A comprehensive plan, sometimes referred to as a “master plan” or “comp plan,” establishes and communicates the local government’s long-term vision, policy direction, and strategies for growth and development, the economy, the environment, and other governance issues. The comprehensive plan process typically involves a substantial community engagement component through which participants help shape the future of the community.
Comprehensive plans usually include some version of the following components:
- Existing conditions – Where are we now?
- Vision – Where do we want to be?
- Policies and strategies – How do we get there?
- Implementation – Prioritized action items
Comprehensive plans draw on thematic elements such as housing, land use, economy, governance, natural resources, urban design, transportation, and public health and safety. Within each thematic element, the comprehensive plan will typically identify the baseline conditions and recommend policies and strategies for moving the needle to achieve planning goals. The specific thematic policy elements addressed in a comprehensive plan depend on several factors, including:
- Statutory requirements. Some states require local governments to adopt comprehensive plans, and others do not. Some states also require certain elements to be addressed through the comprehensive plan – such as tourism, public health, or natural resources. Florida and Washington require that comprehensive plans address hazard mitigation.
- Local context. A comprehensive plan for a small rural community will likely address issues such as preservation of agricultural land that might not be addressed in a big city plan. Conversely, some big-city issues – such as establishing mixed-use centers near key interchanges – may not be addressed in smaller communities.
- Growth and development. Growing communities tend to focus heavily on future land use and development issues and the role of government in managing such growth to sustain economy and community. Conversely, communities with population and economic decline may focus their plan elements on infrastructure, business attraction, health care, and education to draw attention to values that may spur much-needed growth.
As it relates to wildfire, the comprehensive plan is an opportunity to reiterate and integrate stated policies and strategies from a local multi-hazard mitigation plan, and to weave safety, avoidance, and best practices for risk reduction into future land use discussions.
Larimer County, CO – Comprehensive Plan and Mountain Resilience Plan. The Larimer County Comprehensive Plan establishes two primary planning areas as its organizing framework – the mountain planning area and the Front Range planning area. This structure allows the county to avoid applying one-size-fits-all solutions to problems that are not countywide. Wildfire risk is a good example, as the western portion of the county is mountainous and at a far greater risk. The plan also integrates prior work, including the community resilience framework, the transportation master plan, and the hazard mitigation plan.
City of Longmont, CO – Envision Longmont. Longmont’s comprehensive plan, Envision Longmont,won an award from the American Planning Association for its commitment to sustainability and resilience. The policy framework in the plan demonstrates the community’s dedication to protecting its citizens from manmade and natural hazards. The plan provides clear strategies for maintaining a resilient community, including balancing expected growth with public health and safety.
Wenatchee, WA – Urban Area Comprehensive Plan. Wenatchee’s comprehensive plan makes it extremely clear that wildfire is among the top issues. Its 2021 update includes scores of references to past wildfire events and emphasizes the need to collaborate to prevent devastating losses during future events. Wildfire risk reduction is tied into several thematic elements of the plan, including the natural environment which includes an entire section for wildfire. Goals and policies recognize the prior work of the CPAW program and demonstrate a need to create a more fire-adapted community.
Envision Longmont | Key elements of a sustainable and resilient community:
“Exposure to manmade or natural hazards is minimized through careful planning, reducing future risks to people and property.”
Larimer County Comprehensive Plan | Policy Framework for Terrain and Natural Hazards: “Create and maintain defensible space around structures and otherwise mitigate potential hazards to life and property when building in wildfire hazard-prone areas. Encourage and educate private landowners and local, state, and federal governments to develop and implement cooperative strategies to minimize critical wildfire hazards.”Wenatchee Urban Area Comprehensive Plan | Policy within Goal 2 – Critical Areas: “Promote ecosystem-based wildland fire planning and wildfire risk reduction policies for critical environmentally sensitive areas.”