Better land use decisions via the American Citizen Planner program

I like to volunteer in my community. Doing so enables me to make a difference in other people’s lives and make some small contribution in return for the benefits I receive. But, years ago when I was asked to serve on my community’s Planning and Zoning committee it felt like I was in over my head.

I kept asking myself:

  • Will I make wise decisions regarding land use in my community?
  • Will I understand the complicated zoning codes and different land use tools such as comprehensive planning?
  • Will I carry out my duties and responsibilities correctly and wisely – and legally?
  • How will I deal with heated community response in difficult circumstances?

At least I was in good company – many volunteer planners continue to express the same concerns and struggle to find where to turn for accurate, useful and easily understandable information.

To make matters worse, local land use issues are becoming increasingly complex, requiring difficult decisions of volunteer citizen planners who often have little preparation or training. Fortunately, the new American Citizen Planner Program (ACP) can help prepare and train these volunteer planners as well as others who are interested in the basic concepts of public land use planning and community development best practices.

eXtension Land Use PlanningJust recently launched online through the eXtension Community Planning and Zoning Community of Practice, ACP provides continuing education for paraprofessional planners and zoning officials, offering the nationally recognized credential of Master Citizen Planner.

American Citizen PlannerThe online program offers two courses – ACP 101 and ACP 201. ACP 101 is designed to help participants learn the foundations of planning and zoning, including the historical context, and their role and responsibilities as planning officials. The 14 units cover such topics as ethics, comprehensive land use planning, working with the public, data collection and analysis, and community sustainability. ACP 201, also 14 units, digs deeper into such topics as land use planning, legal and constitutional authority, the zoning process, conducting effective public meetings and dealing with conflict.

After completion of ACP 101 and 201, participants are qualified to take the Master Citizen Planner Exam. With an exam score of 70% or better, within 60 days of completing the courses they will receive the Master Citizen Planner Credential. It is recommended that the credential be maintained through at least 6 hours a year of continuing education.

Learn more about the American Citizen Planner program, its cost and how to access the online courses here or by contacting Myra Moss at moss.63@osu.edu.

Myra Moss is an Associate Professor and Extension Educator (Heart of Ohio EERA).

2017 New Year’s Resolutions – How wide is your impact?

resolutions-2017-01-05With the beginning of 2017, many of us are creating our New Year’s Resolutions. These resolutions are often focused on our individual welfare, benefiting our physical and mental well-being. So we may resolve to join the local gym to get more exercise, go to bed earlier to get 7-8 hours of sleep and commit to eat more fruit and vegetables. With these lifestyle changes, we hope to live a long and healthy life.

While personal resolutions are good, might we also add New Year’s resolutions that challenge our leadership abilities to benefit the health and long-term vitality of our community?

Engaging in Your Community in 2017

There are many different ways to engage in community and many different levels of involvement. For example, one can volunteer within a local organization, using their skills to help advance organizational goals. One may also resolve to involve the business, institution or organization they work for in bringing resources to assist local communities. Another possibility involves donating one’s work place technical skills to assist local governments, non-profits or faith-based communities to complete tasks they cannot fund. For example, if you have the skills needed to create or manage a website, you could contribute that skill to keep web-based information current and relevant. Another example is volunteering one’s facilitation skills to aid in goal setting, strategy building or other planning processes.

Call to Action!

Now is the time to get creative with your New Year’s resolutions that cause you to become more engaged in your community. Work with others if needed, to identify ways that you can benefit the health, well-being and long-term vitality of your community and its residents. And don’t forget to also keep those personal resolutions regarding your own health and well-being. Chances are, by accomplishing both, you will feel more empowered, realize you have made a difference during 2017 and your physical/mental health benefits will be multiplied.

Myra Moss is an Associate Professor and Extension Educator (Heart of Ohio EERA).

SMALL TOWNS, BIG DREAMS: Do you have what it takes?

