Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook Online

Chapter 7: Local Planning (part 2)

7-106 Powers and Duties of Local Planning Commission

(1) The general purposes of the local planning commission established pursuant to Section [7-105] above, are to promote the benefits of planning, to encourage public interest in planning, [to prepare or cause to be prepared, plans for the local government,] to receive and make recommendations on public and private proposals for development, and to advise and counsel the legislative body, other local government boards and commissions, and the local planning agency on planning-related matters.

(2) The local planning commission shall therefore have such powers as may be necessary to enable it to fulfill its functions, promote local planning, and carry out the purposes of this Act. Such powers and duties shall include the following:

— Subparagraphs (a) through (e) are especially relevant for states that mandate local comprehensive plans. Where the local planning commission is also the local planning agency as authorized in subparagraph (i), then its powers must also include the ability to prepare, or cause to be prepared, the local comprehensive plan. Language for this function is shown in brackets in subparagraph (a).

(a) [prepare or cause to be prepared,] give notice regarding, hold public hearings on, and recommend the adoption or amendment of a comprehensive plan for the local government, including special district and small area plans, and have the general responsibility for the conduct of the comprehensive planning program;

(b) adopt procedural rules designed to provide effective public participation in the comprehensive planning process pursuant to Section [7-401], subject to Section 7-105(17);

(c) monitor and oversee the effectiveness and status of the local comprehensive plan and recommend to the legislative body such changes to the plan as may be required from time to time;

(d) review proposed land development regulations, related technical standards and codes, and amendments thereto, and make recommendations to the legislative body [as to the consistency of the proposal with the adopted local comprehensive plan] and other related matters;

(e) consult and advise with public officials and agencies, public utility companies, civic, educational, professional, and other organizations, and with citizens in relation to protecting and carrying out the adopted local comprehensive plan;

(f) make such surveys, analyses, researches, special studies, and reports as are generally authorized or requested by the legislative body, the mayor, or the chief executive officer;

(g) make inquiries, investigations, and surveys concerning the needs and resources of the local government with reference to its physical, economic, and social growth and development, that include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following areas: land use and land-use regulation, including signage; transportation facilities; public facilities (e.g., recreation areas, utilities, schools, fire stations, police stations, etc.); blighted areas; housing; environmental protection; natural and scenic resource conservation; disaster prevention; historic preservation; stormwater management; and economic development. Assemble, analyze, and make recommendations concerning the data thus obtained and assist in the formulation of plans to address such needs and for the conservation, utilization, and development of such resources;

(h) hold public hearings on the proposed annual capital budget and capital improvement program for submission to the legislative body [or other designated official or agency];

— Subparagraph (h) assumes that the capital budget and capital improvement program will be prepared by another agency of the local government, such as the planning department or a budget office.

(i) submit an advisory opinion and recommendation on all zoning matters referred to it under the provisions of the land development regulations and report on any other matter referred to it by the legislative body, the mayor, the chief executive officer, and/or the appointing authority;

(j) [submit an advisory opinion and recommendation to the legislative body on or review and approve, approve with conditions, or deny] any preliminary or final plan or plat of subdivision referred to it under the provisions of the land development regulations;

— In some states, the local planning commission functions in an administrative capacity and is the final approval authority for subdivisions, site plans, and planned unit developments.[71] This reflects the influence of the Standard City Planning Enabling Act that, in 13-16, gives the commission the authority to adopt regulations governing the subdivision of land and to approve subdivisions on behalf of the municipality, including acceptance of a bond to ensure construction of required public improvements. Bracketed language in subparagraph (j) allows the planning commission to have either advisory or final approval authority on proposed land subdivisions.

(k) in the performance of its functions and with the consent of the property owner, enter upon any land and make examinations and surveys and place and maintain necessary monuments and markers thereon;

(l) elect a chairperson and a secretary and create and fill such other offices as it may determine it requires;[72]

(m) serve as the local planning agency if so designated by the legislative body pursuant to Section [7-102];

(n) create, with the approval of the legislative body, advisory task forces for the preparation of plans and other planning activities, [and recommend to the legislative body candidates for such task forces,] the members of which shall be appointed by local legislative body;

— Many local planning activities, such as the preparation of local comprehensive plans, are now often supplemented by advisory task forces. The purpose of such task forces, as noted in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners article by Peter H. Nash and Dennis Durden discussed above, is to provide additional expertise and fresh perspectives to the planning process, especially from people who would otherwise be reluctant to serve on the planning commission because of time commitments as well as to give a broader base of support or endorsement for resulting recommendations. Optional language giving the commission the authority to recommend candidates to the local legislative body is included. Of course, the local legislative body may always create such temporary bodies to advise it, with or without the planning commission's recommendation.

(o) contract with urban and regional planners, engineers, architects, landscape architects, and other consultants for such services as it may require, subject to the approval of the legislative body, local government attorney, or some other local government official or agency as designated by ordinance;

(p) adopt procedural rules for the transaction of its business, subject to Section [7-105(17)];[73]

(q) conduct regular meetings as it deems necessary for the transaction of its business, and conduct special meetings held at the call of the chairperson;

(r) keep a public record of its activities, including resolutions, transactions, findings, and determinations pursuant to Section [7-105(17)], and file an annual report with the legislative body pursuant to Section [7-107] below;

(s) receive, hold, and expend funds appropriated to it by the legislative body, as well as other sums made available for use from fees, gifts, state or federal grants, state or federal loans, and other sources;

(t) cooperate with other commissions and with other public agencies of the local government, other local governments, regional authorities, special districts, state, and United States regarding matters related to its responsibilities;

(u) authorize the attendance or participation by its members of local government planning conferences or meetings of planning institutes or hearings upon pending local government planning legislation; and

(v) perform any other functions, duties, and responsibilities as may be assigned to it from time to time by the legislative body, mayor, chief executive officer, or by general or special law.

7-107 Annual Reports of Local Planning Agency[74] and Local Planning Commission

(1) Within [3] months of the end of each fiscal year of the local government, the director of planning of the local planning agency shall prepare an annual report to the legislative body and the chief executive officer. The report shall summarize the agency's work of the preceding year, including implementation of an adopted local comprehensive plan, provide any information or data that may be required by other governmental agencies, and shall recommend programs, plans, and other measures for future action. The report shall also provide such other information that may be relevant to the agency's powers and duties, including progress in achieving any benchmarks identified in an adopted local comprehensive plan or in any other adopted plan or in carrying projects or duties previously assigned to it. The report shall be published and made available to the public.

(2) Within [3] months of the end of each fiscal year of the local government, the local planning commission shall prepare an annual report to the legislative body and the chief executive officer. The report shall summarize actions taken by the planning commission during the preceding year, including the number of development proposals and plans reviewed, and shall recommend programs, plans, and other measures for future action. It may also monitor progress on implementation of programs, plans, and other measures on which it has acted. The report shall also provide such other information that may be relevant to the local planning commission's powers and duties. The report shall be published and made available to the public. The local planning agency shall provide assistance to the local planning commission in the preparation of the commission's annual report.

