Planning Board vs. Zoning Board: What’s the Difference? (Explained)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • August 17, 2023

Running a city or small town takes more than simply electing a mayor and town council. Most local governments form planning and zoning boards to assist in administrative tasks related to the growth and development of the community.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the differences between planning and zoning boards, including:

  • The roles and responsibilities of a planning board
  • The roles and responsibilities of a zoning board
  • How eScribe powers modern-day board meetings

Planning Board vs. Zoning Board: What’s the Difference?

In essence, the Planning Board is tasked with directing the “orderly” development of real estate and thus defining the public perception of a city, while the Zoning Board is in charge of governing the uses and specifications for a given piece of land, including farms, real estate, factories, etc. 

Both are part of the city council and help shape it in a way that brings order, investment, and growth to the community.

What Is a Planning Board?

A Planning Board is a government entity responsible for city development. Most of the planning commission agenda involves researching water supplies, public spaces, and agricultural land to advise on regulations. Additionally, they analyze development proposals, decide whether to approve them, and enact broad strategies that consider the many forms of land use. 

Additionally, planning boards examine construction plans, special usage licenses and permits, and subdivision requests. In terms of hierarchy, the planning board sits below the zoning board as appeals from judgments made by the planning board are first heard by the zoning board.

State statutes or the local governing body can grant planning boards the authority to regulate. However, the local governing body must first legally approve a resolution, local legislation, or ordinance giving the planning board the authority to use that power. 

Planning Board Roles and Responsibilities

City planning boards play important roles in setting up a community to thrive. Some of these roles and responsibilities include:

  • Offer insight on holistic and land-use planning: The responsibilities of planning boards include planning, reviewing, maintaining, monitoring, and occasionally updating, as well as making recommendations to the governing board. Additionally, they develop detailed strategies and carry out continuing investigations, data gathering, mapping, and analyses. 
  • Provide zoning guidance: A planning board must be chosen before a local government can use its zoning authority. The planning board drafts, evaluates, and recommends the suggested zoning regulations. The original zoning code cannot be subject to hearings or action by the governing board until the planning board has formally recommended the adoption.
  • Give recommendations on zoning changes and consistent planning: In most cases, the planning board must be consulted before any proposed changes to any zoning code, including text updates and rezoning. However, their counsel is only advisory and is not obligatory. Even if the planning board finds a proposed zoning modification at odds with the comprehensive plan, governing board action and acceptance of the amendment are nevertheless permitted.
  • Consult on ordinances: Zoning legislation and amendments pass through a planning commission meeting for examination and review. Therefore, the planning board may be asked to evaluate and approve the subdivision ordinance, minimum housing code, historic preservation ordinance, and other development rules.

What Is a Zoning Board?

A zoning board, sometimes called the “zoning board of appeals,” is a regulatory part of the city council that enforces land use and real estate regulations. The goal of a zoning board is to strike a balance between each property owner’s rights and the public’s right to a safe, secure, and orderly neighborhood.

Any municipality that passes zoning legislation can appoint a zoning board. Like a court, the board is bound by state and municipal zoning rules. The zoning board must adhere to state law and the zoning regulation as written and cannot alter or disregard any of them.

Zoning Board Roles and Responsibilities

Like planning boards, zoning boards also play a crucial role in shaping the perception and development of a city. Some of their major roles and responsibilities include:

  • Handling administrative appeals: Zoning boards frequently decide on various issues regarding the execution of the zoning legislation. For instance, landowners who disagree with zoning regulations can appeal the ruling to the zoning board. Based on the goal and aim of the rules, it’s the board’s responsibility to assess whether the decision is suitable. 
  • Interpreting the law: When the zoning law is unclear, impacted parties may ask for clarification or object to how it’s interpreted. In such cases, the zoning board must determine the proper adoption of that provision or portion of the legislation.
  • Evaluating variances: Zoning laws can’t cover every circumstance of property use. Therefore, the zoning board is given the power to approve modest variances to the current zoning laws so that a landowner may do something generally prohibited by the regulation.

Getting Started With eScribe

The effective planning and execution of development initiatives by local governments heavily depends on planning and zoning boards. However, for these boards to succeed, they must use the right technology to improve meeting management. 

eScribe ensures that meetings are open to the public and transparent for maximum efficiency in the planning process. The platform provides the following features as a complete meeting management software solution:

  • Meeting Manager: Create, share, edit, and collaborate on meeting content with zero paperwork.
  • Meeting Minutes: Simplify the process of accurately recording meeting minutes, lowering the chance of errors and guaranteeing all critical topics are addressed.
  • Workflows and Reporting: Allows you to easily handle reports and approvals while managing deadlines, tracking statuses, and saving time.
  • Collaboration Tools: They make it simple for members of the board to collaborate, either in-person or remotely, by offering secure access to the agenda, downloading information for review, and keeping track of feedback, notes, and action items. 

If you want to see a real-life example of  how eScribe’s capabilities can make planning board sessions more productive, check out the City of Greensboro Case Study.