Regional Tool Kit: Plans and Processes

Comprehensive Plan

Most states require cities and counties to create a generalized, coordinated land use map and policy statement of the governing body of a local government that interrelates all functional and natural systems and activities relating to the use of lands, including but not limited to sewer and water systems, transportation systems, educational facilities, recreational facilities and natural resources as well as air and water quality management programs. The comprehensive plan often acts as the community’s vision, providing existing information, future projections and guidance for the character of the community (


•    Provides a clear framework for zoning and land use regulations and decisions to ensure timely development of infrastructure and efficient use of resources in order to promote general health, safety and welfare

•    Protects property rights and enhancement of property values

•    Protects tax base to ensure adequate public facilities and services are provided, improving overall quality of life in the community

•    Offers safety from fire, flood and other disasters

•    Avoids unnecessary crowding or overpopulation

•    Provides a rational development framework for necessary services such as building codes and land development guidelines

•    Encourages protection of agricultural, forestry and mineral rich land

•    Provides protection of critical environmental, cultural and historic resources


•    If incorporated municipalities utilize zoning, a comprehensive plan is necessary and required under state enabling legislation for the general health, safety and welfare of citizens

•    Utilized as a reference for developers, government officials, and city planning professionals in land use and zoning decisions to ensure development consistency requirements as mandated by the state legislation (S.C. Code 6-29)


•    City of Greenville 2007:  

•    Spartanburg County 2015: 

•    City of Asheville, NC:

•    Seattle, WA 2010:


•    The Importance of a Comprehensive Plan in a Down Economy:


Source: Mill Graves, Clemson University

Specific Area/Small Area Development Plans

(Source: Georgia Department of Community Affairs)

Definition: Cities and counties are made up of smaller areas that have their own set of defining characteristics or problems such as Central Business Districts, neighborhoods, historic or critical environmental areas. A small area plan is any plan that addresses the issues of a portion of the municipality’s jurisdiction. Identifying small areas, or character areas, in each community and developing a vision for future development is essential to small area plans. Small areas are defined as specific geographic areas that may meet the following criteria:

•    Have unique or special characteristics;
•    Have potential to evolve into a unique area when provided specific and intentional guidance; or
•    Require special attention due to unique development issues (redevelopment, sensitive areas, low-income, brownfield, etc.)


•    Considers the specific context or situation of a smaller area, which a comprehensive plan may not address

•    Provides design guidelines, standards and implementation strategies for smaller area development for future growth and development

•    Provides and preserves the unique character or vision of a particular area, including conservation goals and principles

•    Is comprehensive in scope, fits within the larger comprehensive plan goals and addresses land use, zoning, public improvements, economic conditions, open-space, community assets, additional revitalization opportunities and/or existing conditions

•    Small scope ensures specific solutions to a particular context


•    Is developed in partnership with a community’s vision of a particular area

•    Provides citizen participation and specific data analysis critical for small area development

•    Offers target area revitalization strategy


Greenville Downtown Master Plan:

Louisville, KY: Westport Road Corridor Plan, 2010:

City of Austin, TX: North Burnett Small Area Plan:

Planning for Character Areas, Georgia Department of Community Affairs – Toolkit:



Strategic Policy Plans

Definition: A planning process defining a community’s goals, objectives and policies to create a strategy framework for specific projects, plans and issues.


City of Clinton, SC: Clinton Focus 2013:

Wilmington, NC: Southside Small Area and Strategic Plan:

Charleston, SC Sustainability Strategic Plan, 2010:

City of Greenville, SC Economic Development Strategy 2006:


Consolidated Plan

(Source HUD, Envision Utah)

Definition: A document written by a state or local government describing the housing needs of low and moderate income residents, outlining strategies to meet the needs and listing all resources available to implement the strategies. The completion of this document is required to receive HUD Community Planning and Development funds (entitlement communities that receive CDBG, HOME, HOPWA,  & ESG funds (all HUD) are required to complete this plan). In 2010, the state of South Carolina Housing Authority estimated $34.2 million funds to be awarded through March 31, 2011 based off prior years (2008 received approximately $33 million dollars). In addition, in 2009 the state of South Carolina received $42 million additional HUD funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Source: 


•    Assesses existing and future housing needs, specifically relating to low to moderate income and special needs housing
•    Provides a development framework for a diversity of housing types and choices
•    Creates demographically diverse communities with long term vitality and residency
•    Ensures coordination with comprehensive plan goals, zoning practices and existing market conditions to reduce infrastructure demand, including transportation dependency and limitations of conventional suburban development
•    Functions as a redevelopment strategy and tool for developers and municipalities to coordinate community goals and economic growth


•    Is developed every five years through the agencies’ housing and community development department and annually evaluated through HUD
•    Offers on-going evaluation and assessment of a community’s housing needs in relation to market trends and demands to ensure adequate housing for a jurisdictions population and general welfare
•    Can be coordinated with and promote smart growth principles of a community to ensure a more compact, walkable, and economically vibrant neighborhood or revitalized area


Charleston, SC Consolidated Plan:

City of Asheville, NC Affordable Housing Plan:

Nashville, TN Consolidated Plan 2010:

Stream-Lined Permitting Process

(Massachusetts Regional Association of Governments, 2007)
Definition: Municipalities can reduce the redundancies and bottlenecks in the conventional bureaucratic development permitting process by evaluating and reengineering existing processes, availability of information and incentives to help guide more efficient permitting and developer pre-application approvals. This creates a one-stop shop within local government application and permitting processes.


