Chapter 3 Comprehensive Plan

LibraryThe Zoning and Land Use Handbook (ABA) (2016 Ed.)

Chapter 3 Comprehensive Plan

A. Introduction

Zoning-enabling acts often require that the zoning ordinance be drafted in accordance with a comprehensive plan.1 In evaluating the validity of a zoning decision, courts will often consider "the care with which the community has undertaken to plan its land use development."2 The courts have consistently held that the existence of a comprehensive plan indicates that the community has carefully considered the "orderly utilization" of property within its borders, a factor that, in turn, increases the likelihood that the zoning of a particular parcel of land will not be deemed "arbitrary or unrelated to the public interest."3

A comprehensive plan is often an advisory document and map, but may be established through other means.4 Unlike a zoning ordinance, a comprehensive plan does not regulate or control the particular use of property; instead, a comprehensive plan sets goals for the development or redevelopment of a community.5

Through the use of words, maps, illustrations, or other means of communication, a comprehensive plan sets out the objectives, policies, and standards to guide public and private development within its planning jurisdiction.6 In other words,

The comprehensive plan is the standard for zoning action, whether it be the initial adoption of a zoning ordinance, a revision of the ordinance, an amendment, or zoning action relating to a specific parcel of property by way of a change in its zoning classification, a special permit or variance . . .7

In some jurisdictions it has been held that a municipality may not enact a zoning ordinance without having enacted a comprehensive plan.8 Further, it has been held that a municipality may not enact a zoning ordinance contrary to the comprehensive plan.9 The view is that the comprehensive plan serves the purpose of providing a rational basis for a zoning ordinance and that in the absence of a comprehensive plan, the zoning itself is deemed to be arbitrary.10

The prevailing view, however, is that a comprehensive plan is advisory and is not binding on municipalities.11 The zoning ordinance controls the uses on a given property. In City of Chicago Heights v. Living Word Outreach Full Gospel Church Ministries, Inc.,12 the Illinois Supreme Court considered a case in which a church applied for a special use permit under Chicago's zoning ordinance to locate within an area zoned as a business district. The church satisfied the stated requirements for the grant of a special use permit, but the City's comprehensive plan designated the area in question for businesses that would produce sales tax revenue. The court held that the zoning ordinance, rather than the comprehensive plan, was what controls: the comprehensive plan was only advisory. In order to include the sales tax standard in the zoning ordinance, the City would have to go through a hearing process and amend the zoning code.

Ultimately, however, the adoption of a comprehensive plan that incorporates proper zoning goals increases the likelihood that a court will uphold the validity of the zoning on a particular parcel where that zoning is in conformity with the comprehensive plan.13

A comprehensive plan must go through a public hearing process before it is adopted. Generally, corporate authority has to schedule a public hearing either before a plan commission or board or the corporate authority and provide reasonable written notice of the proposed hearing. This notice is generally by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the county or counties in which the municipality and contiguous unincorporated territory are located.14

B. Planning History

In the 1920s, the U.S. Department of Commerce published two standard state enabling acts for planning and zoning in the United States. Despite certain procedural or substantive changes to these Acts, these Acts lay the foundation for modern day comprehensive planning. The source of authority for these Acts was the standard A State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), which was developed by a special advisory committee created by Secretary of Commerce (former president) Herbert Hoover in 1921. The first edition was printed in 1924, and a revised edition was printed in 1926.15

The second standard planning act was the Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA), which was published in 1928. This Act covered six subjects:

1. The organization and power of the planning commission. This commission was established to prepare a "master plan."
2. The development of a master plan for the physical development of the territory of the municipality and surrounding territory.
3. The adoption of a master street plan by the governing body of the municipality.
4. A provision for the approval of public improvements by a planning commission.
5. A provision for exercising control of private subdivision of land.
6. A provision for the establishment of a regional planning commission and a regional plan.16

The enabling statutes of a state provide, in part, as follows:

Every municipality may create a plan commission or a planning department or both. The plan commission shall be appointed by a mayor of a city or president of a village board subject to confirmation by the corporate authorities.
* * *
Every plan commission and planning department authorized has the following powers . . .
1. To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities a comprehensive plan for the present and future development or redevelopment of the municipality. . . .
2. To recommend changes, from time to time, in the official comprehensive plan.
3. To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities . . . plan for specific improvements pursuant to the official comprehensive plan.
4. To give aid to the municipal officials charged with direction of projects or improvements embraced within the official plan, to further the making of these projects and generally to promote the realization of the official comprehensive plan.
5. To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities schemes of regulating or forbidding structures or activities which may hinder access to solar energy . . .
6. To exercise such other powers known to powers granted by this article . . .17

It should also be noted that the official comprehensive plan includes an official map to be adopted by the corporate authority and a map that is made part of the ordinance adopting the comprehensive plan. State statutes require municipalities to set forth standards relating to the size of the streets, alleys, public ways, parks, playgrounds, school sights, other public grounds, and ways for public service facilities."18

C. Smart Growth

The American Planning Association (APA) includes a professional institute called the American Institute of Certified Planners, which provides certification as well as educational programs for professional planners working throughout the United States. One of the APA declarations is as follows:

The American Planning Association identifies Smart Growth as that which supports choice and opportunity by promoting efficient and sustainable land development, incorporates redevelopment patterns that optimize prior infrastructure investments, and consumes less land that is otherwise available for agriculture, open space, natural systems, and rural life styles. Supporting the right of Americans to choose where and how they live, work, and play enables economic freedom for all Americans.19

Further, the APA states that "Smart Growth is about tailoring choices for individual settings20 and names the following as "core principles of Smart Growth."21

A. Efficient use of land and infrastructure
B. Creation and/or enhancement of economic value
C. A greater mix of uses and housing choices
D. Neighborhoods and communities focused around human-scale, mixed-use centers
E. A balanced, multi-modal transportation system providing increased transportation choice
F. Conservation and enhancement of environmental and cultural resources
G. Preservation or creation of a sense of place
H. Increased citizen participating in all aspects of the planning process and at every level of government
I. Vibrant center city life
J. Vital small towns and rural areas
K. A multi-disciplinary and inclusionary process to accomplish smart growth
L. Planning processes and regulations at multiple levels that promote diversity and equality
M. Regional view of community, economy and ecological sustainability
N. Recognition that institutions, governments, businesses and individuals require a concept of cooperation to support smart growth
O. Local, state and federal policies and programs that support urban investment, compact development and land conservation.
P. Well defined community edges, such as agricultural greenbelts, wildlife corridors or greenways permanently preserved as farmland or open space.22

D. The Ramapo Plan, Measuring Development by Public Services

Various planning techniques are employed in developing zoning ordinances and regulating growth. The case of Golden v. Planning Bd. of Ramapo23 is a classic example of regulating development through a measure of public services available for development.

The facts underlying Golden are as follows. The town of Ramapo developed a master plan for further development within the town based upon the need to provide public services to the residents. The purpose of the new zoning ordinance was to limit residential development to the town's ability to provide the necessary facilities, which included public sanitary sewers, drainage facilities, free public parks, recreation facilities, public schools, state, county or town roads and firehouses. No special permits would be issued for development unless the proposed residential development had accumulated a certain number of development points based upon values assigned to the specified improvements.

The plaintiffs' application for preliminary approval of a residential subdivision was denied because of an admitted failure to...

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