Bad zoning can be worse than no zoning at all

Communities can evaluate planning and zoning programs using performance audit materials from Michigan State University Extension.

Bad planning and zoning can do great harm than good in a community, and is even worse than having no zoning at all. Everyone strives for the best possible planning and zoning because it can be a great benefit to a community. It is a continuum—bad zoning being the least optimal outcome, great zoning the most optimal, and no zoning somewhere in between.

Zoning chartThere are many factors that can result in a community’s successful planning and zoning program. It ranges from the purely technical process practices; study and intimate understanding of what policies will help or harm the long-term development of a community, and more.

Rather than try to list all those factors, it might be more useful to run down a list of strategies and practices that the people involved with planning and zoning should follow. If a community focuses on those things, then the difference between harmful and good planning and zoning is often directly related to the following factors:

  • Amount of continuing education, training of appointed officials, employees, and contractors have had.
  • Zoning that truly is based on the community’s Master Plan, and an effort to keep it that way over time.
  • Commitment to enforcement of various ordinances in a proper but strict matter.
  • Commitment to professional administrative system where the community puts what it has learned through continuing education into day-to-day practice.
  • Detailed record keeping.
  • Recognition of, and in practice respecting and following the governmental checks and balance separation of powers: legislative, administrative, quasi-judicial.
  • A budget and funding level that makes it possible to do the above.

MSU Extension has self-evaluation tools so that a community can use to conduct a performance audit of its planning and zoning program. These performance audits can be done “in-house” or can be done with the assistance of an MSU Extension Land Use professional. To find the Extension Land Use professional for your part of the state go to the Land Use website:

The MSU Extension self-help performance audit tools can be found at the MSUE Bookstore. Just type “land use” in the search box or click the links below. All materials are available free of charge from the Bookstore.

  • E3051Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #1 “Basic Setup”
  • E3052Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #2 “The Plan”
  • E3053Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #3 “Planning Coordination”
  • E3054Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #4 “The Zoning Ordinance”
  • E3055Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #5 “Administrative Structure”
  • E3056Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #6 “Special Land Use”
  • E3057Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #7 “Planned Unit Development”
  • E3058Planing and Zoning*A*Syst #8 “Site Plan Review”
  • E3104Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #9 “Capital Improvement Programming”
  • E3105Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #10 “Subdivision and Land Splitting Reviews”
  • E3106Planning and Zoning*A*Syst #11 “Capital Improvement Review”

  These publications can also be found at this website:

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