Do We Have a Smart Growth Plan?



Charles Eckenstahler, AICP, Craig Hullinger, AICP and Dr. Larrry McCellan

Every local official in Illinois is faced with the question of determining whether their local government Comprehensive Plan is a Smart Growth Plan. With the growing concern about urban sprawl, agriculture preservation, need for greater open space and environmental concerns, local officials are frequently called upon to reexamine their comprehensive plan to determine if the plan represents Smart Growth.

Unfortunately for local officials, Smart Growth is an elusive concept. Presently there is no consensus of what Smart Growth is. There is no legislation, which sets forth a prescription of required contents for a Smart Growth plan. There are no standards of professional planning practice, which establish the contents for a Smart Growth plan.

Smart Growth means many things to many people. To some, Smart Growth is nothing more than good planning practices historically used to prepare most of today’s current Comprehensive Plans. Others, view Smart Growth as a platform for advancing special purpose planning objectives, including agriculture land preservation, stopping urban sprawl development patterns, demanding the acquisition of more open space, or stopping the construction and expansion of roadways.

For local officials called upon to justify whether they’re Comprehensive Plan is a Smart Growth Plan, there is little, if any, tools to help in making a decision.

The Eastern Will County Regional Council, representing Beecher, Peotone, Monee, University Park, Park Forest, surrounding townships and Will and Kankakee counties decided to respond to the problem facing local officials. In September the Council adopted the first Smart Growth Strategy in Illinois.

The council members determined their Regional Development Strategy, which is a composite plan of the member local governments within eastern Will and northern Kankakee counties, demonstrates Smart Growth. This conclusion was drawn from research identifying specific planning practices that should be included in a Smart Growth plan and how well local government officials felt the regional development plan fulfilled these planning principles.

According to Ken Kramer Chair of the Council and a Park Forest Trustee, “The Council wanted to test whether our plan truly represented Smart Growth concepts. We wanted to identify how we can further Smart Growth principles on a regional and local government basis.

What we found is that we rated ourselves at about 60% overall based on 70 Smart Growth planning principles addressing planning capacity, urban form, infrastructure, development review procedures and fiscal policies. We identified 11 topics that we believe must be discussed by local officials if we are to advance Smart Growth planning in Eastern Will County.

Our self-evaluation process established benchmark values that we can be to measure progress toward Smart Growth in the future.”

The pressing problem for Smart Growth in Illinois is who will make the decision whether a Comprehensive Plan fulfills Smart Growth principles.

_____ Benson, Mayor of the Village of Peotone who sits on several of the Governors Sustainable Growth Task Force expresses the concern of many local officials. “The most common model of Smart Growth relays heavily on a hierarchy of approvals with a state body holding ultimate authority. We in eastern Will County believe the traditional power granted to local governments to determine future land use is the proper means to implement Smart Growth. Our strategy that established measurement criteria and which we, local elected and appointed officials, used to evaluate our plan is preferable to having an outside consultant, planning agency, or state body determine compliance with Smart Growth principles.”

Based on the process employed by the Eastern Will County Regional Council, it is likely that all Comprehensive Plans prepared over the past 20 years address Smart Growth planning principles. It is also highly probable the Comprehensive Plan should be evaluated in terms of Smart Growth principles to identify how well the plan addresses each principle. The evaluation will allow local elected and appointed officials to determine if it is necessary to amend the plan to strengthen responses to certain Smart Growth planning concepts.

Alicia Hanlon, Administrator of the Eastern Will County Regional Council, believes the system developed by the Council can be used by other communities to determine how well their Comprehensive Plan conforms with Smart Growth principles. “We directed our consultants to develop a self evaluation system for use by our local elected and appointed officials. We asked them to provide a process which would allow self examination in the future to determine whether we made progress in implementing Smart Growth concepts with the Comprehensive Planning process of the region and local governments.

We would encourage other comminutes to do the same, they can develop criteria and establish a scoring system which tabulates the opinions of a large number of elected and appointed officials concerning how well the Comprehensive Plan conforms to each specific planning principle.

In the near future we hope to schedule a training session for interested parties who would like to use the process developed by the Council for determining if their Comprehensive Plan conforms with Smart Growth participles.”

About the Authors

Chuck Eckenstahler, Craig Hullinger and Dr. Larry McCellan served as the consulting team for the Eastern Will County Smart Growth Strategy.

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP, is the owner of Public Consulting Team, a Benton Harbor, Michigan planning consulting firm that has consulted with the Villages of Beecher, Sauk Village, Glenwood and Homewood as their consulting planner. He holds two Masters Degrees, one from Governors State University and the other from the University of Notre Dame. He is an active writer, having more than 150 articles published on various economic development, land use planning and real estate development topics. He can be contacted at 219-879-1012, or E-mail at

Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is the President of Planning Development Services. He has served as the Will County Director of Land Use and Planning where he supervised planning, zoning, solid waste, engineering, and building functions. He is currently working with the Villages of Minooka, Tinley Park, Mokena, Munster, IN, the Eastern Will County Regional Council, and as an expert witness. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration, a Masters Degree in Environmental Planning. Contact him at 708-532-8991,, or

No comments:

Post a Comment