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Comprehensive Planning is an inclusive process by which a community seeks to manage present conditions and provide for future needs. Though most often associated with guiding future land development, local government comprehensive planning efforts can also include such activities as planning for public and private infrastructure, public facilities and service needs, historic preservation, the environment, and economic development.
The Comprehensive Plan is the formal document produced through the comprehensive planning process described above. At its core, the plan is a guide that captures the vision of what a community wants to be in the future. Sometimes also referred to as a master plan or a general plan, it is the foundational document of long-term planning, land use planning, zoning, and growth management in the United States and enables local government officials and citizens to anticipate and deal constructively with changes occurring within the community. It is a broad effort to address a wide range of community issues and concerns, and to understand the important relationships between each part of a community. Comprehensive Plans usually set a planning horizon of 20-25 years, which avoids the uncertainty of long-term economic and population growth patterns while also avoiding short-term thinking that can weaken a cohesive vision of the future. Typical topics addressed in the plan include an analysis of population change, land use and economic trends, natural and environmental features, housing, transportation systems, and community facilities and services. The local planning commission (City Planning Commission) is responsible for drafting and developing the plan, while the local governing body (Norfolk City Council) is required to adopt the plan.
First and foremost, Virginia State Law, or the Code of Virginia, requires that all local governments have an adopted Comprehensive Plan, which spells out policies for future development to ensure orderly growth and the protection of the public health and welfare of the community. The authority for comprehensive planning in Virginia is found in §15.2-2223 of the Code of Virginia, which states, "The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted, and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity, and general welfare of the inhabitants..."
Secondly, there is great value to a community in developing a Comprehensive Plan and the process itself can be as valuable as the final document. The planning process allows a community to be proactive (vs. reactive) to issues and changes that arise over time, provides guidance for orderly growth and development, provides an opportunity to think regionally, serves as a guide from which to base all decision-making in the present and over time (regardless of turnover in leadership), and can set up the community for grant funding success.
A bit more background, for all the history buffs out there:Two laws from the 1920s created the legal precedent for comprehensive plans—the Standard Zoning Enabling Act and the Standard City Planning Enabling Act, both offering details about the scope of comprehensive planning powers at the local level. Each state provides further mandates and recommendations about the necessary components of comprehensive plans.
The Comprehensive Plan lays the foundation for the Zoning Ordinance, the legal tool for implementing the vision of the future contained in the plan. The plan contains recommendations on land use, housing, transportation, and other areas that are enforced by the Zoning Ordinance; without updating the Zoning Ordinance, many planning goals within a Comprehensive Plan may not be achieved. Along with a community’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the Zoning Ordinance is a primary tool for implementing the vision, goals, and recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan.