General Plans and Specific Plans are adopted by counties and cities to regulate land usage according to the goals and vision of the community
What Is A General Plan?
In California, every city and county must adopt a comprehensive or mater plan, known as a General Plan. The General plan is the foundation for establishing purposes, zoning, and activities allowed on each land parcel to provide compatibility and continuity to an entire region as well as each individual neighborhood. The General Plan is the blueprint to guide growth and land development in the community for the present and the future.
All community development decisions, such as rezoning, subdivision map approvals, and public works projects are required to be consistent with the General Plan. The land use proposals outlined in a General Plan are implemented in many ways – zoning being the best known and most frequently used tool. Additionally, General Plan land uses are carried out through specific plans, subdivision regulations, property tax incentives, land banking, and pubic finance measures, to name a few.
A city must have an “adequate” General Plan in order to support valid development approvals, and the plan should be updated regularly to keep in pace with the changing community.
General Plan Categories
Every General Plan must cover development issues in the following seven major categories: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety. Cities or counties located on the coast must also address coastal development and protection of natural resources and wetlands.
What Is A Specific Plan?
General Plans are often supplemented by one or more Specific Plans, each of which is a more detailed plan for a specific area within the city. The rulings of the Specific Plan usually supersede any direct conflicts with the General Plan, meaning the Specific Plan if often the more powerful and restrictive of the two.
Why Are General Plans and Specific Plans Important?
It is important to pay attention to the General and Specific Plans in your area and the proposed changes taking place. As the plans are being reviewed and updated on a regular basis, such changes may affect land use restrictions for commercial and residential areas.
For instance, in 2009, the city of Emeryville adopted a General Plan update to create two new parks in a densely populated residential area. The rezoning of the combined 13 acres resulted in the designation of a few privately owned and developed residences as Open Space – to the surprise and consternation of the property owners.
Additionally, developers should always be aware of both the current state and proposed alterations of the General and Specific Plans, as they will have direct consequences on any new construction activity.
How to Find the General Plan or Specific Plan?
Both General Plans and Specific Plans are available for public access, and most cities and counties will have their plans posted on their website. A quick google search for your area will usually yield the results you are looking for. If not, visit your local Planning Department and request a copy.