Elements of a Comprehensive Plan

State law requires those cities and towns with planning commissions to adopt local comprehensive plans containing several elements. The law, written to provide for broad-based resident participation in shaping future development, does not specify how the plans should cover the elements, leaving local governments to pursue them in a way that best meets communities' needs. This list gives examples of how cities and towns have incorporated the elements into their plans.

Population element
This considers the existing population and anticipated growth as well as demographic specifics, like the size and number of households, education levels and income. The population discussion in Rock Hill's comprehensive plan notes that it has shown the third-highest growth rate of any city in the Charlotte area with a projection of 73,000 residents by 2020.

Economic development element
This takes into account the characteristics of the available workforce, available employment and other aspects impacting the local economy. Useful considerations can be manufacturing, tourism or revitalization. Fort Mill's comprehensive plan breaks down the percentage of employment for each sector in its planning area and inventories the area's business parks, retail centers and available commercial land tracts.

Natural resources element
What kind of water bodies, agricultural and forest land, wildlife habitats, and recreation areas does the area have? Among its other details, the resources section of James Island's comprehensive plan gives specifics on the wood stork, a federally endangered species that is "tightly associated with James Island" and roosts in trees along tidal marshes and waterways.

Cultural resources element
These can be historic buildings and sites; unique commercial, residential or natural areas; as well as educational, religious or entertainment institutions. Cheraw's comprehensive plan discusses such assets as the Cheraw Historic District, the iconic, circa-1770 Old St. David's Church, as well as the Cheraw Spring Festival and SC Jazz Festival.

Community facilities element
Community facilities include many assets necessary for development, like water, sewer and wastewater services; solid waste disposal; as well as medical, governmental and educational facilities. The comprehensive plan for Travelers Rest notes that the new Municipal Services Complex, opened in 2018, would allow for easier and more efficient city services, located in a park that serves as the southern anchor for downtown and connects with the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

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? Greer's 2015 five-year update to its comprehensive plan analyzed mortgage costs against income, finding that the percentages of residents paying 30 percent or more of income on their homes was approximately the same as the state average.

Land use element
How much land is available for residential, commercial, industrial and other activities? The land use maps featured in Walterboro's comprehensive plan included a version overlaid on a National Wetlands Inventory map as well as a map of potential growth for both mixed use and industrial use.

Transportation element
This considers road improvements and construction as well as pedestrian and bicycle projects. Charleston's Century V comprehensive plan tackles transportation challenges for a city situated on five separated land bodies with discussions of single-vehicle and public transportation, commuter rail and water taxi routes.

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. The City of Greenwood and Greenwood County have an integrated comprehensive plan, and many of the city and county projects listed in that plan appeared on the project list for a successful Capital Projects Sales Tax referendum in 2016.

Learn more in the Municipal Association's Comprehensive Planning Guide for Local Governments.