Best planning and implementation toolbox

comp_planningComprehensive Plan:

Benefits of Using Tool:
A comprehensive plan is a tool used to provide communities with a blueprint for future long-term (20 years or more) growth and development.   Comprehensive plans typically include several key elements:  a list of issues and opportunities, demographics, existing and future land use, transportation, housing, economic development, infrastructure/community facilities, natural/cultural/historic resources, inter-governmental coordination, and implementation.  A comprehensive plan is typically implemented though zoning and subdivision regulation or other policies and ordinances.  In communities where zoning is not present, the comprehensive plan serves as a guide for public actions and investment with regards to infrastructure and community development.

Section B:
The following are benefits of a comprehensive plan:
  • Provides a process for indentifying community resources, long range community needs, and commonly held goals;
  • Helps to coordinate community participation; 
  • Helps the community better understand the past and present, and determine the roadmap for the future;
  • Helps communities identify and resolve issues;
  • Helps cities and counties integrate decisions about land use, transportation, water capacity, public facilities, natural resources, environmental protection, economic development, housing and other issues;
  • Helps cities and counties maintain fiscal accountability by identifying capital facility needs, estimated costs and anticipated revenues.

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    Comprehensive plans are used by the local government as a framework for making development decisions.  The comprehensive plan, which should be developed through an interactive public involvement process, incorporates the community goals, objectives, and policies for the growth and future development of the community.  Plan components generally include a data collection effort to determine the existing conditions within the community, the identification of the overall vision and goals of the community, and the recommended action steps and policies needed to attain the future vision.  The overall plan provides a guide for decision-makers as the community grows.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    The requirements for comprehensive plans vary from state to state.  Some states strongly recommend that a comprehensive plan be completed by offering grants or other funding incentives to encourage the completion of the plan.  Other states mandate that a comprehensive plan be completed for all counties and municipalities. 

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    Successful comprehensive plans include a strong commitment to community involvement throughout the development of the plan, as well as the understanding and use of innovative public involvement techniques to maximize the opportunity for input.  The use of websites, electronic mailing lists, interactive surveys, and traditional public meetings are all important tools for obtaining community input. The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can make the development of a comprehensive plan more efficient.  GIS can be effectively used in the development and analysis of the existing conditions and the anticipated growth.  There are several sources for obtaining data outside of the local government departments, including the US Census Bureau, and many states provide a GIS clearinghouse where local data is also available.  
  • Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Many jurisdictions have adopted comprehensive plans.  The examples below include successful plans.

  • Greensboro, North Carolina:  This plan is unique because of the focus on communitywide goals and a commitment to inclusivity and social equity for all residents.  
  • Contact:  Greensboro Planning Department, 336-373-2144
    300 West Washing Street
    Greensboro, North 2740
  • Chester County, Pennsylvania: This plan serves as a model for other local governments in Pennsylvania.  The plan focuses on creative planning through the reinvestment in towns, the protection of farmlands and rural areas, and the preservation of natural areas. 
  • Contact: 

    Chester County Planning Commission
    email: landscapes2@chesco.org  
    601 Westtown Road, Suite 270
    P.O. Box 2747
    West Chester, PA 19380

    Through a cooperative interagency effort, the State of Wisconsin has developed guidebooks to assist communities in the development of their comprehensive plans.  Contact:  

    Comprehensive Planning Program
    email: comp.planning@wisconsin.gov 
    101 East Wilson Street, 10th
    Madison, WI

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    While many local governments have adopted comprehensive plans, often these plans are not utilized by the jurisdiction, other than to meet state requirements for having a plan.  In an effort to ensure the viability and usability of local comprehensive plans, the State of Florida requires that local governments review and evaluate their comprehensive plans every seven years to evaluate the plan’s effectiveness through an evaluation and appraisal (EAR) process.   The purpose of the evaluation is to:

  • Identify major issues for the community
  • Review past actions of the local government in implementing the plan since the last EAR
  • Assess the degree to which plan objectives have been achieved
  • Assess both the success and shortcomings of the plan
  • Identify ways that the plan should be changed
  • Ensure effective intergovernmental coordination


  • List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:

    The following provide examples and references for more information regarding comprehensive plans:
  • “Coastal Georgia Comprehensive Plan Agenda”. 2008. Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center.
  • “The Comprehensive Plan in Pennsylvania”. 2001. Department of Community and Economic Development.
  • “Connections 2025 Comprehensive Plan”. 2003. City of Greensboro Planning Department.
  • “A Guide to Preparing an Evaluation and Appraisal Report”. 2004. Florida Department of Community Affairs Division of Community Planning.
  • “Landscapes”. 1996. Chester County Planning Commission.
  • “Marin Countywide Plan”. 2007. Marin County Community Development Agency.
  • “Wisconsin Comprehensive Element Guides”. Division of Intergovernmental Relations.
  • “Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan”. 2008. New York State Department of State Division of Local Government Services.