•    Creates easy public access to information on procedures, by-laws, and ordinances

•    Allows early technical review of complex applications or target area development

•    Serves as a pre-application process for projects and developers (known quantities)

•    Provides incentives and technical/procedural know-how to public – ombudsman

•    Creates an integrated and uniform process between state and local permitting, licensing, and regulatory procedures

•    Eliminates duplication processes between agencies and reinforce general permit mechanism

•    Allows for a more efficient and predictable appeals process

Capital Improvements Plan


Definition: A timetable or schedule of all future capital improvements to be carried out during a specific period, listed in order of priority, together with cost estimates and the anticipated means and sources of financing each project (1st year is a budget, usually a six year program) (Moskowitz and Lindbloom, 2007).


•    Defines and prioritizes the allocation of money for infrastructure and other capital improvement projects such as parks and schools, fire and police in a scheduled timeframe consistent with local development patterns and the comprehensive plan
•    Permits collaboration with developers and municipalities in achieving target projects for the benefit of the community
•    Creates a framework for developing municipal goals, objectives and policies pertaining to redevelopment and growth.


City of Charleston, SC CIP 2009-2013:

City of Greenville, SC CIP 2008-2012:

Lawrence, KS CIP 2008-2013:

A Manual for Massachusetts Communities: Developing A CIP Program, 1997:

Zoning Ordinance and Land Development Regulations


Definition: Zoning is the delineation of districts and the establishment of regulations (ordinances and standards) by the legislative bodies of a given municipality governing the use, placement, spacing and size of land and buildings. It is the legally binding regulatory tool that helps keep the comprehensive plan a reality. A land development regulation, or sub-division of land, is the establishment of ordinances and standards for the physical design and installation of land development to ensure and promote wise and timely development that is economically sound and provides for safe and adequate transportation and community facilities in accordance with the comprehensive plan, development trends and the general welfare of the public (Moskowitz and Lindbloom, 2007).



•    Protects property values
•    Ensures adequate light, air and open space for public health, safety and general welfare
•    Prevents congestion of streets, overcrowding of land and avoids undue concentrations of population that cannot be supported by local resources
•    Fosters a convenient, attractive and harmonious community as defined by the community
•    Preserves historic, scenic or environmentally sensitive areas
•    Provides safety from fire, floods and other disasters through building codes and placement of land uses and services in relation to other land uses and environmental hazards
•    Facilitates provision of transportation systems, municipal services and facilities such as schools, police, fire, water, parks, affordable housing and other public services
•    Regulates density and distribution of populations and the uses of lands and buildings as it relates and in coordination with water supply, sanitation, natural resources, public activities and other purposes
•    Further promotes general public welfare as specified by the local governing body 


•    Provides map and text of use at the parcel or district level
•    Defines use and occupancy of buildings, accessory structures and the land
•    Defines lot size and bulk requirements; building size and lot coverage; height
•    Defines amount of off-street parking and loading, and the requirements related to the entry or use of motor vehicles--number, design, area, entrances, walkway, lighting, etc.
•    Defines sign regulations-- number, size, coverage, location, style, lighting--time, place, and manner
•    Provides parcel plan including tree preservation, landscaping and buffer requirements, lighting, ingress/egress
•    Sets design guidelines (optional)
•    Describes amortization, which is a period of time to depreciate use if zoning or ordinance changes are required
•    Defines non-conforming uses, which are variances (related to one parcel) where land is given an exception from general zoning ordinance due to improvements made by a prior owner or before the current zoning ordinances made the existing use non-conforming
•    Provides definitions and outline of permitted uses important in ordinance


City of Anderson, SC Zoning Ordinance, Amended 2007:

City of Greenville, SC Land Management Ordinance:

City of Clinton, SC Zoning Ordinance:{A5A76937-0D27-491D-9BCC-D6E848943283}

How to Write a Zoning Ordinance, 2011 National APA Conference:

Zoning Codes/Ordinances that support Smart Growth/Sustainability Principles (Environmental Protection Agency):

