Comprehensive Planning - Frequently Asked Questions  

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

Why should our community prepare a comprehensive plan?
What is included in a Comprehensive Plan?

Does the State require a Comprehensive Plan?

How long does it take to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?
How much does it cost to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Can our community/committee prepare our own Comprehensive Plan?

What does the State review process include?

Is there any money to help us prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A Comprehensive Plan is document that pulls together information on a wide-range of community issues to assess trends and establish town policies. In a sense, a Comprehensive Plan a lot like a blueprint for a community. Rather than looking narrowly at a specific issue that may be important today, a Comprehensive Plan looks various aspects of community life and how they may interact with town government over a 10 to 15 year period.

In Maine, Comprehensive Plans typically establish town policies dealing with issues such as transportation, natural resources management, municipal capital investment, outdoor recreation, working waterfront access and marine resources, and land use. 

Different communities in Maine have differing priorities. Developing a Comprehensive Plan establishes a process for communities to review their priorities relating to these and other issues and establish policies consistent with the community's priorities.                          Back to top 

Why should our community prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Communities complete Comprehensive Plans for a variety of reasons. At their most basic level, communities complete Comprehensive Plans to prepare for the future. A comprehensive review of community issues and policies promotes discussion among neighbors and can help communities avoid problems that sometimes occurs when community decisions are made in a piecemeal fashion.

If that weren't enough, though, State Law and various agencies have established incentives for communities to develop Comprehensive Plans. Over $80 million is awarded through 25 state grant and loan programs that either require or encourage applicants to have a consistent* comprehensive plan. These include:

 

Moreover, a consistent* Comprehensive Plan provides legal protection for your community's ordinances. According to the Maine Growth Management Act, your town must have a consistent* Comprehensive Plan in order to:

* The term “consistent” means that the State Planning Office has reviewed a local comprehensive plan and issued a letter finding it consistent with the Growth Management Act.                        Back to top

What is included in a Comprehensive Plan?

Comprehensive Plans include a wide range of information addressing various aspects of municipal government. In 2007, the State Planning Office developed a Comprehensive Plan Self Assessment Checklist to guide communities in preparing Comprehensive Plans that are consistent with Maine's Growth Management Act. The Self Assessment Checklist identifies  14 subject areas that should be addressed in a Comprehensive Plan:

In some cases a single chapter can address several of the subject areas list above. Most Comprehensive Plans in Washington County are divided into ten or eleven chapters. Each chapter identified key analyses and trends and established community goals, policies and strategies. In order to be found consistent with the Growth Management Act, Comprehensive Plans must also include a Vision Statement, Public Participation Summary, Regional Coordination Program, Plan Implementation section, and Evaluation measures.   Back to top< 

Does the State require a Comprehensive Plan?

Maine communities are not required to adopt a Comprehensive Plan.

However, many land use controls (such as a zoning ordinance that goes beyond the state minimum for shoreland zoning, impact fees, and rate of growth or building cap ordinances) must be enacted pursuant to a consistent* Comprehensive Plan. In addition, a number State grant programs either require or encourage applicant communities to have a consistent* Comprehensive Plan.

* The term “consistent” means that the State Planning Office has reviewed a local comprehensive plan and issued a letter finding it consistent with the Growth Management Act.                                                                           Back to top 

How long does it take to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?an?

For most Washington County communities, it takes between 10 and 16 committee meetings to develop a Comprehensive Plan. If your committee intends to meet once per month, the Comprehensive Plan process may take 12 to 18 months. State review and plan adoption may require an addition 2 to 3 months.

The process can be accelerated to a certain extent if the community is updating a relatively recent Comprehensive Plan or through more frequent meeting time. Even then, the process can be expected to take around 8 months.     Back to top 

How much does it cost to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Most towns in Washington County engage the services of a consultant to assist with development of some or all elements of a Comprehensive Plan. The cost of developing a Comprehensive Plan varies depending on:

In general, most communities in Washington County are able to develop a new Comprehensive Plan for between $15,000 and $18,000; and to update an existing Comprehensive Plan for between $12,000 and $15,000.    Back to top 

Can our community/committee prepare our own Comprehensive Plan?

Yes. Communities can develop a Comprehensive Plan wholly or mostly on their own. There are a number of good resources available to assist citizen committees in developing a Comprehensive Plans. That said, a word of caution is in order. The amount of work required to complete all of the required elements for a Comprehensive Plan to be found consistent with the Growth Management Act is substantial and preparation of some of the required elements involves both technical skills (such as GIS mapping) and familiarity with applicable state laws.

WCCOG encourages any Washington County community that is considering developing a Comprehensive Plan on their own to contact us to discuss which elements of the Plan your community may wish to complete with assistance from consultant. Back to top< 

What does the State review process include?

Communities may submit their Comprehensive Plan to the State Planning Office (SPO) to have it reviewed for consistency with Maine's Growth Management Act.* The review process is spelled out in the State Planning Office's Criteria Review Rule (last updated in 2007).

Once a community submits a Comprehensive Plan for review, SPO has 35 business days to issue a Finding of Completeness. During this time, appropriate state agencies and regional planning councils are given an opportunity to review the Comprehensive Plan and issue comments. If the the Plan is found to be complete, SPO issues a "Finding of Completeness." If the plan is found to be incomplete, the community is given an opportunity to address any identified deficiencies.

Following a Finding of Completeness, SPO has 10 business days in which to review the Land Use elements of the plan and issue a Finding of Consistency. A Finding of Consistency means the State Planning Office has found the Plan to be consistent with Maine's Growth Management Act. If the plan is found to be inconsistent, SPO will indicate which elements of the Plan are inconsistent with the Growth Management Act and the community has an opportunity to address those issues.

Communities may adopt a Comprehensive Plan prior to submission or at any time within 24 months of a Finding of Consistency from SPO. Under State Law, a vote to adopt a Comprehensive Plan must be preceded by a Public Hearing with 30 days advertised notice; and the Comprehensive Plan must be adopted by the community's legislative body (Town Meeting in most Washington County communities).

*Communities are not required to have their Comprehensive Plan reviewed for consistency with the Growth Management Act. However, many state grant programs require that communities have a consistent Comprehensive Plan. In addition, communities gain a degree of legal protection for locally adopted land use ordinances that are based on a consistent Comprehensive Plan.        Back to top 

Is there any money to help us prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Unfortunately there are no longer any grants available to assist with development of a Comprehensive Plan through any agencies of State government.

For more information, please contact Judy East at 454-0465.                 Back to top