Commentary: Neighborhood Designation, Neighborhood Planning Councils, Neighborhood and Community Organizations

Renewed interest in neighborhood planning and development has been sparked by both the desires of citizens nationwide to assert greater control in their immediate environs as well as a shift in the emphasis of governmental programs towards a decentralized and targeted approach to allocation.[75] Federally-sponsored block grants and empowerment zones, along with public-private partnerships, incorporate a citizen participation component that ideally combines top-down and bottom-up planning techniques with inclusive, listening-oriented leadership. Citizens may speak through non-governmental, neighborhood-based organizations (e.g., independent neighborhood councils, community development corporations, nonprofit housing organizations, etc.).

Contemporary neighborhood planning may be of three types: (1) locally-sponsored citywide planning programs; (2) independently-organized efforts by indigenous neighborhood or community organizations; and (3) federally-sponsored community development programs.[76] Of the three, the first two types lend themselves to the drafting of model statutes for use either at the state or local level. Such statutes, where they exist, may also have implications for the third type, since they will create a structure through which federally-sponsored programs may be administered The first two approaches are discussed below.

(1) Locally-sponsored citywide programs. Neighborhood planning programs of this type have several common characteristics that must be considered in drafting legislation: (1) types of mechanisms to identify what the relevant "neighborhood" is and to establish its boundaries; (2) a definition of a role for the neighborhood planning process to enable local government/ neighborhood collaborative action to be taken; (3) technical and financial resources form a long-term partnership between the local government and neighborhood and community organizations; and (4) shorter and more detailed time frames for implementation than comprehensive planning. The intention is to balance citywide planning goals and policies with "an all-inclusive and meaningful citizen oriented process" that identifies neighborhood priorities and issues and reconciles conflicts between the two, where they exist.[77] Plans resulting from such an effort can conceivably become the blueprint for all local government, non -profit, and community revitalization efforts.[78]

A number of states and cities have established programs that have formalized the role of neighborhoods in the planning process. The examples below involve planning processes that have supporting statutes or ordinances.

Minnesota. Minnesota statutes authorize first class cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) to establish neighborhood revitalization programs (NRPs) and expend funds generated by tax increment financing for those programs.[79] Neighborhood planning workshops organized by city officials are responsible for preparing neighborhood action plans. These workshops must be conducted in such a way that available resources, information, and technical assistance are presented to interested persons in the neighborhood.

NRP cities must establish a policy board made up of representatives of governmental agencies within the city, such as the city council, county board, school board, city-wide library and park board, the mayor or his designate, and representatives from the city's house of representatives and state senate delegations. The policy board may also include representatives of city-wide community organizations, neighborhood organizations, business owners, labor, and neighborhood residents, when invited by the governmental members of the policy board.

The policy board is delegated the authority to enter into contracts and expend funds, and is authorized to enter into agreements with governmental agencies and with non-governmental organizations represented on the policy board for services required to implement the NRP plan. Plans prepared by neighborhood planning workshops are submitted to the policy board which has jurisdiction to review, modify, and approve. The policy board forwards its recommendations for final action to the governing bodies of the governments represented on the policy board. Final approval is given by the governing bodies that have programmatic jurisdiction over specific aspects of the plan.

Atlanta. The Atlanta City Code directs the department of budget and planning to designate Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), defined as "geographic areas composed of one (1) or more contiguous neighborhoods" that are based on criteria established by the department and approved by the city council. NPUs may comprise as many, or as few, neighborhoods as practicable and may cross council district boundaries. In designating NPUs, the department must consider the existing boundaries of citizens' organizations and must establish a process for neighborhood boundary change. A neighborhood planning committee is established within each NPU with authority to "recommend [to any body or official with final decision-making authority] an action, a policy or a comprehensive plan. . . on any matter affecting the livability of the neighborhood." Voting membership is open to all residents over 18 and all organizations owning property or having a place of business or profession within the NPU.[80]

District of Columbia. The District of Columbia code authorizes the creation of advisory neighborhood commissions (ANCs) following the receipt of a petition signed by five percent of the registered voters in a previously designated neighborhood commission area. Commission members are chosen in non-partisan elections which are administered by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. ANCs have the authority to employ staff and receive and expend public funds for public purposes within the area. They are organized to give advice on matters of public policy, including planning, streets, recreation, social services programs, health, safety, and sanitation in the neighborhood commission area. The statute requires the D.C. government to allot funds to the ANCs from District general revenues, with the amount of the funds allocated based on the population ratio of the neighborhood to the District. The District Council is required to establish procedures and guidelines for handling funds and accounts and for employing people, which are to replicate the regular budgetary and auditing procedures and the employee merit system of the District as far as practicable.[81]

The District of Columbia code also provides for neighborhood planning councils (NPCs), two per election ward, with jurisdictional boundaries drawn by the mayor through rulemaking after each decennial census. The NPCs are to be approximately equal in population. NPC elections are held in even-numbered years on a date set by the mayor by rulemaking. NPCs have the authority to participate in the development, implementation, and evaluation of programs for children and youths.[82]

New York City. In New York City, Community Planning Boards (CPBs) have had an advisory land-use role mandated by the city charter since 1961.[83] CPBs participate in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), administered by the City Planning Commission for major building and improvement projects, and all proposed land uses that do not have "as of right" status under the city's zoning code. Extensive technical and environmental reviews are conducted, as well as community review, before the planning commission makes its recommendation for final action by the city council.[84]

(2) Independently-organized efforts by indigenous neighborhood organizations. Neighborhood planning efforts in this second category are not boards or commissions of the local government. Rather, they may be business, civic, or neighborhood development groups with interests in broader efforts to maintain or revitalize the neighborhood.[85] Good examples are civic groups that are set up to look after the economic well-being of the central business district. Alternately, they may be informal bodies that spring out of a neighborhood response to a given issue, such as a rezoning or the location of a public facility, focusing on excluding perceived threats to the neighborhood, the extreme of which is the "not-in-my-backyard" (NIMBY) syndrome.

Commenting that while it is a "fact of life" and that traditional participation by neighborhood organizations has been "highly informal and disorganized," the American Law Institute's Model Land Development Code proposed a mechanism to confer some official status on such groups in the land development process. It authorized "qualified neighborhood organizations" to participate in the development process if the proposed organization had articulated boundaries for its area of operation, represented more than half of the adults residing within the boundaries as evidenced by membership rosters, has at least 50 members, and at least 50 percent of the area of land within the boundaries is developed for residential use. The intent of the designation was to give such groups the right to participate in administrative hearings, request and receive notices of pending land-use proposals, and bring judicial proceedings concerning land development and enforcement orders. Planning legislation may typically give only owners of property within a certain distance of a particular development proposal the ability to participate in administrative hearings (such as those for variances and conditional use permits), but this right is often not extended to organizations. The designation would eliminate any question of standing of such organizations to participate in such decision-making and was also intended, in the ALI's words, to reduce the "erratic participation [of such groups] in the existing process." [86]

The model statutes that follow are intended to provide a formal organizational structure for neighborhood planning in local government, whether by public or private groups that represent neighborhood or community interests. Section 7-108 establishes a procedure by which a local legislative body may designate neighborhood boundaries. Section 7-109 authorizes the creation of neighborhood planning councils in such designated neighborhoods to advise the local government's legislative body, planning commission, and other boards and commissions and describes a variety of advisory powers that a council may implement.[87]

Section 7-110 is an adaptation of the ALI Code's approach. Because it focuses on private groups, whether non-profit or for-profit, it operates independently of any type of formal, local government- established planning process. Groups that are "recognized" under this model statute may obviously perform planning activities on their own, such as raise money to prepare a plan that could later be adopted by the local government but, as private organizations, do not need any express governmental authorization to do so.

