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Comprehensive Plans

​Requirements of a Comprehensive Plan 

Land Use Article states that once the planning commission is legislatively created, the planning commission has the function and duty to prepare a comprehensive plan for its jurisdiction, and to present this plan to the local legislative or governing body for its consideration and adoption. The comprehensive plan must serve as a guide to public and private actions and decisions to ensure the development of public and private property in appropriate relationships. 
With power comes responsibility, and Land Use Article outlines a number of requirements governing content and procedures that each planning commission must fulfill in the crafting of the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan.  

​Procedural Requirements 

Each jurisdiction must review and, if necessary, update its comprehensive plan every ten years. The page, Managing Maryland's Growth: Transitioning to the Comprehensive Plan 10-Year Review Cycle, is a good resource for jurisdictions going through this process. 
The planning commission must consult with entities about protecting or executing the Plan (§3.05.d.2.ii.). Although not listed as a requirement, public interest and understanding of the plan helps to establish public trust and support for the plan, and ultimately makes implementation of the plan easier. Therefore, the planning commission has the power to promote public interest in and understanding of the plan (§3.05.d.1) Content Requirements Land Use Article establishes a framework for the content of the plan by requiring that it address certain components of the jurisdiction’s vision: 

Goals and Objectives 

This section establishes goals and objectives that serve as a guide for the development and economic and social well being of the local jurisdictions. The goals and objectives tell the world how the community wants to function and look in the future. 

​Land Use 

The land use element outlines the most appropriate and desirable patterns of growth and development. Maps are particularly helpful for this section and can show areas targeted for different types of development; revitalization; priority corridors or areas; and preservation areas.


The housing element assesses a community's housing needs and addresses housing affordability for workforce and low-income households. Affordability levels are based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Area Median Income (AMI). The housing element may include goals, objectives, policies, plans, and standards for the community. For more information on how to prepare a housing element, go to Planning's Housing Element Models & Guidelines.


The transportation element describes and presents transportation patterns and includes the entire spectrum of transportation facilities (transit, roads, bicycle and pedestrian amenities, and transit-oriented development) applicable to the jurisdiction. It is important to note that Land Use Article specifically requires jurisdictions to address bicycle and pedestrian facilities in their comprehensive plans. 

​Community Facilites 

The community facilities element identifies the location, character and extent of public and semi-public buildings, lands, and facilities. 

​Mineral Resources 

The mineral resources element identifies land that can be used to provide a continuous supply of minerals, post-excavation uses, and land use policies to balance mineral resource extraction with other land uses. This element is only required if current geological information is available. For more information see the Mineral Resource Planning section of the Models and Guidelines. 

​Development Regulations 

The development regulations section identifies development tools that are the best available mechanisms to implement the plan, including streamlined review for development in designated growth areas. 

​Areas of Critical State Concern 

This section includes recommendations for the determination, identification, and designation of areas that are of critical State concern. 

Sensitive Areas 

The sensitive areas element sets goals, objectives, principles, policies, and standards to protect sensitive areas from the adverse effects of development. Land Use Article requires jurisdictions to protect streams and their buffers; the 100-year floodplain; habitats of threatened and endangered species; and steep slopes, wetlands and agricultural and forest lands intended for resource protection or conservation”. Jurisdictions, of course, can identify and protect other sensitive areas as well. For more information see the Sensitive Areas - Volume I and Sensitive Areas - Volume II sections from the Models and Guidelines. 


Counties located on tidal waters must include a fisheries element, which focuses on the designation of areas for loading, unloading, and processing finfish and shellfish, and for docking and mooring commercial fishing boats and vessels. 


Recognizing the importance of designing land development regulations that implement the Plan, this section is supposed to address recommendations for land development regulations; encouraging streamlined review of applications for development in areas designated for growth; the use of flexible development regulations to promote innovative and cost-saving site design and protect the environment; and economic development in areas designated for growth. 
Recognizing local jurisdictions’ individuality, Land Use Article gives the planning commission the authority to put additional elements in the comprehensive plan. These elements may include, but are not limited to, Community Renewal; Housing; Flood Control; Pollution Control; Conservation; Natural Resources; Public Utilities; and Transit- and Pedestrian-Oriented Development. 
Comprehensive plans, by their nature, address issues that transcend political boundaries. Therefore, the comprehensive plan is required to include any areas outside of the boundaries of the plan that, in the planning commission’s judgment, bear relation to the planning responsibilities of the commission. The plan must also incorporate The Twelve Visions designed to encourage economic growth and protect natural resources. 

Development Capacity Analysis 

This is sometimes referred to as a “build-out analysis” or " buildable lot inventory,” is also required in the comprehensive plan. This is an estimate of the total amount of development that may be built in an area under a certain set of assumptions, including applicable land use laws and policies (e.g., zoning), environmental constraints, etc. While this kind of analysis is most often associated with an estimate of capacity for new residential development, there is also value in estimating a jurisdiction’s capacity to meet commercial and industrial needs, recreational needs or other land use goals. 
Two additional elements, the Municipal Growth Element and the Water Resources Element were added to the comprehensive plan in the 2006 Legislative Session and must be incorporated into the plan by October 1, 2009. If a jurisdiction has not included mandated elements in its plan by 2009, that jurisdiction cannot rezone land. 

Municipal Growth Element 

This element requires municipalities to identify areas for future growth consistent with its long-range vision. The element is developed based on population projections and identifies needs for land and infrastructure. Consultation is required with the county before it can be adopted. For more information see the Municipal Growth Element section from the Models and Guidelines. 

Water Resources Element 

This element identifies drinking water supplies needed by projected population. It also identifies suitable receiving waters for wastewater and stormwater management to meet needs presented by development as proposed in the land use element.

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