The importance of discussing best practices for continuing education in planning and zoning

Continuing Education is an important strategy for local government risk management. Bylaws and local policy should also address how much training is appropriate and what topics training should focus on.

Continuing education for staff and appointed officials of planning commissions and zoning board of appeals is the most important and effective way for local governments to avoid lawsuits in planning and zoning issues. But the question becomes how much continuing education is necessary and on what topics?

A February 4, 2012 MSU Extension news article, “ Training, continuing education is best strategy for planning and zoning risk management,” reviews the importance of continuing education and provides some thoughts on how best to address this question.

The following recommendations are intended to provide a starting point for your community’s discussion. A community will want to balance these recommendations against what the local budget can afford and the relative amount of risk a community is willing to expose itself to.


Recommendation #1: Who Should Attend Education

  • Every staff person (professional planner, zoning administrator) and members of a planning commission, and zoning board of appeals should attend training in planning and zoning. 
  • At a minimum, the quorum of the planning commission and zoning board of appeal should have received the training.  If the legislative body (township board, city council, village council and county board of commissioners) reviews special use permits or site plans, they should also attend continuing education programs on planning and zoning.

It is important that a “critical mass” (quorum or majority) have the background and training to be able to effectively do their jobs and to mentor new members who have not yet had training. Best practice would be for planning commission bylaws and zoning board of appeals rules of procedure to indicate that a member is not able to be reappointed if he or she has not received training.


Recommendation #2: Sources

Any one individual should try to obtain education on planning and zoning from more than one source. In Michigan there are several different common sources of planning and zoning education; it’s important that sources of training be credible, and not sponsored or created by special interests. Some of the common sources of training are:

 

Recommendation #3: Amount of Education

Recommended amount of education for zoning/planning staff and officials

Position

First-year

Second year and beyond

Planning commission member

16 – 22 hours

6 – 8 hours per year

Zoning board of appeals member

16 – 22 hours

6 – 8 hours per year

Planner only

3 – 5 days

3 – 5 days per year

Zoning administrator only

3 days

3 days per year

Planner and zoning administrator

6 – 8 days

6 – 8 days per year

 

Recommendation #4: Curriculum

 

Recommended curriculum for zoning/planning staff and officials

Year

Planning commission

Zoning board of appeals

Zoning Administrator

1

Fundamentals / MAP, MTA

Fundamentals / MAP, MTA

Citizen planner / MSUE

1

Site plan review / MAP, MTA

Site plan review / MAP, MTA

1 or 2

Citizen planner / MSUE

Citizen planner / MSUE

Zoning administrator Certificate / MSUE

2

Smart growth, Placemaking, New economy

*Same as planning commission if anticipating becoming a planning commission member

Smart growth, Placemaking, New economy

2, 3, etc.

Hot Topics (i.e. statewide updates, law changes, etc.)
MSUE, MTA, MML, MAP, etc.

Hot Topics (i.e. statewide updates, law changes, etc.)
MSUE, MTA, MML, MAP, etc.

Hot Topics (i.e. statewide updates, law changes, etc.)
MSUE, MTA, MML, MAP,
Citizen planner, Advanced academy, etc.

3, etc.

Local issues & topics,
MSUE, MTA, MML, MAP, etc.

*Same as planning commission if anticipating becoming a planning commission member

Local issues & topics,
MSUE, MTA, MML, MAP, etc.

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