One problem, of course, is that by granting standing to neighborhood and community groups, the legislative body may institutionalize opposition to any proposals for change in the neighborhood that require action by the local government in some way. By recognizing such groups, the local government is cloaking them with a collective authority and a power that they would not have otherwise have had (other than the power of individual members would have as voters or property owners). This is the dark side of "reducing erratic participation." Thus, the decision to recognize such groups in a formal manner is at bottom a political one. Still, the model statute attempts to offset problems that may result when a small coterie of angry individuals dominate a neighborhood or community organization by requiring full participating membership be open at least to all registered voters within its boundaries (as one alternative) and by establishing mimimum numbers of members (here, at least 50), thus ensuring a spectrum of views.

7-108 Designation of Neighborhoods

(1) The legislative body of a local government may divide all or a portion of the geographic area within the local government into designated neighborhoods through the establishment of boundaries in the manner provided for in this Section.

(2) Designation of a neighborhood or alteration of boundaries of a previously-designated neighborhood may be initiated by the legislative body itself, by the local planning agency, by the local planning commission, or by any private person or organization residing or conducting business within the proposed neighborhood by contacting the legislative body and requesting such designation or alteration in writing.

(3) After the designation or boundary alteration process has been initiated and prior to the actual delineation or alteration of any neighborhood boundary, the legislation body, or any department, agency, or task force appointed by the legislative body, shall, as appropriate, conduct relevant studies, consult with neighborhood or business groups, administrative officials of the local government, and other public or nonprofit agencies, and shall convene public informational meetings.

(4) The legislative body shall hold at least [1] public hearing in each proposed designated neighborhood, notice of which shall be published in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the proposed neighborhood at least [30] days in advance of the hearing.

(5) In delineating neighborhood boundaries, the legislative body shall take into account, but shall not be limited to, the following criteria:

(a) patterns of development, including property lines;

(b) physical boundaries such as landforms, water bodies, or major thoroughfares;

(c) population distribution and/or other socio-economic and cultural factors;

(d) census tract boundaries;

(e) political boundaries, such as wards or precincts;

(f) character of residential and non-residential buildings, such as buildings of a certain architectural style or period of construction;

(g) existing boundaries of elementary and secondary schools' attendance zones;

(h) any recommendations for neighborhood boundaries contained in the local comprehensive plan;

(i) the existence of neighborhood organizations and any preferences that may be expressed by resolution of their governing boards; and

(j) the attitude of residents of proposed neighborhoods, as expressed through surveys or other means.

(6) Any action by the legislative body in designating a neighborhood or altering the boundaries of a previously-designated neighborhood shall be by ordinance, provided that before the legislative body acts, it shall first refer the matter to the planning commission, if one exists, or local planning agency for a recommendation in writing. If the planning commission or local planning agency does not make a written recommendation within [30] days after the matter has been referred to it, the legislative body may then take action.

(7) At least once after each decennial census, the local legislative body shall reconsider the delineation of neighborhood boundaries and may alter them pursuant to the criteria and procedures set forth in this Section.

7-109 Neighborhood Planning Councils

(1) Upon receiving a petition signed by at least [10] percent of the registered voters in a neighborhood that has been designated pursuant to Section [7-108] above, the legislative body of a local government may, by ordinance, establish a neighborhood planning council for that neighborhood for the purposes of paragraph (2) below. Before establishing any neighborhood planning council, however, the legislative body shall first enact, by ordinance, uniform procedures and requirements for: the appointment and removal of neighborhood planning council members; qualifications to serve as a member of a council (provided that such qualification requirements ensure the participation of, wherever possible, homeowners, renters, business owners, representatives of neighborhood institutions, persons under age 19, and persons over age 64); terms of council members; notice of meetings; and such other matters as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of paragraph (2) below. The legislative body may vary by designated neighborhood the number of members who may serve on a neighborhood planning council and the composition of individual councils.

(2) A neighborhood planning council established under this Section may:

(a) advise and assist the legislative body, the local planning commission, and the local planning agency in the formulation of plans affecting the designated neighborhood;

[(b) develop and propose, for consideration by the legislative body and the local planning commission, neighborhood plans, as described in Section [7-301] below, affecting the designated neighborhood, under rules and guidelines adopted by the local planning agency;]

— Some local governments may want to authorize the neighborhood planning councils to prepare plans for consideration by the local legislative body. For example, the City of Seattle has adopted such a program, which includes grants to neighborhood groups.[88] The Seattle Planning Department issues neighborhood planning guidelines to describe in detail how to create a neighborhood plan.

(c) review, comment, and make recommendations on applications for proposed developments that are located within the designated neighborhood and under consideration by the legislative body or by any board or commission of the local government where such application requires a public hearing pursuant to state statute or local ordinance;

(d) review, comment, and make recommendations on any local capital improvement proposed to be undertaken by the local government that would affect the designated neighborhood;

(e) review, comment, and make recommendations on ordinances or rules that are existing or under consideration by the legislative body or by any board or commission of the local government that affect or would affect the designated neighborhood;

(f) review, comment, and make recommendations to any governmental agency, or nonprofit or for-profit organization that is considering actions that affect or would affect the designated neighborhood; and

(g) hold public workshops and meetings on matters affecting the designated neighborhood.

(3) A neighborhood planning council established under this Section shall adopt rules for the conduct of its business. All rules adopted by a neighborhood planning council shall be public records.

(4) A neighborhood planning council shall keep a record of its findings, resolutions, recommendations, transactions, and minutes of meetings, which record shall be public record.

(5) All meetings of a neighborhood planning council shall be open to the public.

(6) In order to pay the expenses of supporting any neighborhood planning councils established under this Section, the legislative body of a local government may appropriate monies out of its general fund.

7-110 Neighborhood and Community Organizations; Recognition

(1) [In addition to establishing neighborhood planning councils pursuant to Section [7-109] above,] [T]he legislative body of a local government may, by ordinance, recognize a neighborhood or community organization for the purposes of paragraph (2) below.

(2) A neighborhood or community organization recognized under this Section may:

(a) participate in administrative hearings pursuant to Section [10-207(5)], administrative appeals pursuant to Section [10-209(1)(b)] and [10-302(3)(b)], and judicial review pursuant to Section [10-607(5)]; and

— Note that the right to participate is "pursuant to" the relevant Sections. These Sections typically impose further prerequisites upon participation by a neighborhood or community organization, such as being aggrieved or adversely affected.

