Delegation of Responsibility for Comprehensive Zoning Plan Is Unconstitutional

It might be tempting to delegate the responsibility for updating a city’s comprehensive zoning and development plan to a specially created commission comprised of private citizens. However, the Supreme Court of Ohio recently held that this would be an impermissible delegation of legislative authority. State ex rel. Ebersole v. City of Powell, 141 Ohio St.3d 9 (2014)

In Ebersole, a group of voters attempted to place a proposed amendment to the city charter on the ballot. The proposed charter amendment would have created a special commission. The commission would have been comprised of the presidents of five local homeowners associations. The commission would have been charged with making findings concerning the city’s character and identity, and then draft a new, preliminary comprehensive zoning and development plan based upon those findings, and recommend that preliminary plan to city council. City council then would be required to consider the preliminary plan, make adjustments to it as necessary to comport with the commission’s findings, and adopt a final plan.

The court held that the proposed charter amendment would be a “standardless delegation of power to a limited group of property owners,” essentially constraining city council to act within the confines of determinations made by the five private citizens who comprised the commission. Because of this, the effect was that city council would not truly have had final decision-making authority over zoning matters. Therefore, the proposed amendment would have been an unconstitutional delegation of “legislative power, originally given by the people to a legislative body.” As a consequence, neither the city council nor the city clerk was required to place the proposal on the ballot.