Iowa Smart Planning legislation proposed

by Gary Taylor

It looks to be a busy year at the Iowa capitol.  A bill has been introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives (HSB 592)  in the Rebuild Iowa standing committee by Rep. Tom Schuller (D – Maquoketa) (the companion bill in the Senate is SSB 3096, sponsored by Senator Rob Hogg, D – Cedar Rapids).  Labeled “Iowa Smart Planning,”  the bill is an outcome of the Green Paper developed last fall by the Rebuild Iowa Office.  Officials from RIO circulated the Green Paper to a number of groups and individuals involved in planning and local government to solicit feedback.  In addition, Rep. Schuller and Sen. Hogg hosted meetings to discuss issues related to planning and disaster recovery. 

The legislation sets forth ten Smart Planning Principles to guide “state agencies, local governments, and other public entities” during “deliberation of all appropriate planning, zoning, development and resource management decisions.”  The ten principles address (1) collaboration in development decisions; (2) predictability and fairness in making development decisions; (3) the promotion of clean energy production; (4) increasing job and business opportunities; (5) the revitalization of existing town centers and neighborhoods; (6) encouraging a diversity of housing options; (7) promoting community character; (8) promoting agricultural and natural resource conservation; (9) promoting sustainable design in building and infrastructure; and (10) expanding transportation options for residents.

The legislation states that local governments “shall consider” the smart planning principles when developing and amending comprehensive plans, zoning and other development regulations.

The legislation sets forth guidance as to the contents of comprehensive plans.  Broadly speaking, the legislation states that a comprehensive plan may contain

  • details concerning public participation in the planning process;
  • a detailed description of the existing conditions of the community;
  • objectives, policies and programs relating to land use, neighborhoods, housing, public facilities, services and infrastructure, transportation, economic development, agricultural and natural resources, community character, hazard mitigation, collaboration among governmental units, and implementation actions. 

The current draft of the bill (as of 1/28) does not require comprehensive planning, nor does it require consistency between the comprehensive plan and local zoning regulations.  Again, however, it does say that local governments “shall consider” the smart planning principles when developing and amending comprehensive plans, zoning and other development regulations.

Finally, the legislation would create the “Iowa Smart Planning Taskforce.”  The taskforce, with 27 voting members and 4 non-voting members, would be responsible for a number of objectives related to planning at the state and local levels, including developing recommendations for integrating the smart planning principles into government decision-making, and evaluating and developing “methods to incentivize comprehensive planning, develop a model for regional comprehensive planning within the state, and develop recommendations for administration of a state comprehensive planning program that operates consistently with the Iowa smart planning principles.”

After you’ve read the bill please share your thoughts by posting your comments above.  Several previous attempts at revising (or more precisely, creating) comprehensive planning legislation in Iowa have failed.  Are there provisions in this proposal that you like/do not like?  What changes would you recommend?  Share your ideas with the tens of readers of this blog!

One thought on “Iowa Smart Planning legislation proposed

  1. I provided the following “talking points” to one of the ISAC lobbyists, who in turn shared them at a subcommittee meeting on 2/4.

    A CASE FOR MODERNIZING IOWA’S PLANNING ENABLING LEGISLATION

    · Actually, Iowa has no planning enabling legislation; only zoning enabling legislation (Ch. 414 and Ch. 335).
    · Each of those chapters is outdated – adopted in the 1950’s based on 1920’s Standard State Zoning Enabling Act.
    · Only 1 sentence pertains to planning: “Zoning shall be adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan.”
    · Each chapter has been amended over the years to accommodate numerous special interests (manufactured housing, group homes, and others); there has been no comprehensive update since original adoption.
    · Iowa cities and counties have been hesitant to adopt modern growth management tools because neither chapter specifically enables such tools.

    THE ELEMENTS OF SSB 3096

    · The elements of SSB 3096 are based on the recent RIO Green Paper -“Recovering from the Storms, Planning for the Future: A Safer, Smarter, Stronger Iowa.”
    · The bill contains 10 Iowa Smart Planning Principles which provide the overall basis and vision for comprehensive planning in Iowa.
    · The bill contains 13 plan elements which any plan created pursuant to the legislation may contain but would not be limited to.
    · The bill identifies and updates other Iowa Code sections that have a planning and/or zoning component (Ch. 414, 335, 329, and 28I).
    · The bill establishes the Iowa Smart Planning Task Force and identifies membership, roles and responsibilities of the group.

    PERCEIVED STRENGTHS OF SSB 3096

    · A strong regional planning focus, recognizing that the issues the state faces require multi-jurisdictional cooperation and solutions.
    · Smart planning principles that embody concepts to promote and achieve sustainable, livable, and diverse places to live, work, and play in Iowa.
    · A list of plan elements which any comprehensive plan may include. This will promote consistency in plans across the state.
    · A mandatory 10-year review period for comprehensive plans.
    · An implementation section as one of the optional plan elements. This is an important component of a comprehensive plan.
    · The establishment of the Iowa Smart Planning Task Force to provide expertise, research, and guidance.

    PERCEIVED WEAKNESSES OF SSB 3096

    · The bill does not mandate comprehensive planning by any city or county.
    · The bill does not require the inclusion of the 13 plan elements in a comprehensive plan; it simply provides that the plan “may include but not be limited to” those elements.
    · No incentives to plan are provided, including funding assistance to cities and counties.
    · A representative of the Iowa County Zoning Officials is not included on the Task Force. Iowa CoZO is the voice of Iowa county zoning officials, and its members can effectively speak to the issues that affect rural and urban counties regarding comprehensive planning, zoning, and balancing the public good with the strong property rights underpinning in our counties.
    · The bill does not establish a permanent state-level coordinating agency for comprehensive planning. If regional cooperation and coordination in comprehensive plans is to be truly achieved, and if funding assistance for planning is ever to be provided, I believe this will be a necessary step.

    SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING SSB 3096

    · Make the 13 plan elements mandatory. A comprehensive plan adopted under these provisions “shall include but may not be limited to” those minimum elements.
    · Mandate comprehensive planning in the state’s “growth centers” and provide incentives to encourage planning in the state’s “agricultural resource areas.” The notion that a “one size fits all” solution is inappropriate for Iowa was promoted by the Iowa APA during the last serious discussion of planning legislation reform.
    · Include the President of the Iowa County Zoning Officials or its designee on the Iowa Smart Planning Task Force.
    · Establish a dedicated funding source to assist cities and counties prepare comprehensive plans that meet the requirements of the bill.
    · Establish a state-level agency (or vest an existing agency) with the duties of implementing the requirements of the bill, including funding and technical assistance to cities and counties.

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