Small Town 2016-06-02Many small towns want to improve their current condition for a number of reasons. What we often hear from residents and leaders is: “We are tired of our “best and brightest” leaving the area for college and never returning because we have no jobs/careers for them,” or “Our retired residents have to seek appropriate housing in other communities because there isn’t any here,” or “The youth that remain are not “work ready” and opioid use among them has become a real problem.” Some of these towns have existing community or economic development plans that, while they might offer viable solutions, were never fully implemented (the old “the plan sits on the shelf” complaint).

So, what’s a town to do? Here are some suggestions based on my experience working with many communities throughout Ohio:

Overcome fractured goals by building inclusion into your community’s dialogue about the future:

If you are a local leader, have you discovered your residents’ vision of the future? I use the word “discover” because, chances are your residents already have a picture of what they would like your town to be. And, although there may be some divergent views, there is also a core set of beliefs and desires that can lead to consensus to set major goals. The task of local leadership then becomes setting the stage for open and inclusionary dialogue about the future. Inclusion is important. By reaching out to all sectors of the community to include their desires and hopes, a shared vision of the future can be discovered.

Engage a broad range of residents in both planning and implementation:

When residents are engaged in determining their community’s future, they become invested in results and clearly discover their place in making the plan a reality. By taking actions every day through their workplace, community organizations, leadership roles, businesses and their own personal life, they work individually and collectively to achieve success. Time spent engaging residents results in less time spent “selling” the plan to the community, leading to faster implementation. When the community is engaged throughout the process, there develops a much larger base of volunteers to draw upon to move goals forward.

Identify outcomes you want to achieve, and develop indicators of success to use in measuring progress toward reaching these outcomes:

A community plan is a living document. It is important to monitor progress toward reaching goals and modify strategies as needed. Indicators of success developed during planning and goal setting are used to stay on track with plan implementation and make changes as needed. An indicator should be easy to understand, relevant and measurable. It should be widely shared with the community, with progress reported at least annually. Indicators provide a way for residents and organizations to see the results of their contribution toward community goals.

An example of how this inclusionary focus may play out in a community is as follows:

  • Together the community sets a vision and goal of retaining youth that receive post-secondary degrees.
  • During the inclusionary planning process an objective is established to expand job opportunities in the medical field.
  • Using an inclusionary method to establish indicators helps various sectors of the community discover their roles in reaching the shared vision and implementing objectives.

So as an example, perhaps the high school career counselor presents medical careers as possible paths to pursue. Economic developers accept the development of a business park for medical industries. Builders identify construction of senior housing alternatives like condos and assisted living. Medical providers participate in local job fairs.

By building inclusion into community planning at every stage of the process, from development to implementation, big dreams can be achieved by small towns.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Collaboration critical to success of water quality project

During OSU Extension’s 2015 Annual Conference where educators, specialists, and program staff gathered across our four program areas, results of the Vice President’s Conversation on the Future of Extension were shared. Listed under Environment and Natural Resources was this: “responsible practices and a focus on sustainability related to water, air, energy development, soils, waste disposal, and agriculture.”

Stream 12-14 Blog postThis blog provides a description of a project that I have been involved with that implements the mission of the Land Grants as they address 2035 needs by taking research-based information through outreach to help community leaders and residents. What makes this project unique is it integrates the tremendous depth of interdisciplinary focus and collaboration offered within the Land Grant system.

Beginning over a year ago, this project’s focus was to improve drinking and recreational water quality in an Ohio metro area. The diversity of project partners included the private sector, OSU Extension, the OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the OSU School of Environment and Natural Resources and the City.

