October 27, 2022

Land Use Planning and Ethics

Land planners are responsible for keeping the balance of a community. They address proposals that are layered in political issues, community goals, advocacy concerns, and private interest. All of this culminates in value judgments that can affect people for years to come.

Thankfully, to be certified as a land planner, professionals must complete a multi-step process through the American Institute of Certified Planners. This includes a rigorous examination, years of professional planning experience, and continuing education requirements to maintain their certification status.

With all of their qualifications, planners still face constant ethical dilemmas and must work hard to do the right thing. In honor of National Community Planning month, we wanted to talk about some of the concerns they face. 

The AICP Code

Once they have passed their certifications, land planners must adhere to the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct throughout their careers. This series of aspirational and procedural rules gives planners a guide through the gray areas that their position navigates. 

Above all else, the code of ethics maintains, “Our primary obligation as planners and active participants in the planning process is to serve the public interest.

Land Planning Standards

One of the primary roles of a land planner is assessing the appropriate land use of a given property in the context of state and local regulations. This puts them in the position of interpreting what are oftentimes ambiguous standards for community development. There are criteria and processes that each planner must go through before providing their opinion, but the difficulty of assessing appropriate land use varies depending on how well the standards were written in the first place.

Once a planner gives their opinion on a matter, they cannot change it for a period of 2 years without a significant policy change occurring. This ensures the integrity of the decision without exception, so planners must be certain that they uphold the rules in question while maintaining ethical standards.

Some communities have policies that were intentionally constructed to serve their goals and prevent land-use conflicts. Others, however, can run into issues where codes can either hinder progress by being too restrictive or leave a community vulnerable to exploitation by being too nebulous. The best standards are created to serve the public interest, safeguard their trust, and achieve equity and equality. This is only possible by including heavy input from the community.

Serving the Public

What does it mean to “serve the public interest” in a practical sense? Planners ask themselves this every day as they determine how to balance environmental, economic, and social impacts during the land development process.

The intent of every ethical planner is to clearly understand their community’s goals and encourage involvement from the appropriate stakeholders on a development project. Land planning engagements could include master planning for the use of government-owned property, rezonings for private development, or consulting on how school districts could impact the demographic equality of the families who live within them.

Planners complete a series of analyses that clarify how compatible a project is with the community, not how the community will transform to accommodate a project. From professional experience, they understand what development projects are going to best achieve the goals of a community. It doesn’t matter if they are in the private or public sector, all planners should work with public interest in mind.

Safeguarding Communities

We are thankful for all land planning consultants who work with us to serve our communities. Our own Kathie Ebaugh, AICP heads our Land Planning department with a determination to do the right thing for the communities our clients call home. If you are looking for a partner who will help you with your next land development project, JBPro designs and permits projects that serve communities well. Talk to our team about your next project.