Minnesota Cities Magazine

Sidebar: Is Your Comprehensive Plan in Need of an Update?

By Marisa Helms

Note: This is a sidebar to the feature article, Rebuilding Minnesota's Recovery.

As the state’s economy continues to recover from the recession, it may be a good idea for cities to revisit their comprehensive plans and ordinances to make sure those documents are realistic, says Jed Burkett, land use/loss control attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

“A comprehensive plan is a foundational document that sets forth a vision and the goals for the future of the city,” says Burkett. “The purpose is to guide future development of land to ensure a safe, pleasant, and economical environment for residential, commercial, industrial, and public activities.”

A lot has changed in the past few years, and comprehensive plans adopted before the downturn may need to be revised to ensure that a city is well positioned to take advantage of the emerging recovery. Revising a comprehensive plan depends on proactive planning and asking some good questions about the identity of a city and how it wants to grow, Burkett says. Perhaps your city wants to rezone an industrial park that may now be better suited for senior housing, or maybe areas once identified for commercial and high-density housing aren’t viable anymore.

Other factors to consider when revising a comprehensive plan include:

  • Getting started soon before developer proposals start piling up. Comprehensive plans can take a long time to draft and adopt, and the best ones have strong community participation. Burkett says the more prepared a city is with a clear vision and specific achievable strategies, the better off it will be to avoid land use conflicts during the recovery.
  • Revisiting population projections. Chances are the city didn’t grow at the rate projected before the recession hit. How does population impact previously adopted growth strategies?
  • Taking stock of the housing mix:
    • Should lot sizes be adjusted? Burkett wonders if the postrecession market will be more amenable to smaller lots rather than larger, multi-acre lots.
    • Does the city have a sufficient supply of affordable and rental housing for the millennial generation?
    • How about senior housing for the coming wave of aging baby boomers? According to state demographic projections, the number of residents age 65+ will comprise 21 percent of Minnesota’s population by 2030. Is your city prepared?

Once a comprehensive plan is adopted, keep it handy. The best comprehensive plans are dynamic and consulted daily. You’ll want to review it regularly to make sure it’s consistent with current policies and procedures, and make updates as needed, Burkett recommends. If done right and taken seriously, an up-to-date comprehensive plan can be extremely helpful, if not vital, to shaping the harmony and success of a community.

Questions? Contact Jed Burkett at jburkett@lmc.org.

Marisa Helms is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.

Read the May-June 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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