Development Process 101 - Village Board Decision Making

Do you ever wonder... "why did the Village Board approve (fill in the blank) development... what was their thought process, and what were they considering?!"

The following is some Development 101 information regarding the context behind the decision-making process of your Village Board.

Per State law, the Village must make land use decisions (i.e. what gets built where) in a way that is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan).

As a resident, the best time to participate in determining “what gets built where” is during a Comp Plan update process. By state law, a Comp Plan must be updated at least every ten years. Updates in the Village tend to be more frequent. The most recent major amendment occurred in 2019. That process included a well-attended public open house during the planning process and a public hearing held during a joint Plan Commission and Village Board meeting. There are also occasional amendments to the Plan that may be proposed from time to time by individual developers.

State law also dictates certain elements the Comp Plan must include. Per statute, the Housing element, for example, must “identify specific properties and programs that promote the development of housing for residents of the local governmental unit and provide a range of housing choices that meet the needs of persons of all income levels and of all age groups and persons with special needs, policies and programs that promote the availability of land for the development or redevelopment of low-income and moderate-income housing, and policies and programs to maintain or rehabilitate the local governmental unit’s existing housing stock.”

Beyond the mandates of the State, having a mix of housing options is sound planning practice. Historically the Village has largely consisted of single-family homes on large lots. Demographic data has shown these homes to be ideal for families with children, but less desirable or attainable for younger adults, empty nesters, seniors, households including a disabled person, and others who may not want the cost or maintenance obligations of a large home. Therefore, a whole range of potential employees, customers, colleagues, friends, and neighbors have difficulty finding a home in the Village.

How many of your friends’ children remain in the Village immediately after leaving their childhood home, or return to a separate household in the Village right after college? Data would suggest very few are able to do so. Have you seen neighbors leave the Village when they became empty nesters because they weren’t able to downsize within the Village? Are you aware of couples who divorced and one parent moved elsewhere because they couldn’t find suitable housing in the Village? Do you have an aging parent you wished could live closer, but you can’t find a suitable place in the Village? Adding new housing types in not solely about adding new residents but also its about “right-sizing” the housing options for current residents who want to remain here despite changing personal circumstances.  

Household types continue to evolve, and as a nationwide trend ever fewer households are comprised of families with children and an ever-increasing percentage of households are comprised of a single person. The Village would not want every business in town to be part of the same industry to guard against negative market trends (imagine having an industrial park full of typewriter factories). Similarly, a mix of housing options guards against changes in residential market trends that may make certain housing types less desirable over time. By state law, municipalities generate most of their revenue from property taxes. Therefore, properties in the Village can be thought of as assets. Much like your financial advisor tells you to diversify your stock portfolio to reduce risk, diversifying housing types and land uses generally is a way the Village can protect its assets. Therefore, via the Comp Plan, Village elected officials have prioritized a mix of housing options in the Village.

The Comp Plan transparently signifies to stakeholders where they could develop and what they could build.

When a developer submits an application for development, if the proposal is consistent with the Village’s Comp Plan, the Village’s Zoning Ordinance, and the other land use-related Village and state requirements, there is generally very little the Village Board can do to “stop” the development (with a few exceptions).

If a developer is proposing a project that is not consistent with the Comp Plan, then the Plan needs to be amended in order for the development to move forward. If the Village chooses not to amend the plan to accommodate the project, the project will not move forward. This would be an example of a time where the Village’s Plan Commission or Village Board could “stop” a project.

Other exceptions include: 1) Village owned land: if the Village owns the property where the proposed development would occur, then the Village Board could decide against selling the land and therefore stopping the proposal; and 2) incentive request: if a developer is seeking an incentive, the Village Board could choose to not provide the incentive, which could hinder the project from moving forward.

Most development, however, does not fall into one of the exceptions referenced above. Most proposed development occurs on private land, driven by market factors, is consistent with the Village’s Comp Plan, and happens without incentives. For developments that fall in this category, your elected officials have minimal power to deny the project. Having said that, the Board can, and does add conditions of approval to help facilitate a development that will function best for the community.

Now, let’s revisit the question posed at the beginning of this message: “why did the Village Board approve (fill in the blank) development…what was their thought process and what were they considering?!”

More often than not, when Board members are voting “yes” or “no” on a development, they’re not necessarily saying they like (or don’t like) or want (or don’t want) a particular development; they’re voting on whether the development meets the Village’s Comp Plan and zoning, and whether the conditions of approval are acceptable.

We hope you’ve found this communication to be helpful. Village staff involved with Planning, Development, and Administration are always happy to take questions or to schedule a time to discuss any development matters further.