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Top 10 Elements of Your Community's General Plan

Also known as master plans or comprehensive plans, general plans refer to a community's visions for its development. That includes development standards for:

  • Community development
  • Economic development
  • Land development
  • Transportation planning

County or city councils can implement real estate initiatives for the planning process. The city might develop zoning laws for land use and sustainability of open space. It might also designate areas for affordable housing options. Land use planning can encourage mixed-use categories of land for:

  • Commercial development
  • Residential development
  • Industrial development

The government can also provide capital improvement incentives to community members. For example, the city might offer tax breaks to developers that address a growing local need, such as affordable housing.

How Communities Can Affect Development Patterns

Citywide community engagement can affect the decision-making process. The local demographics of a community can give input to the government for city planning. Planners in a local government's planning commission may use community input to ensure equitable land use.

For example, a plan development team might conduct public outreach for a new development. The public can assist the team with drafting policy documents reflecting the community's goals. The city can hold hearings to hear from citizens about local concerns. The planning commission can then develop land use maps to account for:

  • Built environment or man-made structures that accommodate the public's needs
  • Parks, nonprofit facilities, and open spaces conducive to residents' mental health
  • Urban design promoting a balance between quality of life and use development

Suppose that planners want to create a suburban neighborhood for single-family housing. Developing zoning codes limiting land use in that neighborhood might be in the public interest. For instance, a zoning ordinance in that community might disallow commercial activity. Accordingly, such a community planning area will accommodate families' needs for safety and quiet.

Elements of the General Plan

Few of us are so lucky as to have input into our community's general plan. For most of us, the general plan was developed long before we moved in. In fact, most of us probably have never thought much about the general plan, if we even knew it existed. In most communities, the law affects more than individual property rights. Usually, there are local and state laws describing the required and prohibited elements of the general plan.

If you're moving into a new community, consider being proactive. You might have the chance to give input into what elements should be included in the general plan. Below are the 10 most common elements and what they cover.

  1. Housing: The housing element sets standards for new and existing homes in the community, covering everything from size to style to color.
  2. Design: A design element includes aesthetic standards for the community's layout. When the community is being built from scratch, urban design elements are given particular focus.
  3. Transportation and transit: This concerns the design of transportation systems in or around the community. It also includes the type of transit systems that access the community. The plan shows terminals, harbors, airports, and viaducts. It also displays rights-of-way, streetcar or trolley lines, and ports.
  4. Circulation: The plan's circulation element is related to transportation and transit. This element governs movement in and out of the community and within the community. It includes the system of public streets and sidewalks. It addresses how streets are named and numbered. It also accommodates the type and number of parking facilities. Finally, circulation also concerns the system of traffic signs and signals.
  5. Public buildings: The general plan includes the placement and layout of public buildings. This includes police stations, fire stations, and hospitals. It also includes public libraries, schools, utility facilities, and community centers.
  6. Public services: Public facilities are related to the plan for public buildings. They include utility systems, water, and sewer services. They also include trash and recycling disposal and emergency warning or evacuation plans.
  7. Recreation: Most general plans include a recreation element. It might be as simple as the designation of land for parks and playgrounds. It might also be as intricate as a system for environmental preservation or the use of waterways and beaches. Other considerations are community pools, gardens, or athletic facilities.
  8. Historical: Even brand-new communities may be obligated by law to preserve trees or natural landscapes. Preservation might be needed for their historical or archeological significance. The general plan can identify and establish historically significant sites.
  9. Environmental: The general plan may set aside certain areas for studies. It may reserve a certain percentage of the entire development for environmental preservation. It may also contain prohibitions against uses in all or part of the community that endanger the environment.
  10. Redevelopment: The redevelopment element addresses the aging community. There may be a need to raze and rebuild areas that have become blighted over time. Areas no longer compatible with their original use may need to be redesigned. From time to time, plan amendments can be passed to promote redevelopment based on a community's current needs.
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