  1. Engineering: A private engineering firm is under contract with the City Department of Water to evaluate and develop a plan to improve their drinking and recreational water quality. The firm is sub-contracting parts of the plan to OSU Extension and private consultants.
  2. Outreach: Extension’s role is to analyze agricultural management practices regarding nutrients and herbicides and develop strategies to improve water quality. To fulfill this role, the core OSU Team includes a CD Educator, a Faculty Emeritus, an Extension/SENR Program Specialist, and CD Unit office administrators. Extension is also working closely with another private sector sub-contractor whose role is to analyze and make recommendations regarding natural resource strategies to improve water quality.
  3. Research: CFAES, SENR, USDA/Agricultural Research Service and the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering researchers contributed information and data regarding alternative management practices and their effects on water quality.
  4. Municipality: City employees in the Department of Public Utilities review and comment on strategies presented by the Engineer, OSU Extension and other sub-contractors. When the project is completed, the City will take on its implementation.

The depth of interdisciplinary focus and collaboration was critical to the success of this project. The Extension Team identified the potential agricultural areas of concern based on research studies conducted by departmental faculty. Additionally, this faculty identified potential management practices leading to the development of strategies to address these concerns.

ANR Field Specialists assisted in understanding researcher’s studies, more deeply identifying issues, capturing current educational practices and initiatives, and identifying current agricultural management practices being used by agricultural producers.

The 2015 Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, led by an Emeritus Ag Engineer and County Extension Educators, was extremely valuable in helping the Extension Team understand the complicated relationships between water quality and agricultural practices. It also helped in connecting with the key players in the agriculture industry, including producers, researchers and Certified Crop Advisors. Throughout the project, both Field Specialists and County Educators helped the Extension Team think through specific questions raised by the Engineer and the City and provide data to help with the Engineer’s water quality modeling.

Throughout the project, progress meetings were held with the City and the engineer. The City provided feedback that focused the Extension Team’s work. The Extension Team has helped the City and Engineering firm adjust perceptions about the nutrient topic leading to a better understanding of agricultural producers’ needs and current changes in practices. We also provided some planning techniques and tools that the Engineering firm is using within the planning reports.

The Engineering firm concludes that this project provides a program design that many municipalities are going to use in the future to address their water quality issues.

We believe this project effectively demonstrates the results of a Land Grant’s mission when we integrate research, outreach and partnering across disciplines. As Extension uses this interdisciplinary approach, we will be successful in implementing initiatives that will provide what Ohioans will need to thrive in 2035.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Energy Infrastructure Workshop – October 27

Shale Workshop 2015-10-27Communities and individuals across Ohio are being impacted daily by the Energy Boom – through shale horizontal drilling, related business growth, and the development of pipelines crisscrossing all parts of the state. Energy companies are approaching landowners to lease their land or purchase pipeline rights of way. Community leaders are experiencing an influx of workers and their families, impacting roads, social services, housing and schools.

As Extension professionals, we are increasingly asked by our community leaders and residents to help them understand and address the impacts of energy development. By attending this workshop, you will come away with an understanding of the future of energy development in Ohio, anticipated impacts on our communities, and resources available to help leaders and residents address their concerns.

Energy Infrastructure Workshop: Statewide Impacts of Shale and Alternative Energy Development

Tuesday, October 27
9 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center

Online registration link: go.osu.edu/energyinfrastructure

For additional information, please read the news article.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Building Regional Sustainability through Urban-Rural Connections

Cities and surrounding rural areas are highly connected and interdependent on a number of realms: socially, economically and environmentally to name a few. To succeed, cities in America need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture; and in turn rural America needs vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs in order to thrive and flourish (Dabson, 2007).  Meaningful dialogue, understanding and collaboration is critically important when seeking solutions to issues that affect cities and nearby rural counterparts.

Urban-Rural Combined 2015-07-23For example, agricultural land uses in watersheds that provide source water for metropolitan areas has become a major concern as of late. While it is a city’s responsibility to provide quality drinking and recreational water resources to residents at a reasonable cost, it is the goal of agricultural producers to provide food for America’s consumers, also at a reasonable cost, while bringing in sufficient revenues needed to stay in business.

Inputs used to increase food production – fertilizers and herbicides, for example – can enter the rural watershed and affect the city’s water resources downstream. The cost to the city of treating and removing nutrients and herbicides from their drinking water can impact on resident’s water rates. The loss of fertilizers and herbicides due to run off increases a farmer’s cost of production.