(b) request and receive notices under Sections [7-401(4)], [8-103(6)], [8-106(3)(c)], [10-206(1)], and [10-210(3)(b)].

(3) The legislative body may enact an ordinance recognizing a neighborhood or community organization under this Section if it finds that:

(a) the neighborhood or community organization has filed an application with the local government showing:

1. its proposed boundaries, which encompass, at least in part, land within the jurisdiction of the local government,

2. the name and address of its representative or office for the receipt of notices and other communications, and

3. the names and addresses of its officers and directors.

(b) the neighborhood or community organization represents more than [half] of the persons 18 years or older residing within its boundaries, for all or at least [6] months of the calendar year, such representation to be shown by membership or other evidence such as surveys or census data satisfactory to the legislative body;

(c) the neighborhood or community organization demonstrates that it has at least [50] members;

(d) at least [50] per cent of the area of the land within the boundaries of the neighborhood or community organization is developed for residential use [or is available for residential use under the existing development controls]; and

[(e) full participating membership in the neighborhood or community organization shall be open to all registered voters within its boundaries and may, if the organization so decides, also be open to all persons owning property or businesses within its boundaries or who work at businesses within its boundaries.]


[(e) full participating membership in the neighborhood or community organization shall be open to all registered voters within its boundaries and to all persons owning property or businesses within its boundaries or who work at businesses within in its boundaries].

(4) The legislative body shall not refuse to recognize a neighborhood or community organization as a representative of a particular area merely because one or more other recognized neighborhood or community organizations also represent part or all of the same geographic area as long as each complies with the requirements of this Section.

(5) The legislative body may delegate to an officer of the local government the responsibilities for receiving applications for initial recognition and for notifying recognized neighborhood or community organizations of the necessity for renewal, as provided for in paragraph (6) below.

(6) The legislative body shall establish an interval of time after which recognitions under this Section shall expire unless renewed, which interval shall not be less than [2] years or greater than [5] years. The legislative body shall give notice to the neighborhood or community organization of the necessity for renewal not more than [6] months nor less than [3] months prior to the expiration date. Renewal shall be approved by the legislative body in the same manner as the initial application.

(7) A neighborhood or community organization recognized under this Section shall not constitute a board, commission, agency, or representative of the local government that has recognized it.

The Local Comprehensive Plan

While several states had adopted legislation authorizing the creation of city or county planning commissions with the authority to adopt a master or comprehensive plan by the mid-1920s,[89] it was not until the publication of the Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA) in 1928 that the concept of such a long-range plan received a formal endorsement in a statutory model. Under the SCPEA, the principal function of the municipal planning commission was to prepare and adopt a "master plan for the physical development of the municipality, including any areas outside of its boundaries which, in the commission's judgment, bear relation to the planning of the municipality."[90] The SCPEA's drafters wrote that they deliberately avoided an "express definition" of a master plan, preferring instead provisions "which illustrate the subject matter that a master plan should consider."[91] According to the act:

Such plan, with the accompanying maps, plats, charts, and descriptive matter shall show the commission's recommendations of said territory, including, among other things, the general location, character and extent of streets, viaducts, subways, bridges, waterways, water fronts, boulevards, parkways, playgrounds, square, parks, aviation fields, and other public ways, grounds and open spaces, the general location of public buildings and other public property, and the general location and extent of public utilities and terminals, whether publicly or privately owned or operated, for water, light, sanitation, transportation, communication, power, and other purposes; also the removal, relocation, widening, narrowing, vacating, abandonment, change of use or extension of any of the foregoing ways, grounds, open spaces, buildings, property, utilities, or terminals; as well as a zoning plan for the control of the height, area, bulk, location, and use or buildings and premises.[92]

Underlying the plan was to be a series of "careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of present conditions and future growth of the municipality and with due regard to its relation to neighboring territory."[93] As work on the whole master plan progressed, the SCPEA permitted the planning commission to adopt and publish "a part or parts" that could govern one or more major sections or divisions of the municipality or one or more of the functional areas to be included in the plan. The commission could also "from time to time amend, extend, or add to the plan."[94]

As proposed in the SCPEA, the master plan really had three functions: (1) a coordinative device for the siting and construction of public works (including public utilities); (2) a means for proposing a "plan" for the regulation of land use through zoning controls; and (3) a mechanism for coordinating the design of subdivisions and the construction of streets and related improvements. Once the commission adopted the master plan, or a part addressing a division of the municipality or a functional area, proposed public improvements had to be referred to the commission.[95] Commission disapproval of the location, character, and extent of such improvements could only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the city council. The "zoning plan" provision in the description of the master plan was in fact a precursor to the contemporary land-use element (see below) of a comprehensive plan — a general schematic to control public and private land uses and their character, intensity, and location. The street plan could be adopted separately and, once that happened, the planning commission could then regulate subdivisions. In addition, the street plan was used to design a detailed plat showing the land which the commission recommended to be reserved for public streets. This plat, after adoption by the city council, was intended to control private building in the bed of mapped but unopened streets[96] and to prevent building on lots that had no access to a publicly-approved street.[97]

Criticisms of the SCPEA

The SCPEA and its companion, the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), have been the subject of much criticism in planning literature. These criticisms may be summarized as follows:

(1) Optional plan-making; ambiguous plan description. Planning was permissive, rather than mandatory under the SCPEA; it did not require the preparation of master plans or the updating of those plans with any frequency. Nor were sanctions imposed for failure to plan. Plans could be adopted on a piecemeal basis. The SCPEA did not describe fundamental or indispensable elements of a master plan.[98] Indeed, it avoided an express definition, as noted, giving only examples of the subject matter to be included in a plan. Consequently, according to one planning historian, "[c]ountless cities produced lopsided plans omitting some of the essential community facilities and almost none included the full complement of utilities."[99]

(2) Exclusion of elected officials from plan-making. A feature of the SCPEA was a lay appointed planning commission, discussed above. Only the planning commission had the authority to develop and adopt the master plan and employ a planning staff. With the exception of its power to adopt the map showing proposed streets, the legislative body was largely shut out of the plan-making process. Elected officials were to refer planning matters to the commission for clear-headed, non partisan advice. These exclusions and limitations reflected the philosophy of the municipal reform movement in the U.S. in the 1920s.

