers, Where They Come from, and Their Limits
The Police Power
Enabling Authority
Eminent Domain
The Power to Tax, Raise Revenues, and Spend
The Powers Above
The Scope and Limits to Local Government Planning Powers-Judicial Review
The Taking Issue
1. What Is the Character of the Government Action?
2. Is There a Valid Public Purpose?
3. What Is the Economic Impact of the Regulation?
The First Amendment
Due Process
Defensible Planning and Zoning Practice
Opportunity to Be Heard
Full Disclosure
Findings and Decisions Based on the Record
Unbiased Decisions
Timely Decisions
Complete Records
Clear Rules

Conclusion: Being a Leader
Conflicts of Interest and Bias
Ex parte Contacts
Receiving Gifts
Personal Values Balanced with Public Policy
Considering Choice and Opportunity for Disadvantaged Populations

Conclusion: Being a Leader
Keep Current
Stay Grounded
Stay Energized



"The Citizen's Guide to Planning is a soup-to-nuts, highly reliable guide to any issue a citizen or trained professional is likely to encounter. Form-based zoning and takings issues? Community workshops with keyboard polling? Ethical principles for planning? They're all here. Plus, the book lives up to its title — a citizen's, not just a professional's, guide to real-life issues of planning in American communities."

—Neal Peirce
Chairman of Citistates Group and columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group

"The Citizen's Guide to Planning is an invaluable resource both for professionals and laymen. It presents the fundamentals of city planning in clear, simple English: its objectives, vocabulary, techniques, and legal foundation. There is nothing better!"

—Alexander Garvin
President and CEO of Alex Garvin & Associates, Inc. and author of
The American City: What Works, What Doesn't

"A smart, practical guide on how a community vision can be transformed into reality through thoughtful planning and implementation techniques. A must-read for all urban enthusiasts with an interest in making their neighborhood, town, or city a more engaging, sustainable, and quite simply, a more beautiful place to live, work, and play."

— Drew Becher
Executive Director, Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project

"Accessible and informative, this is an essential building block for thoughtful, inclusive and thorough planning. Its approach to developing a comprehensive action plan, navigating governmental processes, and learning from the nuances of communities will facilitate your planning and development efforts."

—Majora Carter Group