Staff Reports

Dear Management Doctor: 

I am writing an article for a professional publication on the topic of "good staff reports" for zoning and development review! Amazingly, there is not much out there on the topic. I have worked with all of you either on the same side of the table - or across it - on these same types of cases and I would respect your opinions on the subject.

Specifically, what do you think makes a good staff report? Do you have an example of your own or a jurisdiction who you think does reports to emulate?

Thank you.

Susan Swift, AICP
Director of Community Planning and Development Services
Rockville, MD

Dear Susan,

The nature of the staff report will vary by community and the desires of the Planning Commission and the elected officials. I don't have a perfect example, but here are a few suggestions.

  1. In all cases you should have a "staff report" shell. This is an outline that everyone should follow including things like type size and of course the topics. The readers should always be able to readily find the information from staff report to staff report.
  2. Each planner should type their own report. No relying on clerical editors.
  3. I like short rather than long, but that will depend on the community. If the Planning Commission or elected officials insist on long, include a lot of that information in an appendix.
  4. The staff recommendation should be short, succinct, and right at the start on the front page. Provide just the summary of why you are for or against the item with details later in the document. Some communities don't want a staff recommendation. You may have to put up with that but I don't agree with it.
  5. The document should contain clear findings that support the recommendation. If the policy makers want alternative recommendations, it may be hard to come up with the findings. If they want to go off half cocked, they should provide their own recommendations as part of the motion.
  6. Obviously you want a clear summary of the existing situation, square footages, surrounding land use, traffic counts, access points, environmental issues, utilities, etc. These should be on a clear checklist.
  7. These days, normally, there will be conditions. Over time you should develop standard conditions that can then be adjusted as necessary for the specific project. But, if you are going to include a condition, make certain it is relative to the specific project.
  8. If possible, the staff report should be electronic and distributed to the Planning Commission electronically. Illustrations, maps, etc. should be incorporated into the document as possible.
  9. The position of the neighbors and various review agencies should be included either as an attachment or integral to the report. If you differ with these, some explanation may be in order.

Maybe a few of our readers will share their "shells" or ideas that we can pass along.
Good writing,

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Gail Easley, FAICP, was a consultant while I worked for the City of Fernandina Beach, FL, and put together a great template for staff reports. If you go to the City's website and download one of the PAB or HDC agendas, you will see what I mean. Their website is I have carried that format with me to subsequent jobs and still believe in its efficiancy.

Here is a link to one agenda - click here.

Catherine Hartley
St. Pete Beach, FL

In response to Susan Swift's article on "Good Staff Reports" see this attachment, (click here for the pdf version) which may be of assistance.

Gail Easley

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