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Including All Elements of the Comprehensive Plan

South Carolina’s Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act, found in SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29, provides cities and towns with authority to undertake planning and adopt zoning and land use regulations as tools to guide their communities’ development.

The law does not require local governments to implement a planning program, but those who do must establish and operate a local planning commission. The commission is responsible for developing a comprehensive plan, specifically addressing 10 planning elements. It must also reevaluate the municipality’s comprehensive plan every five years and update the plan by resolution every 10 years and submit it to the city or town council. The council must then have a public hearing on the plan and adopt it by ordinance every 10 years.

The law leaves local governments to pursue the 10 comprehensive plan elements in a way that best meets their communities’ needs. However, for each element, the law specifies that the planning process should include an inventory of existing conditions, a statement of the local government’s needs and goals and implementation strategies with timeframes. 

The 10 elements are these: 
  1. Population element
    The plan should consider the historic population trends, anticipated growth as well as demographic specifics, like the size and number of households, education levels and income. 
  2. Economic development element
    This should address the characteristics of the available workforce, where workers live and other aspects of the local economy. Useful considerations can be manufacturing, tourism or revitalization. 
  3. Natural resources element 
    What kind of water bodies, parks and recreation areas, agricultural land, forest land and wildlife habitats, does the area have? This element also needs information on the area’s flood plains. 
  4.  Cultural resources element 
    These can be historic buildings and sites; unique commercial, residential or natural areas; and educational, religious or entertainment institutions. 
  5. Community facilities element
    Community facilities include many assets necessary for development. This can include water, sewer and wastewater services; solid waste disposal; fire protection; as well as medical, governmental and educational facilities. The local government must adopt this element before adopting any subdivision or other land development regulations. 
  6. Housing element 
    What are the locations, types, ages and conditions of existing housing? How many are owner-occupied or renter-occupied? What is the cost of developing a sufficient amount of affordable housing, and what regulations may prevent that? 
  7. Land use element 
    This element should consider the municipality’s current and future land uses in categories such as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, undeveloped and others. The local government must adopt this element before adopting zoning ordinances. 
  8. Transportation element 
    This element considers road improvements, new road construction as well as pedestrian and bicycle projects. The transportation element should coordinate with the land use element to provide planning for sufficient transportation options for the current and future land uses. 
  9. Priority investment element 
    This is an analysis of projected federal, state and local funds for infrastructure and facilities in the next decade, and recommended projects for those funds. 
  10. Resiliency element
    This element, added in 2020, considers the impacts of flooding, high water, and natural hazards on individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, economic development, public infrastructure and facilities, and public health, safety and welfare.
Planning guide 
The Comprehensive Planning Guide for Local Governments, a publication of the Municipal Association of SC, explores the comprehensive plan process. It explains how planning commissions can develop and revise the 10 elements of the comprehensive plan, and how councils should adopt it. The handbook also explains the organizational structures and functions of planning commissions and boards of architectural review as well as the process of crafting a comprehensive plan. Find the handbook at www.masc.sc. (keyword: planning guide).