Shaping your town’s future – understanding community plans


Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve got a vision for the future of your community. Maybe it includes more businesses operating in your town, a new park in your neighborhood, or safer crosswalks around your child’s school. 

Local governments also create a shared vision for their city, town, or county. By incorporating ideas from community members, advice from experts and city staff, and input from elected officials, local governments are able to create plans that will help guide local decision-making. 

There are two types of plans that local governments use to help set this kind of community vision:

First, is the comprehensive plan, a document that lays out broad goals and focus areas on topics ranging from infrastructure projects and housing; to neighborhood revitalization and public recreation.

  • Comprehensive plans are allowed, but not mandated by the State Code. This means that a local government can choose whether or not they would like to create such a plan. There is one restriction, however. If a local government would like to regulate how land is used within their jurisdiction, they cannot do so without creating comprehensive plan. This is so that they are able to keep track of their goals for land use.
  • A local government must vote to adopt a comprehensive plan. Once they do, they are responsible for allocating their resources towards achieving the goals that the plan lays out.


Second, are more in-depth and technical plans about a specific focus area. Most often, these are the goals mentioned in the comprehensive plan. Examples of this type of plan include redevelopment plans, or environmental action plans.

  • These types of plans include very specific expert input and recommendations. For example, a redevelopment plan might include a study on walkability or community input on beautification with recommendations about how to make crosswalks safer, or whether or not to plant trees along a certain street. 
  • These types of plans may be adopted by a local government, but are most often used for reference and guidance to inform how a city, town, or county decides to spend their money. 


Turning Plans Into Action

A good place to start is to find out what has been done so far. Plans like the ones we’ve talked about are public record – that means that every citizen has a right to know what’s in there. But, that doesn’t mean that plans are easy to find or easy to read. Here are my recommendations to make it easier:

  • Google search your community name and then a word that might describe the type of plan you’re looking for. An example might be “Fayetteville Comprehensive Plan” or “West Side Redevelopment Plan”.
  • If you can’t locate one online, call your local recorder or clerk. 
  • When you’re reading the plan, focus on headings to understand the themes and then look at the recommendations or goals that they plan lays out. You don’t have to know all the details to understand what the plan is suggesting.


Next, it’s useful to understand where in the planning process your local government is. 

  • If they are just beginning a planning process or updating an existing plan, you may be able to provide feedback that will help shape future goals.
  • If a plan already exists, you might choose to advocate to your local government to pass a resolution (Check out our Citizen’s Guide to Ordinances and Resolutions!)to take action on a specific recommendation that the plan outlines. 
  • If there has been no comprehensive planning done in your community yet, perhaps you set up a meeting with your mayor, city council, or county commissioners. Ask if they are interested in conducting a planning process and connect them to the WVU Sustainable Land Use Law Clinic.


Learning more about the plans that your community has put together might give you ideas for issues you can take action on in your own community. Or maybe, you’ll be able to be the starting point for a planning process that’s never been done before.

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