Real Estate FAQ

Your Community's General Plan

Few of us are so lucky as to have input into our community's general plan. For most of us, the general plan was developed long before we moved to the area. In fact, most of us probably have never thought much about the general plan, if we even knew it existed. In most communities, the law affects more than individual property rights. Usually, there are laws describing the required and prohibited elements of the general plan.

If you are moving into a new community, however, you might have the opportunity to give input into what elements should be included in the general plan. Following are the ten most common elements and what they cover.

  • Housing. The housing element sets standards for new and existing homes in the community, covering everything from size to style to color.
  • Design. Particularly when the community is being built from scratch, the general plan includes a design element that includes standards as well as the principle or philosophy of the community's layout.
  • Transportation and transit. The transportation and transit element includes the design of transportation systems in or around the community, and the type of transit systems that access the community. The plan shows terminals, harbors, airports, viaducts, rights-of-way, streetcar or trolley lines, and ports.
  • Circulation. Related to transportation and transit is the plan's circulation element. This element governs movement in and out of the community and within the community, and includes the system of public streets and sidewalks, how streets are named and numbered, type and number of parking facilities, and the system of traffic signs and signals.
  • Public buildings. The general plan includes the placement and layout of public buildings such as police stations, fire stations, hospitals, public libraries, schools, utility facilities, and community centers.
  • Public services. Related to the plan for public buildings is the plan for public facilities, such as utility systems, water and sewer services, trash and recycling disposal, and emergency warning or evacuation plans.
  • Recreation. Most general plans include a recreation element that might be as simple as the designation of land for parks and playgrounds, or as intricate as a system for environmental preservation, the use of waterways and beaches, or community pools, gardens, or athletic facilities.
  • Historical. Even brand-new communities may be obligated by law to preserve trees or natural landscapes for their historical or archeological significance. In addition, the general plan can include a methodology for identifying and establishing sites and structures as historically significant.
  • Environmental. The general plan may set aside certain areas or a certain percentage of the entire development for environmental preservation or study, and it may contain prohibitions against uses in all or part of the community that endanger the environment.
  • Redevelopment. The redevelopment element addresses the aging community and the need to raze and rebuild areas that have become blighted over time or are no longer compatible with their original use.

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