Is your master plan ready for the 21st century?

Planning for current and future land use is a vital step in the process of developing local communities.

Is your master plan current and up to date? How should a unit of government define its master plan? What considerations should be given? Across Michigan, local governments are reviewing and defining their master plans as policy statements in which planning decisions are guiding the physical growth and development of the local community. These units further suggest that the plan be long-term and comprehensive. It should look a minimum of ten to twenty years into the future and this futuristic view should be all-inclusive in scope and consider planning for various types of land uses, streets, public or open spaces and any significant changes from the current uses of the local unit. Once adopted, this master plan becomes the official policy guide to identify and resolve local development problems as such issues are identified. Such a plan will have specific parts or elements. These will discuss the community’s goals and answer the all-important question of what does the local unit wish to look like in the near and far-reaching future. Common elements of the plan will include demographics, a vision or mission statement as well as addressing future land use, transportation, parks, housing and streets. Subsequent studies may offer more detailed information on a particular subject in the attempt to refine the planning focus. In this regard, a local unit should conduct an adequate number of studies to determine its needs. For example, one potential study could look at land use in terms of whether annexation or 425 agreements are appropriate. Another could consider additional grid streets and infrastructure. A further study could relate to the current and future housing needs of the community.

Once adopted, the local zoning ordinance takes the new or updated master plan and puts the plan into action. As noted by Professor Stuart Meck of Rutgers University, “The (master) plan is translated into regulation through the zoning map and ordinance. The map divides the community into use districts or zones. … The zoning ordinance regulates activities within these zones by controlling the type of use, building height, minimum lot area, front, rear and side-yard setbacks, off-street parking, maximum lot coverage, landscaping, signage and related considerations.” In this regard, the current zoning map and the future land use map are of the utmost importance. These maps provide key tools for planners and developers looking to the future of a community. The zoning map will detail the current zoning districts. These districts will define areas for the various types of residential, commercial and industrial districts. These are in place and any property in a specific district is subject to the current zoning requirements. Parcels that are to be split or divided are subject to the zoning requirements and the provisions of the Michigan Land Division statute.

The future land use map is for just that, future use. Douglas Miskowiak of the Center for Land Use Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point suggested that, “The Future Land Use map shows a community’s preference for how it wants to use its public and private lands within a given timeframe, commonly 25 or more years. The map shows the community’s shared vision regarding where houses and businesses should be built, where farmland and other open spaces should persist and where recreational opportunities should expand. … The future land use map is not an exact prediction of future land use patterns … mapping instead estimates what the community may look like if population, housing and employment forecasts prove true, and if land policies, implemented to reach the desired future, are successful.” He further stated, “The future land use map should not be confused with an official map or a zoning map. … a [future land use map] is used as guide for policy making, official and zoning maps are actual policy documents designed to achieve a preferred future. ... A zoning map displays where zoning district boundaries are located.”

Planning for current and future land use then is a vital step in the process of developing local communities into stable centers of commerce and population for the 21st century. For local citizens and officials, how current and up to date is your master plan and zoning ordinance? Just as a community needs adequate police, fire, parks and infrastructure, so too does it require adequate resources for its planning and zoning needs. Is it time to review yours?

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