The Role of the Comprehensive Plan in Land Use Planning

The comprehensive plan is the most important tool in land use planning. In its most basic function, it provides a roadmap for the development of a community’s most limited resource, the land itself. More than just a rigid set of directions, however, the comprehensive plan lays out a community’s vision for the future, providing guidance as to how the community will grow and thrive while striking an appropriate balance between competing uses.

Sketching Of Building Construction On Flying Book Over Urban SceA well-conceived comprehensive plan is mainly a policy instrument that creates a broad outline for how a community will achieve its goals with a view to an extended time horizon. In addition to the general role as a guide, however, a comprehensive plan will serve many purposes as an invaluable tool in a planner’s tool bag. For example, a comprehensive plan gives a community continuity and stability across administrations and agencies for addressing land use issues, preventing short-term changes and successive upheaval. This in turn provides predictability and stability for businesses, developers and others with interest in land use, encouraging growth and development free from uncertainty. The comprehensive plan further fosters economic development by providing valuable information for companies making location decisions. In addition to fostering growth, a comprehensive plan may also serve as a governor against unfocused growth or excessive sprawl, and may even encourage re-development in declining areas. The plan may also provide justification for zoning decisions.

A community can also create and express a sense of self through a comprehensive plan. Through a comprehensive plan, a community can decide how to use or protect local resources; preserve historic buildings or areas; create a certain community appearance in line with traditional community aesthetics and character; or foster certain facets of community life, such as the arts or sports teams. A comprehensive plan also speaks to parks, schools, police stations, libraries and other public resources, expressing a community’s plan for the overall wellbeing of its citizens. A well-constructed comprehensive plan includes a heavy public input element to best effectuate the desires of the community at large. Communities may also craft additional or supplementary plans to address specific goals, or to address unique areas of the community. In Lexington, for instance, a separate plan addresses the community’s goals with regard to rural land management.

In a basic sense, a comprehensive plan is also a technical blueprint for physical change. It can help a community anticipate infrastructure needs and increase the efficiency of development by coordinating improvements and directing growth. A comprehensive plan will also provide for development in an orderly manner, weighing and balancing competing private interests in land use. Top-down planning maximizes the most beneficial uses for the greatest number of individuals, as well as avoiding conflicts between land uses that can arise to the level of nuisances.

In Kentucky, a comprehensive plan is governed by KRS 100.187 and must contain at least a statement of goals and objectives, a land use plan, a transportation plan, a community facilities plan and provisions to accommodate any military installations of a certain size that may be included in or abutting the planning unit. KRS 100.197 requires a planning commission to amend or readopt the plan elements every five years.

In effect, a comprehensive plan is a community’s collective statement on what it would like to grow into and how it will accomplish that goal. It then guides the technical and regulatory process to create a system of development and resource allotment designed to fulfill a community’s sense of place.

If your community needs assistance in the creation, review or amendment of a comprehensive plan, contact the attorneys of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC.

Jacob C. WalbournJacob C. Walbourn is an associate in McBrayer’s Lexington office. Mr. Walbourn focuses his area of practice on planning and zoning law handling a wide variety of land use matters for clients in the private sector. His responsibilities include attending Planning Commission and   Board of Adjustment hearings and working with developers, business owners, and government agencies on land use applications, zoning ordinance text amendments, comprehensive plan updates and other land use issues. He can be reached at or (859) 231-8780, ext. 102.