Comprehensive Plans

There are two primary pieces of local land use policy: the comprehensive plan and the zoning code. The comprehensive plan is essentially a vision statement containing general guidelines for development in a local jurisdiction. The plan is then implemented through the zoning code. The zoning code contains concrete rules defining which uses (commercial, residential, etc.) are allowed in each area of town and specifying certain restrictions on those uses, such as economic impact standards or limits on the scale of buildings.

Strong comprehensive plans yield a number of important benefits. In addition to serving as the basis of zoning, plans provide land use officials with guidelines for reviewing development permits and applications to rezone certain sites. Plans that clearly articulate a policy to promote small, local retail businesses and discourage corporate chains will help ensure that these goals are the focus of planning board decisions.

Comprehensive plans also give municipalities legal protection if a particular land use decision is challenged in court.

A growing number of communities are including in their comprehensive plans an intention to preserve and strengthen locally owned businesses, limit commercial development to the downtown or other existing retail districts, and restrict the proliferation of corporate chains.

More Information:


Comprehensive Plan – Caroline, NY

The comprehensive plan in Caroline, New York, calls for "[e]ncouraging locally owned businesses that integrate with the rural residential and agricultural nature of the town, and discouraging commercial development that would negatively affect local agricultural, business, and residential communities."… Read More

Comprehensive Plan – Corvalis, OR

The comprehensive plans requires that the city work to "maintain a low unemployment rate and promote diversification of the local economy" and"support existing businesses and industries and the establishment of locally owned, managed, or controlled small businesses."… Read More

Comprehensive Plan – Kent County, MD

The comprehensive plan lists among its objectives "support [for] small, locally owned businesses" and "prevent[tion of] commercial sprawl outside the county's existing traditional commercial centers."… Read More

Comprehensive Plan – Skaneateles, NY

The town's plan states, "Rather than establishing competing shopping centers in the Town to provide basic goods and services, the Village commercial center. . . should remain the center for shopping in the community."… Read More
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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.