Serving Northwest Iowa for Over 35 years
Comprehensive Planning

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A comprehensive plan is broadly aimed at establishing a framework for public officials and the private sector to use in working toward common goals of the community. Comprehensive plans are designed with the intent for a city/county to grow and prosper in the future, not only physically, but also in needs, values, and philosophies. A comprehensive plan can easily be amended, changed, or revised in the future to meet the needs of the residents or businesses. Because of the flexibility of the comprehensive plan, the plan will focus upon the long range goals for the city/county. Development of a comprehensive plan involves cooperation between diverse private interests and various levels of government.

The Iowa Code (Chapter 414.3) makes it clear that zoning regulations must be made in accordance with a local comprehensive plan. According to Chapter 414.3, Code of Iowa, if a city or county is to zone then “…the zoning shall be made in accordance with a comprehensive plan…” All cities and counties that are involved in zoning and land use regulations need to have an updated plan to guide development activities. In general a comprehensive plan should and will contain sections regarding population and housing trends, socio-economic data, economic development, transportation & infrastructure, community facilities and services, physical features, natural resources, parks & recreation and future land uses.

Planning is a key element in the development of any comprehensive plan. The “planning” steps of the comprehensive plan process should include:

1) The primary stage of a planning program is research and data collection. It is from this supply of data that all decisions will be based, indicating that the more extensive and specific the data is the more accurate and functional the decisions. The following are the broad, general areas of data needed for the information base/inventory: population, housing, economic development, physical features, land use, transportation, public works, community facilities, natural resources, parks and recreation and future land uses.

2) Analysis of the data collected is an ongoing activity conducted at the same time the research and data collection is being pursued. Analysis involves the collection and presentation of data in written and/or graphic form to establish a complete base of existing conditions. Once this base has been established, the analysis proceeds into projection of future trends and growth. Dynamic forces are identified as well as their relative effect on the future.

3) All of this input in turn will facilitate the evolvement of certain broad general goals for the planning area. Objectives involve bringing the goals closer to reality and specifically establishing those accomplishments that are desirable and closer to realizing established goals.

4) The objectives and policy recommendations are the framework for plan preparation. The technical personnel involved in the planning effort prepare the actual comprehensive plan document. Before submission of the plan to the legal bodies concerned, it should have been studied and commented upon all the involved sectors and altered accordingly.

5) Legalization of the plan involves the plan adoption by the local legislative body. Public hearings and wide distribution of the plan should take place before formal adoption proceedings. The plan must meet with the approval of those in the planning area to function properly.

6) Implementation of the plan is not carried out by any one department or agency, but is out of necessity a combined effort of all government, private and related entities. It cannot be emphasized enough that cooperation and coordination are the keys to an effective plan implementation.

Why should a City/County have a Comprehensive Plan?

According to the Iowa Code, The following sections support the concept that a comprehensive plan should be completed. The following planning related topics are to be prepared in accordance with a city’s “general plan” or comprehensive plan.

  • Chapter 414.3 (Zoning ) - Chapter 354.8 (Subdivisions)
  • Chapter 368.7(1)(b), 368.11(6) (Annexations)
  • Chapter 403.5(2) (Urban Renewal-TIF)
  • Chapter 404.2(2) (Urban Revitalization-Tax Abatement)

The State Code outlines that Zoning Ordinances and Subdivision Regulations are the enforcement tools cities may create to use in protecting the intent and policy goals and objectives set forth in a comprehensive plan.

Why should city’s/county’s consider creating and adopting a comprehensive plan?
  • A plan will reflect changes to the composition of the community/county
  • A plan will reflect changes to the physical boundaries or developed portions of the community.
  • A plan will reflect current demographic data such as population, housing, economic development and recreation information.
  • A plan will provide a current inventory of community and recreation facilities, economic incentives and other programs of the city/county.
  • A plan, will serve as an economic development tool to be solicited to potential developers, businesses, housing developers, or industrial prospects.