Reducing Bias on Zoning Boards

Zoning Practice — October 2005

By Jerry Anderson, Erin Sass Eastman


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In most American cities, citizen boards have substantial power over zoning and planning. A body called the board of zoning adjustment, or something similar, typically decides applications for variances and special permits. Another group, usually called a planning and zoning commission, approves subdivision plats and makes recommendations regarding zoning amendments to the city council.

Despite the importance of these boards, relatively little attention has been focused on ensuring that they are balanced and fair. The appointments are subject to few, if any, restrictions. Often, those who have the largest interest in development activity are the most eager to serve. Although these individuals lend desirable expertise to the enterprise, the failure to appoint a cross section of interests may result in a biased board.

This issue of Zoning Practice presents the results of a study of planning and zoning boards in Iowa and provides recommendations to improve board composition.


Page Count
Date Published
Oct. 1, 2005
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Jerry Anderson

Erin Sass Eastman