Comprehensive Plan Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A comprehensive plan is a policy statement adopted by a city to guide decisions affecting the community’s physical development. A comprehensive plan indicates how the City envisions the community’s future, and sets forth strategies for achieving the desired community. A plan generally has three characteristics. First, it is comprehensive: the plan encompasses all the geographic and functional elements which have a bearing on the community’s physical development. Second, it is general: the plan summarizes the major policies and proposals of the City, but does not usually indicate specific locations or establish detailed regulations. Third, it is long range: the plan looks beyond the current pressing issues confronting the community, to the community’s future.

Why is a Comprehensive Plan Needed?

Many of the day-to-day decisions made by City officials can have a significant impact on how the community develops and functions. When these decisions are made in a piecemeal, uncoordinated manner, the result is likely to be land use and development patterns that are conflicting, inefficient and difficult to serve with public facilities and services. Piecemeal decisions frustrate a community’s ability to manage its own destiny. By establishing the community’s long-range general policy for its own physical development, a comprehensive plan coordinates and guides individual decisions in a manner that efficiently moves the community toward its overall goals. While other governmental agencies, financial institutions, developers and citizens all have a substantial impact on the community through their individual investment and development decisions, City government is the only entity with both the opportunity and responsibility to guide the community’s overall development. The City is in the best position to coordinate and balance the often competing needs and pressures that confront the community as it approaches the future.

What are the Functions of a Comprehensive Plan?

A comprehensive plan serves many functions, including:

Policy Determination: In adopting a comprehensive plan, a City Council sets forth a coherent set of policies. This process has two functions. First, it encourages City officials to look at the big picture, to step away from current pressing needs to develop overriding policy goals for their community. Second, it allows the City Council to make explicit the policies guiding their decisions so that those policies may be viewed critically and subjected to open and democratic review.

Policy Implementation: A community can move more effectively toward its goals and implement its policies after they have been agreed to and formalized through adoption of a comprehensive plan. The Comprehensive Plan is a basic source of reference for officials as they consider the enactment of ordinances or regulations affecting the community’s physical development (e.g. a zoning ordinance or a particular rezone), and when they make decisions pertaining to public facility investments (e.g. capital improvement programming or construction of a specific public facility). This ensures that the community’s overall goals and policies are furthered, or implemented, by those decisions.

The plan also provides a practical guide to City officials as they administer City ordinances and programs. This ensures that the day-to-day decisions of City staff are consistent with the overall policy direction established by the City’s legislative body.

Communication/Education: The comprehensive plan communicates to the public and to City staff the policy of the legislative body. This allows the staff, the public, private developers, business people, financial institutions, and other interested parties to anticipate what the decisions of the City are likely to be on any particular issue. As such, the plan provides predictability. Everyone is better able to plan activities knowing the probable response to their proposals and to protect investments made on the basis of policy. In addition, the comprehensive plan can educate the public, the business community, the staff and the legislative body itself on the workings, conditions, and issues within their City. This can stimulate interest in the community’s affairs and increase the citizen participation in government.

Basis for Coordination: The plan serves to focus, direct and coordinate the efforts of the departments within City government by providing a general comprehensive statement of the City’s policies and goals.

In addition to the above functions, the plan also provides a comprehensive means for city staff to supply advice to the legislative body; it fulfills certain legal prerequisites for the regulation of land use and development; it serves as a basis for coordination between various governmental agencies; and it serves as a guide to the courts when reviewing the City’s land use decisions.

How is the City’s Policy Expressed?

A Comprehensive Plan is a "policy plan" which provides policy guidance in two forms. First, it can set forth the City’s policies addressing the full range of issues which confront the community. Second, it can graphically illustrate, through the use of the Comprehensive Plan map, how policy should be implemented geographically within the community. These two aspects of the City’s policy are interrelated and must be borne in mind when considering a land use or development decision.

A policy plan is considered to be a dynamic document. It is designed to provide guidance and predictability while being flexible and responsive to changing times and conditions. A good policy plan must be able to balance the need to anticipate the future with the need to be flexible enough to respond to actual demands as they occur.

A comprehensive plan should be based upon sound planning principles and practices. However, it is critical that the comprehensive plan also take into account the uniqueness of the area and the community it addresses.

Last updated: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 11:08am