(3) Confusion of land-use element with zoning plan. The SZEA required that zoning regulations be "in accordance with a comprehensive plan." It did not define what a "comprehensive plan" was, but in a footnote attempted to clarify the phrase with the explanation: "This will prevent haphazard or piecemeal zoning. No zoning should be done without such a comprehensive study."[100] Both acts used the term "zoning plan" to describe a map of zoning districts developed as part of the proposed regulatory scheme. The SCPEA included a "zoning plan" as an element of the "master plan." It did not describe or list a land-use element — the guiding policy framework for land-use regulations — as a component of the master plan. As a result, the SZEA language "thus encouraged overall zoning unsupported by a thoughtfully prepared general plan for the future development of the city."[101] Professor Daniel R. Mandelker has speculated that "[p]erhaps the zoning plan requirement reflected the decision to publish the zoning act before the planning act. Modern planning legislation does not usually require a zoning plan but does require a land use element."[102]

Another view is that the practice in the 1920s was to prepare a detailed zoning plan as part of the the comprehensive plan. City Planning Consultant Harland Bartholomew, in a paper to the National Conference on City Planning in New York in 1928, "What is Comprehensive Zoning?" described the underlying qualitative and quantitative study and analysis of city growth that should precede the preparation of a zoning plan. Referring to the "in accordance with a comprehensive plan" and related language in the SZEA, Bartholomew catalogs a series of considerations and issues stemming from the act's language that could well be a work program for a contemporary comprehensive plan.[103] Bartholomew's paper supports the notion that, at a minimum, the zoning plan was to have been grounded in technical reports that documented its rationale. In a 1929 text, Our Cities To-Day and To-Morrow: A Survey of Planning and Zoning Progress in the United States, Theodora Kimball Hubbard and Henry Vincent Hubbard, honorary librarian of the American City Planning Institute and Norton Professor of Regional Planning at Harvard University, respectively, confirms the approach described by Bartholomew. The Hubbards listed zoning as one of the six main elements of a comprehensive city plan.[104]

Model Laws by Bassett and Williams and Bettman

Harvard University Press published Model Laws for Planning Cities, Counties, and States, Including Zoning, Subdivision Regulation, and Protection of Official Map in 1935. Its authors were Edward M. Bassett, Frank B. Williams, and Alfred Bettman. Bassett and Bettman were, of course, on the advisory committee that drafted the SZEA and the SCPEA.

The model planning acts drafted by Bassett and Williams together and by Bettman alone tended to track the language in the SCPEA. Both models provided that the master plan should be adopted by the planning commission.[105] The Bassett/Williams model was emphatic that the plan's "purpose and effect shall be solely to aid the planning board in the performance of its duties."[106] The Bettman model, however, was somewhat more expansive in its scope by adding to the plan's coverage of "the general location, character, layout and extent of community centers and neighborhood units; and the general character, extent, and layout of the replanning of blighted districts and slum areas."[107]

Bettman was later to reverse himself on the question of "no express definition" of a master plan in a statute. In 1945, under the sponsorship of the American Society of Planning Officials, one of APA's predecessor organizations, he published a draft of a model urban development act which included an express definition of what by that time had been rediscovered as the essential physical elements with which a plan must deal. The definition read:

The planning commission is . . . directed to make . . . a master plan of the municipality . . . which shall include at least a land-use plan which designates the proposed general distribution and general locations and extents of uses of the land for housing, business, industry, communication and transportation terminals, recreation, education, public buildings, public utilities and works, public reservations and other categories of public and private uses of the land.[108]

It is notable that in this definition the term "zoning plan" does not appear. Instead, the term "land-use plan" is the new minimal formulation of the master plan.

Section 701 Planning

A major influence in the approach to local plan-making was the administrative guidelines for the now-defunct urban planning assistance program (under Section 701 of the Housing Act of 1954, as amended) by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its predecessor agencies. This program provided aid to local governments as well as state and regional planning agencies over a 27-year life span.[109] In order to qualify for federal urban renewal aid — and later, for other grants, a local government had to prepare a plan consisting of land-use and housing elements at a minimum, as well as circulation, public utilities, and community facilities elements.[110]

Chapin, Urban Land Use Planning

Also influential was Urban Land Use Planning by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Planning Professor F. Stuart Chapin, Jr. The 1957, 1965, 1979, and 1995 editions of the book were a widely used text and reference by planners. The contribution of this book is discussed in the commentary to the land-use element, Section 7-204, below.

Kent, The Urban General Plan

The next major rethinking of the comprehensive plan concept was in 1964 with the publication of The Urban General Plan by T.J. Kent, Jr., a professor of city planning at the University of California at Berkeley. Based in part on his experience in California, Kent described the general plan as:

the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development; the published general-plan document must include a single, unified general physical design for the community, and it must attempt to clarify the relationships between physical-development policies and social and economic goals.[111]

Kent stated that the general plan should have five physical elements: (1) land use, which he termed the "working-and-living areas section" because this phrase "emphasizes basic human activities rather than the convenient but frequently misleading method of simply classifying the way land is used;" (2) circulation, primarily concerned with the street and highway system and the public transportation routes and stations; (3) community facilities, dealing with the variety of public activities that involve physical development, such as schools, parks, playgrounds, and civic centers; (4) civic design, focusing on the major physical features and the policy decisions of the plan that are the result of aesthetic judgments; and (5) utilities, such as water supply, drainage, sewage disposal and other utility systems insofar as the other physical elements of the plan depend on them. Kent contended that cities may have need for other elements in addition to these five, such as those dealing with special sections of a community like a waterfront or areas around public institutions such as colleges and universities.[112]

He favored a general plan document that included "a comprehensive large-scale drawing of the general physical design of the whole community and a written summary describing the major policies and proposals of the plan."[113] He also advocated a statement of community goals, "including a description of the primary and secondary social and economic roles that a city is to play in the region."[114] The plan document typically included, he said, overviews of population, the local and regional economy, the geographic setting, and the historical development of the community. He added that the plan document also needed to assess the community's present conditions and point out major problems and issues. "The opportunities and needs of the future should be discussed. Assumptions and forecasts should be stated," he said.[115] The plan document should also be long-range, with a horizon of 20 to 30 years.

Kent crystallized a refinement of the local comprehensive plan by explicitly defining what a plan and its elements were. But as important was his belief that the principal client of the plan was the legislative body, not the planning commission. "The general plan," he wrote, "is first and foremost an instrument through which the city council considers, debates, and finally agrees upon a coherent, unified set of general long range policies for the physical development of the community. The general plan should be designed, therefore, to facilitate the work of the councilmen [sic] as their attempt to focus their attention on the community's major development problems and opportunities."[116] In formulating the plan, the council's advisors should present alternatives (as well as the consequences that flow from each alternative) that are available to the community so the council could select from among them. Kent contended that this was not done often enough. "Too many professionals make their own selection of an alternative and present it to the council as a single firm recommendation."[117]

Kent also advocated an annual review and amendment of the plan and a major reconsideration of the entire plan document every ten years. The review and amendment process should be timed just prior to consideration of the annual budget, he said. This brings about "a natural focus on questions of physical development policy [by the council] shortly before they must make decisions on financial policy concerning the allocation of funds for capital improvements." The procedure also "helps place the principal controversial issues of the preceding year in perspective and encourages the leaders of the council to set their sights on the major steps to be taken during the coming year to carry out the plan. Finally, an annual review and amendment process responds to the criticism that plans date quickly and become "an actual detriment to those working to bring about improvements to the physical environment."[118]

The 10-year reconsideration — at a scale to match the original preparation of the plan — was necessary because many long-range trends and issues would not be discernible at the annual review. Indeed, he said, it was necessary from time to time for planners and citizen policy makers to "step back from, re-examine, and recreate their basic physical development policies."[119]

More recent approaches to the local comprehensive plan and influences on its preparation are discussed in the commentary to the land-use element in Section 7-205 below.