Land Development Regulations


•    Protects property values and encourage economically sound and stable municipalities and counties (market feasible and future oriented)
•    Ensures timely provision of the necessary required streets, utilities, and other facilities and services to new development
•    Provides adequate provision of safe and convenient traffic access, circulation and multi-modal activity in and through new development (connectivity)
•    Ensures provision of public open spaces and reservation of land for recreational, educational, transportation or other public purposes
•    Assures rational, smart and timely development of new areas and redevelopment of previously developed areas is consistent with existing local infrastructure and in accordance with the community’s vision and the comprehensive plans of the governing body


City of Simpsonville, SC Land Development Regulations:

Charleston County, SC Land Development Regulations:

Town of Campobello, SC: Building Codes:

Planning Process Participants

Definition: Planning and managing the growth of a community in a healthy, safe, and timely manner for the benefit of the general welfare is a complex and dynamic process. In order to effectively gather information to make governing decisions regarding land development and growth, participation from a variety of groups is important and needed for a beneficial planning process for the community. These include planning and engineering professionals and supporting city staff; governing officials, including an elected mayor and city council members; appointed citizens on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Planning Commission and Design Review Board; developers; state and county elected officials, planning staff, and support staff; businesses; Non-profit organizations; and citizens, who play a critical role in providing information, balance and community opinion to the planning governing process.


•    Planning process participants, including professionals, elected officials, and citizens should understand the importance of the public interest in planning decisions:
•    Portland, OR 2007 Public Participation Manual:


•    Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury

Overlay Zoning Districts

When a city is concerned about special land use issues, historic preservation or environmentally sensitive lands, they attempt to maintain the character by designating the area as an overlay district.  An overlay district is a special zoning district that places additional requirements on a zone in addition to what is normally required for the underlying zone.  (Development Definitions, 275)  Historic Overlay District, Environmental Overlay District, Town Square / Downtown Overlay, and Corridor Overlay are all types of overlay districts common in the Upstate.  Overlay zones encourage these special characteristics without permitting haphazard development that puts too much strain on local infrastructure. 

Town Square Overlay in                 Historic district overlay in Naples, FL
Pendleton, SC


Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary Zoning regulations increase housing choice by establishing requirements and providing incentives to construct housing to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households.  Include specific requirements for a minimum percentage of low- and moderate-income housing as part of any development and density bonuses for building low- and moderate- income housing (Development Definitions, 204).  If this is to be implemented there must be an incentive for the developer.  If homebuilders are mandated to build a certain percentage of affordable units out of their own pocket this will either increase housing prices or drive developers out of the area.  Yet if increased densities or other incentives are allowed the developer can recoup money lost on the affordable units by building more total units than otherwise allowed. 

Reduce Exclusionary Zoning 

A neighborhood with a variety of housing options – single family homes, bungalows, townhouses, condos, live-works, and apartments allow people to find dwellings that better suit their needs as they progress through life’s stages.  Re-evaluating zoning or land ordinances that allow for only large-lot, single-family detached dwellings can make a neighborhood more desirable to a broader array of people.  Diverse housing types create neighborhoods where young professionals just starting out, working class people and retired empty nesters who no longer require a large single family home can all live.  

Housing on smaller lots, fit to a grid street pattern can result in desirable neighborhoods, such as the German Village Neighborhood in Columbus, OH (APA Great Neighborhoods).

Another way to reduce exclusivity in neighborhoods is to design apartment houses that fit into the context of otherwise exclusive, single family neighborhoods.  Apartments can be designed to appear to be a large home while accommodating two, four, or even eight units.  (Envision Utah, Housing Needs, 35)
Beaufort County, SC: Apartments at Habersham are provided discreetly within large houses that match the context of the neighborhood (Habersham Properties).



Annexation is the incorporation of a land area into an existing community with a resulting change in the boundaries of that community.  Both through their decisions to annex certain lands and through their decisions not to annex other lands, cities can use annexation as a tool for addressing the timing and location of growth.  Unfortunately, annexation is the primary tool many municipalities use to control surrounding growth.  When annexation occurs, the local government has certain legal obligations to provide services to newly annexed territory.  Municipalities must be careful not to annex more territory than they can serve at the time of annexation.  Uncontrolled growth can create traffic congestion just outside the city that will adversely impact residents and businesses in the city.  Annexation can be a useful tool for cities to control what type of development is occurring outside of their city limits.

Developments of Regional Impact 

Large-scale developments such as airports, transit lines, regional malls, stadiums and mines are likely to have regional effects beyond the local government jurisdiction in which they are located.  When considering the effects of these large-scale projects, it is essential to improve communication between affected governments and assess potential impacts of large-scale developments before conflicts relating to them arise.  While input from numerous planning agencies is required, local government autonomy is preserved since the host government maintains the authority to make the final decision on whether a proposed development will or will not go forward (Georgia Dept. of Planning and Environmental Management). 


The Port of Charleston expansion is an example of a regional impact that will have ripple effects in other counties outside of Charleston.  (