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.
- Comprehensive Planning: A Manual for Maine Communities
This guide, published by the Maine State Planning Office, provides a clear, step-by-step process for developing a comprehensive plan in your community. (it’s geared toward Maine towns, but is useful for communities nationwide.)
- PlannersWeb Articles on Comprehensive Plans
- Under Construction: Tools and Techniques for Local Planning – MN Planning