Growing Smart Models for a Local Comprehensive Plan

In the model legislation that follows (Sections 7-201 et. seq.), the local comprehensive plan is cast as a series of required and optional elements. The required elements include two "bookends:" an issues and opportunities element intended to set the stage for the preparation of other elements; and a program of implementation that proposes measures and assigns responsibility for carrying out the plan. The other required functional elements are for land use, transportation, community facilities (which includes utilities), and housing as well as economic development, critical and sensitive areas, and natural hazards (the local government may opt out of preparing these elements if circumstances may not justify them). In addition, the model statutes include a variety of optional elements.

Several themes run through the model comprehensive planning legislation:

(1) Greater detail in plan element specifications. The Legislative Guidebook's introduction observes that many planning and zoning enabling acts lack a good description of comprehensive and functional plans. While a sketchy outline of what may be in a plan may be adequate in theory for legislation, in practice such abbreviated statutes do not provide sufficient guidance to local governments to devise a good plan, as opposed to a minimally-effective one. When a statute is not precise on the nature of the plan, it may be difficult for a local government to prepare the plan document. The statutes' chief users will be laypersons — elected and appointed officials — (as well as planners and other professionals) who ought to be able to pick up the statutes and understand what kind of plan document is called for. Consequently, the model legislation errs on the side of detail in characterizing what a plan should contain. Detailing the types of analyses that must underpin plans and describing the substantive contents of plan elements are two ways of ensuring that thorough, systematic, and useful documents will result from the planning process.[120]

The descriptions of the local comprehensive plan and its elements in the Guidebook has been written so that different sizes of local governments, or those at different stages in their lifecycle, can benefit from its provisions. Still, some local governments may place emphasis on certain elements that are relevant to them.

For example, in large central cities and mature, inner-ring suburbs the land-use element may focus on reuse and redevelopment. The local planning agency may also decide to formulate separate subplans for neighborhoods and redevelopment areas. The transportation element may propose few new streets. Instead, measures to enhance efficient use of existing streets as well as increased mass transit may be important. Similarly, the community facilities element may stress repair and replacement of existing facilities. The housing element may focus on the needs of existing residents and especially on rehabilitation of existing housing stock. Economic development efforts will be directed at retention of existing businesses as well as attraction of new ones. In this regard, the local government may also be concerned about establishing job retraining programs. Historic preservation — because there may be a large stock of older buildings with some historic significance — may also receive priority attention.

By contrast, developing communities will be concerned with the transition of undeveloped land into developed sites through the land use element. In that context, there may be greater emphasis on preservation of agricultural and forest lands and protection of critical and sensitive areas. The transportation element's attention may be directed, in part, on identifying the location of and standards for new streets. The community facilities element's orientation will be on construction of new facilities, such as water and wastewater plants and schools, and purchase of new park sites. The housing element would focus on not only the needs of existing residents, but those expected to reside in the community, particularly as to whether the housing stock was balanced for all income groups, especially low- and moderate-income households. Economic development planning will typically be aimed at attraction of new businesses and industries. Some historic areas may exist, but a community may decide that it wants to establish design standards for certain areas through the community design element.

(2) Regional context for preparing plans. Consistent with T.J. Kent's proposal in The Urban General Plan, the plan descriptions, especially in Sections 7-203 to 7-204, call for supporting analyses and projections to be conducted in the context of what is occurring in the surrounding region. The plan element descriptions provide for express linkages with a regional comprehensive plan (where such a plan has been prepared) and its supporting economic, demographic, and related projections.

(3) Integration among plan elements. Just as the model legislation calls for planning to be done in the broader context of the surrounding region, it also suggests that the individual plan elements be consistent with one another by sharing common assumptions. This is especially important as individual plan elements are updated at different points in time. For example, sewage treatment plants proposed in the community facilities element would be designed around the same forecasts for population and job growth that are used in the land-use element. Similarly, the analysis of transportation needs in the transportation element ought to be derived from the assumptions about development patterns in the land-use element. The assumptions about needed housing ought to be reflected in the mix of dwelling unit types and densities shown in the land-use element.

(4) Establishment of citizen participation processes. The model statutes direct the establishment of formal citizen participation processes to inform plan-making, but leave the exact design of that process to the local government (see Section 7-203, Issues and Opportunities Element, and Section 7-401, Public Participation Procedures and Public Hearings). As the commentary to Section 7-401 observes, the traditional approach has been to have a required public hearing, but that sole opportunity for input is often inadequate for building the necessary consensus to give the plan an independent legitimacy, especially in addressing complex, controversial public issues where multiple interests are at stake. In an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Judith Innes, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California at Berkeley, argues, in a review of several case studies about public participation in plan-making, that "consensus building, properly designed, can produce decisions that approximate the public interest."[121] Consensus building in local planning is important, she says, because it broadens understanding about consequences of plan proposals, beyond the intuitive knowledge and experience of planners. It is also important because it confers new authority on participants, such as residents or businesses from neighboring jurisdictions who would otherwise have little legitimacy in local planning decisions, thus "shift[ing] long-standing power relationships and perhaps making the [local government] the arena for conflicts that now take place at the state or regional level."[122] When plans are the result of consensus building, she says, they are much more likely to be implemented. Thus, through both the preparation of the Issues and Opportunities element and the express requirement that the local government adopt citizen participation procedures before plan-making commences, the model statutes incorporates the perspective advocated by Innes.

(5) Assumption of on-going evaluation and periodic revision — a continuing planning process. As noted, the SCPEA (and planning statutes based on it) provided for the amendment of the local plan, but did not dictate the interval in which this was to occur. To some extent, this has resulted in an impression of planning "as a child of architecture. . . 'to be for a static city to be built all at once and to be preserved indefinitely without change.'"[123] In order to avoid a comprehensive plan that dates quickly after adoption and that is perceived as an inflexible document, the model legislation below (see Sections 7-405 and 7-406) adopts T.J. Kent's view, discussed above, that the local government must conduct an ongoing evaluation of the plan, at regular intervals (at least every five years, but as often as once a year) with periodic revisions (at least every ten years) to account for changes in its underlying demographic, economic, and environmental assumptions.

(6) The need to understand the functioning of the regional and local land market. The model statutes stress that local comprehensive planning should consider the impact on the supply and demand for land at the local and regional level (see Sections 7-204, 7-204. 1, and 7-406). A plan is only as good as the information upon which it is based. As a practical matter, local plans, in influencing the location, timing, and amount of growth, do in fact manage the land market. In order for such planning to be realistic, the local government must obtain feedback on the operation of the land market so that it can periodically update its projections, and the plans that are the result of those projections.

