An Unintended Consequence of Development Regulations Consistent with Long-Range Plans

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 26, 2003

Florida adopted a rule that requires all cities and counties to adopt a 10-year comprehensive plan every 10 years, and also requires local governments to make their land development regulations consistent with their (hopefully) visionary long-range comprehensive plans.

Sounds, at first, like a wonderful idea. After all, isn’t it true that lack of consistency between the two documents is an important cause of a failure to implement the long-range plan vision?cover2-2

But this consistency is not necessarily cause for celebration, at least from what I learned about watching it work (or not work) in Florida. Sadly, there is an unintended consequence.

Because comprehensive plans must be consistent with land development regulations, communities quickly realize that such long-range plans can be quite powerful in shaping development regulations, which makes the development community very nervous.

The solution?

Ensure that the adopted long-range plan is relatively reactionary.

An example of this is that land use designations adopted in the comprehensive plan tend to merely acknowledge the status quo – the long-range land use map simply mimics the existing land uses and zoning already in place. There is therefore little or no “vision” in the adoption of the comprehensive plan land use map. In my community, for example, our 10-year comprehensive plan update simply made a few trivial tweaks to our existing land use designations – designations that were originally and largely established based on existing zoning and uses for parcels in the city.

Note that the above occurred in my community DESPITE the fact that the majority of city commissioners who voted to adopt our comprehensive plan were visionary new urbanists.

In retrospect, perhaps there is something to be said for a comprehensive plan that is “advisory” rather than “mandatory”.

The former creates more of a likelihood that the plan will have a vision.

 

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