The last opportunity for citizens to comment on Coralville’s Community Plan will be at the City Council meeting this evening, Tuesday, February 25th beginning at 7:00 p.m. Input and feedback may also be provided through an online forum, located at http://bit.ly/1cLHuSW. A draft of the plan is also available at that site.
Of particular importance, the Community Plan includes plans for land use, housing, economic development and municipal infrastructure for the next 15 years. The Community Plan, also known as a “comprehensive plan” in the land use context, will provide the Coralville City Council with a roadmap for making land development decisions for the next several years.
Having a Community Plan, or comprehensive plan, is an important tool that a city may utilize to guide its zoning decisions. The Iowa Code authorizes a city to enact zoning regulations. Iowa Code section 414.3 limits that authority by requiring that the regulations be made “in accordance with a comprehensive plan” among other things. The purpose of a comprehensive plan is to control and direct the use and development of property in the city by dividing it into districts according to present and potential uses. A comprehensive plan does not have to be in writing. However, if a city or county has adopted a written comprehensive plan, then city or county officials are not free to ignore it in favor of some other ‘comprehensive’ plan of their choice. The purpose of a comprehensive plan is to guide zoning officials in harmonizing competing land uses.
Where the state statute requires that zoning be done in accordance with a comprehensive plan, a majority of states do not require the comprehensive plan to be a document external to the zoning ordinance. Iowa follows this rule. The Iowa Supreme Court has found that Iowa Code section 414.3 does not require that the comprehensive plan be an independent written document. If the city or county has not adopted a written comprehensive plan, then compliance with the comprehensive plan requirements merely means that zoning authorities have given full consideration to the problem presented, including the needs of the public, changing conditions, and the similarity of other land in the same area.
When a city rezones, the rezoning does not necessarily have to be in strict compliance with the provisions of the comprehensive plan. In addition, a city or county may amend its comprehensive plan to meets its changing needs. If trends and economic changes of the times appear, the City Council’s discretion to change its comprehensive plan is quite broad and it may amend the general ordinance any time it deems circumstances and conditions warrant such action.
Nevertheless, fidelity to a comprehensive plan reduces the risk of arbitrary decision making, lending stability and predictability to the zoning process. Where a city has enacted a written comprehensive plan the requirement of the Iowa Code that zoning be in accordance with a comprehensive plan contemplates a city’s zoning ordinance will be designed to promote the goals of that individualized plan.
Once Coralville’s Community [Comprehensive] Plan is adopted, it will have a significant impact on zoning and other land use decisions by the City for many years to come.