(7) Importance of the taking issue. The model legislation attempts to account for the impact of the taking issue — the problem under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when a plan or a regulation deprives a landowner of reasonable economic use of his or her property — through clarification of the public purpose and related planning rationale behind any regulatory measures that severely limit use of land and through cautious drafting. A good example is the corridor map provision in Section 7-501. The model statute first requires that the corridor map, a device that reserves land for the construction of transportation facilities, must be based on the local comprehensive plan, and especially with the thoroughfare plan; no local government can adopt a corridor map unless it has first adopted a local comprehensive plan with a thoroughfare plan. Moreover, if the landowner then applies for a permit for development on the reserved land, there must be a hearing, and the reviewing body (e.g., the planning commission) can choose from a series of alternatives in determining whether or not to approve the permit. For example, the body can recommend approving the permit, approving it with conditions, eliminating or altering the reservation, or taking the right-of-way by eminent domain. Thus, the legislation asks that the local government be very clear and consistent in determining the need for the reservation through long-range planning and give the landowner the benefit of the doubt when it comes to resolving the question of whether the reserved land will in fact be needed for a public purpose.

(8) Preference for mandatory planning. Some 24 states have some form of mandatory planning for state or regional agencies or local governments.[124] These states include, for example, California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. Planning can be required for local governments that are in certain areas of the state (as in North Carolina, which mandates land-use planning for 20 coastal counties)[125] or that meet certain population size or growth rate thresholds (as in Washington).[126] Some states go so far as to have a certification process for local plans that indicates that the plans have satisfied statutory criteria or administrative rules.[127]

The new planning mandates, one commentary has noted, "are state responses to shortcomings in local planning," in part because "local plans often fail to address key issues, such as the overall growth patterns, economic development, and affordable housing."[128] They are also a means by which states ask local governments to incorporate state goals into local land-use policy (e.g., Maryland, Oregon, and Florida) to ensure that the two levels of government are not working at cross purposes.

The decision to mandate planning for local governments is, at bottom, a political one and has a variety of advantages and disadvantages (see Table 7-1).[129] But one nationwide study that looked at mandatory planning from the particular perspective of natural hazards found that where states required local governments to prepare comprehensive plans, "plans have more substantive factual underpinning, goals tend to be stated more clearly, and in states such as Florida, there is a strong emphasis on implementation that substantially strengthens the role of planners and other policy makers and the planning function. . . The data suggest that state planning mandates do make a difference in improving the amount, character, and quality of planning and therefore are worthy of consideration by other states." [130]

Consequently, while the models that follow do permit individual states to make a decision whether or not to mandate planning by local government and to what degree, it is likely that such a mandate will result in better plans as well as better implementation.

Are All Local Comprehensive Plan Elements Needed?

As noted above, the Legislative Guidebook lays out a full complement of plan elements, but all local governments in a state may not need the kind or level of direction contemplated in these models. A number of factors will enter into the decision, including: (a) the priorities of the state legislature and its willingness to provide financial assistance for planning; (b) the capacity of state officials to administer the statutes and provide guidance to local governments; (c) the general authority of particular local governments; and (d) the technical and financial capacity of local governments to prepare plans (or the ability to supplement capacity).

Different classes or types of local governments may have different levels of authority. For example, a local government may have authority under state law to enact zoning, but subdivision responsibility is that of a county or regional planning agency. Consequently, the requirements for local thoroughfare planning in the transportation element may need to be modified. Alternately, some local governments may have the authority to operate water and sewer systems, but others may not. This will affect what is contained in the community facilities element.

In some states, elements that are suggested as optional or subject to an opt-out procedure (e.g., economic development) may be a high priority for the state legislature. States may wish to make opt-out elements completely mandatory, or limit the use of the opt-out mechanism in some specific manner. For example, a state with an ocean coast and a strong interest in preserving its ecosystem could provide that a coastal county or municipality cannot opt out of the critical and sensitive areas element even if they have fewer than five acres of such area. Similarly, agriculture and forest preservation may also be a high priority as well, particularly in metropolitan areas where loss of farmland is pronounced.

Finally, there is the question of detail in the statutes. As the commentary to Section 7-205, Transportation Element, notes below, a state may prefer to detail the statute through administrative rulemaking and guidance rather than to include the specifics suggested by the model statute. This requires, however, a capacity at the state level to draft such rules and provide technical assistance in interpreting them.

The Local Comprehensive Plan

7-201 Local Comprehensive Plan, Generally; Purposes

Alternative 1 — Local Comprehensive Plan as an Advisory Document

(1) The legislative body of a local government [may or shall] cause to be prepared, adopt, and, from time to time, amend, a local comprehensive plan.

(2) The purpose of the local comprehensive plan is to direct the coordinated, efficient, and orderly development of the local government and its environs that will, based on an analysis of present and future needs, best promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare.

Alternative 2 — Local Comprehensive Plan as a Document to Integrate State, Regional, and Local Interests

(1) The legislative body of a local government shall, within [36] months of the effective date of this Act, cause to be prepared and shall adopt a local comprehensive plan, which plan shall be updated and amended at least once every [5] years. The local comprehensive plan shall [be consistent with or be coordinated with or conform to] the state comprehensive plan [, the state land development plan,] and any applicable regional comprehensive and functional plan.

(2) The purpose of the local comprehensive plan is to direct the coordinated, efficient, and orderly development of the local government and its environs that will, based on an analysis of present and future needs, best promote the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare. More specifically, the plan shall:

(a) provide a mechanism by which the goals, policies, and guidelines in the state comprehensive plan, the state land development plan, and any applicable regional comprehensive and functional plan are interpreted and applied to the local government and its environs;

(b) have regard for those state interests identified in Section [2-102];[131]

(c) take into account adopted plans of contiguous local governments to the extent that they affect state, regional, or extrajurisdictional interests;

(d) provide a unified physical design for the development areas within the jurisdiction of the local government;

— The following provisions, from subparagraphs (2)(e) to (2)(r), are optional as they contain statements regarding desired development form or particular interests to be addressed or protected. Such statements, where applicable, may instead be addressed in the goals and policies of the local comprehensive plan itself.

[(e) encourage a pattern of compact and contiguous growth [to be guided into urban or rural growth centers] [designated in accordance with the goals, policies, and guidelines in the state land development plan and in any applicable regional comprehensive plan];]

[(f) establish acceptable level of service and/or performance measures for transportation and community facilities and ensure the adequate and timely provision of those facilities in order to support existing and planned development;]

[(g) direct growth to where infrastructure capacity is available or committed to be available in the future and provide an adequate supply of buildable land for at least [20] years;]

[(h) support development patterns that encourage multimodal transportation options;]

[(i) promote the availability of housing with a range of types and affordability to accommodate persons and households of all types and income levels and in locations that are convenient to employment and quality public and private facilities, and encourage the development of housing that will meet the housing needs identified in any state and/or regional housing plan prepared pursuant to Sections [4-207; 4-208; or 6-203];]

[(j) promote the adequate provision of employment opportunities and the economic health of the region and the local government;

[(k) promote the development of new employment in areas that are convenient to existing housing and public transportation facilities;]

[(l) protect prime agricultural lands from encroachment by urbanization;]

[(m) protect state, regional, and local areas of critical environmental concern;]

[(n) conserve and manage natural resources and the mineral resources base;]

[(o) promote energy conservation;]

[(p) conserve features of significant architectural, scenic, cultural, historical, or archaeological interest;]

[(q) promote good civic design;]

[(r) protect life and property from the effects of natural hazards, such as flooding, winds, wildfires, and unstable lands; and]

(s) take into consideration such other matters that may be logically related to or form an integral part of a plan for the coordinated, efficient, and orderly development of the local government.