How can meaningful dialogue and collaboration between urban and rural entities be created around issues such as these? Is it possible to find common ground that can be built upon to benefit and meet the needs of all parties? In the scenario above, common ground may be that both the farmer and the city would like to see fertilizers and herbicides stay on the fields and out of the watershed. Dialogue and collaboration is needed to discover and implement the combination of educational programming, best management practices, incentives and other types of support that is most effective in helping these entities meet their common goals.

A recent issue brief published by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) provides examples of urban-rural collaborative efforts through a series of case studies highlighting examples from communities across the country: Creating Opportunity and Prosperity Through Strengthening Rural-Urban Connections. NADO concludes that “in order to move forward, a national statement of shared purpose along the lines that if metropolitan America is to drive national prosperity, then to succeed it will need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture, and if rural America is to flourish, it will need vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs.” Finding common concerns, understanding interconnections, recognizing interdependence and building collaborations are key steps in building regional sustainability.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Discovering your community’s shared vision

So you missed the last meeting, only to later learn that the “Downtown Committee” decided to name you to head up the city’s initiative to revitalize the downtown. Even better, a (insert any chain store here) recently announced their desire to build a new store on the main street, razing two older buildings.

˜ How do you proceed in the face of these development pressures?
˜ What are your and fellow residents’ future dreams for the downtown?
˜ Does this new development fit?

Fortunately for you, the city just finished a visioning process which engaged residents in discovering the shared, long-term hopes for their community. Your committee will use this vision to help guide development and revitalization in your downtown.

So, what is community visioning?

Sustainable Development 2015-02-19 - West Carrollton Facilitator

West Carrollton, Ohio – Volunteer Facilitator – Gathering input during Vision Session.

It is a bottom up process based on the belief that residents have a role in articulating their shared vision for their community. It informs the community decisions and the actions of community leaders and officials. Following these key principles can help insure that the visioning process will effectively discover what residents hope for the future:

Be inclusive: make sure to solicit input from a broad range of community voices, sectors and interests

Reduce barriers to participation: go to where people gather, and piggyback on top of other events and meetings to reach more and varied residents, finding shared hopes for the future

Multiply efforts: train volunteer facilitators to conduct vision sessions as a way of extending your reach and providing access to many more residents

Think long term: push residents past everyday issues/conflicts to consider what they want their community to be for future generations

Act multi-dimensional: be sure to reach out to representatives of the community’s economic, environmental and social sectors and seek common threads that link together all three sectors

Sustainable Development 2015-02-19 - Kent Acorn Alley

Kent, Ohio – Downtown, Acorn Alley – Places to gather. Locally owned small business. Arts and culture.

Over the past 15 years, OSU Extension’s Sustainable Initiatives has helped 11 communities (including cities, counties, townships and villages) throughout Ohio discover their residents’ shared vision. This process has often been the first stage in a comprehensive community planning process. Communities have found that their planning goals, when guided by a shared community vision, are more quickly and successfully achieved.

For further information about community visioning and sustainable planning, visit the OSU Extension Community Development Sustainable Development website.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Technology Means New Growth

Avert Bust after Shale Boom 2104-07-17

These days in many eastern Ohio communities, new extraction technologies – hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” as it is frequently called – are opening underground resources that were not available previously. This growth and development is creating new jobs and opportunities for business development. It is also raising concerns involving traffic, housing, health care, education and social services, for example.

To help community leaders make informed decisions and develop long-range plans that will address and balance economic, social and environmental impacts of this new wave of development, OSU Extension CD has put together a broad team of researchers and community development professionals to provide needed data, information and guidance. Read more here.

(Submitted by: Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA. Additional sources: Cindy Bond, Assistant Professor and County Extension Educator, Guernsey County; Nancy Bowen-Ellzey, Associate Professor and Extension Field Specialist, Community Economics and Eric Romich, Assistant Professor and Extension Field Specialist, Energy Development.)