7-202 Specifications for Plan Elements and Supporting Studies; Economic, Demographic, and Related Assumptions; Mandatory and Optional Elements; Opt-Out Provisions; Joint Plan or Plan Element Preparation

(1) In preparing the local comprehensive plan, the local planning agency shall undertake supporting studies that are relevant to required or optional elements included in the plan. In undertaking these studies, the local planning agency may use studies conducted by others concerning the future development of the local government.

(2) The local comprehensive plan shall include, at a minimum, the following required elements:

(a) an issues and opportunities element;

(b) a land-use element;

(c) a transportation element;

(d) a community facilities element;

(e) a housing element; and

(f) a program for the implementation of the local comprehensive plan.

— The selection of which elements are mandatory is based on a determination that a local comprehensive plan, regardless of the location or type of community, really would not be complete without each of these sections.

(3) The local comprehensive plan shall also include the following required elements, except as provided in paragraph (5) below:

(a) an economic development element;

(b) a critical and sensitive areas element; and/or

(c) a natural hazards element.

— The model language is drafted, in paragraph (5) below, with an opt-out provision for three discrete mandatory elements. The opt-out provisions are meant to ensure that for those communities where certain natural or economic conditions are prevalent, that these issues are addressed. Since these issues are not applicable to every community nationwide, they are included here as mandatory, with an opt-out feature.

(4) The local comprehensive plan may also include, but shall not be limited to, the following optional elements:

(a) an agriculture, forest [, and scenic] preservation element;

(b) a human services element;

(c) a community design element;

(d) a historic preservation element;

(e) subplans for special planning districts and small areas,[132] including but not limited to neighborhood plans, transit-oriented development plans, and redevelopment area plans; and/or

(f) [other].

The optional elements are those elements that a local government may or may not include in its local comprehensive plan, depending on the nature of the community and the amount of time and money available for preparation of its plan. A local comprehensive plan should be deemed "complete," however, even without the inclusion of any of these optional elements.

(5) A local government may opt out of preparing any of the elements identified in paragraph (3) above if the legislative body adopts a resolution that finds, in writing, that:

(a) in the case of the economic development element, the amount of land used and/or available for commercial and/or industrial development within the jurisdiction of the local government are/is not significant and/or that economic development is not a priority for the local government;

(b) in the case of the critical and sensitive areas element, the amount of land area within the jurisdiction of the local government that potentially constitutes a critical or sensitive area is less than [five] acres or that such land has previously been designated an area of critical state concern pursuant to Sections [5-207] and [5-208];

(c) in the case of the natural hazards element, the probability of exposure to natural hazards within the jurisdiction of the local government is not significant; and/or

(d) [other].

Such finding shall be based upon reasonable evidence specifically referred to in the finding and consistent with the rest of the local comprehensive plan.

(6) In order to provide consistency within a local comprehensive plan, all required and optional elements included in a plan shall be based on the same economic, demographic, and related assumptions and data developed by or for the local government.

— Paragraph (6) ensures that, for example, the community facilities element, which includes proposals for sewage treatment plants, would employ the same assumptions as the land-use element in terms of the population or type of nonresidential land uses to be served. This requirement is intended to prevent a sewage treatment plant from being designed for one projected population while the land-use element is formulated for another.

(7) Each element shall contain a statement explaining how it relates to other elements.

— For example, the transportation element should identify positive and negative impacts on: local land-use patterns (including existing and proposed population densities, intensities, and housing and employment patterns), environmental quality, energy use and resources, existing transportation facilities, and the local government's fiscal capabilities.

(8) The local comprehensive plan shall include a comprehensive plan map at a suitable scale that is a generalized composite of proposals and recommendations contained in all required and optional elements.

[(9) Where the [regional planning agency] has adopted a regional comprehensive plan, the local government shall use the regional comprehensive plan's economic, demographic, and related assumptions and data, pursuant to Section [6-201(5)(a), Alternative 2], as well as regional plan's economic, population, and land-use projections, pursuant to Section [6-201(3)(a), (c), and (i), Alternative 2] in the preparation of the local comprehensive plan.]

— Bracketed language is intended to ensure consistency of the assumptions contained in an adopted regional comprehensive plan in a planning system whose goal is to integrate state, regional, and local interests. Under this approach, local governments in a region would use the same assumptions and projections that the regional planning agency employs in developing the regional comprehensive plan. It will probably be desirable for the regional planning agency to establish an internal process while the regional plan is being prepared by which such projections are reviewed by affected local governments, who would be given the opportunity to critique the assumptions and methodologies and offer alternative projections.

[(10) The local comprehensive plan shall [conform to or be consistent with or be coordinated with] the state comprehensive plan[, state land development plan,] and the applicable regional comprehensive and functional plans and shall be coordinated with the local comprehensive plans of adjoining local governments in order to minimize intergovernmental conflict. To that end, it shall contain a statement describing its relationship to the state comprehensive plan, the regional comprehensive plan, and the local comprehensive plans of adjoining local governments.]

(11) A local unit of government may enter into an agreement with any other local government or governments to jointly prepare a local comprehensive plan or plan element that will include the land area included in their respective jurisdictions, with the costs for the preparation of such a plan or plan element to be shared by the participating governmental units on a proportional basis.

Required Elements

Commentary: Issues and Opportunities Element

Increasingly, contemporary comprehensive plans are initiated or assisted by a communitywide visioning process, a intensive citizen participation effort designed to produce statements of what the community wants to become.[133] A visioning process is intended to allow a community to help better understand the values and concerns of its citizens and use them as a basis for planning, highlight the trends and forces that are affecting the community, articulate a big-picture view to guide short-term decisions and long-term initiatives, and develop programs to achieve its vision.[134] These visioning processes frequently use public or town meetings, focus groups, questionnaires, newsletters, visual preference testing, charettes, and computers to engage citizens in identifying problems and opportunities facing their community and depict a formal expression of an overall image of what a community wants to be and how it wants to look at some point in the future. Indeed, many modern plans include the term "vision" in their titles and/or include an account of the steps followed in the development of the visioning processes.[135]

Despite the popularity of "visioning," it is generally absent from existing state enabling legislation (see, however, the Florida example in the footnote below).[136] Section 7-203 calls for the visioning process to be incorporated into the comprehensive plan as an "issues and opportunities element" which will result in the preparation of a vision statement. How citizens will be involved is left up to the local government to determine. The plan element gives some examples of involvement techniques and factors to be examined in the visioning process. Otherwise it does not stipulate the procedures to be followed, although the element is to contain a statement summarizing those procedures, adopted by the local government pursuant to Section 7-401 (Public Participation Procedures and Public Hearings), as well as any actions resulting from them. What is important is that at the end of the process the local government will have agreed on some central orchestrating themes or concepts that will inform other plan elements and implementing actions.

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