What materials should I consult to develop a Master Plan for our municipality?

MSU Extension often receives the question “what materials should I consult to develop a Master Plan for our municipality?” The answer provides a long list of resources for local government officials. This article reviews some of those materials.

From time-to-time, Michigan State University Extension receives the question: “what materials should I consult to develop a Master Plan for our municipality?”

There are two parts to this answer:

For purposes of this discussion, there are two types of plans in Michigan. There is a "plan," which is more informal and does not include any goals, objectives, strategies, or actions which are not within the complete and direct control of the legislative body (e.g., township board, village council, city council, county board) which adopts the plan. In those cases, there is not any set procedure for plan adoption or plan content. But such “plans” have limited use or influence.

If you are adopting a plan that includes goals, objectives, strategies, or actions which involve anything beyond the complete and direct control of the legislative body (such as directing zoning, coordination with a conservancy or other community organizations, economic development, DPW issues, and so on), then it has to be a "Master Plan," and the process is very prescribed with required steps which are done in a very specific order. One of those requirements is that there shall be a planning commission and the planning commission creates the Master Plan.

For a Master Plan, use materials at the website under "Pamphlets" and then go to "Sample Materials to Start a Planning Commission". Here you will find Land Use Series, “Checklist #1A; To create a planning commission". A planning commission is created by adoption of an ordinance. For a sample ordinance creating a planning commission see Land Use Series: “Sample #1B; Ordinance to create a planning commission”. From this sample one can edit it and prepare the ordinance as best suited for your municipality. At the first meeting of the newly formed planning commission bylaws need to be adopted. For a sample of bylaws use Land Use Series: "Sample #1E: Bylaws for a Planning Commission". Some municipalities also have a Code of Conduct. A sample of such a code is found with Land Use Series: "Sample #8: Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals Code of Conduct". From these samples one can edit the bylaws and a code and prepare them as best suited for the municipality. 

(It may be worth considering creation of a joint planning commission instead, so there is one planning commission that services two or more municipalities (township(s), city(ies), and village(s)). For information on creating a Joint Planning Commission see Land Use Series: "Sample #1O: Joint Planning Commission Agreement/Ordinance".)

Once the planning commission is created, then the planning commission can start work on a "Master Plan." On the web site, under "Pamphlets" go to "Planning Generally and Checklists."
If updating an existing Master Plan, then start with a review of the existing master plan to determine what its shortfalls are, what needs to be updated, additions needed, and changes desired. The publication Land Use Series: “Checklist #1H; The Five Year Plan Review” provides a guide for doing this.

Next, (or first if this is the first plan being developed), review the content of a master plan using Land Use Series: “Checklist #1F; Content of a Plan”.

The process to formally adopt the plan requires use of a series of steps outlined in one of the following. If adopting a new plan or the first plan consult Land Use Series: “Checklist #1G; Adoption of a Plan in Michigan.” If amending, or changing, an existing plan consult Land Use Series: “Checklist #1I; Adoption of an Amendment to a Plan.”

If the municipality is in a county with a county planning commission then there may be another resource to further consider: the county Master Plan. Some will be available as one document, others are in two volumes: the master plan itself and a background or data book of material behind or supporting the Master Plan. Often, those documents have a very large amount of background facts and information (saving the township the time and cost of duplicating that work) and provide a localized starting point for a municipal Master Plan. Some counties, as a service, develop very detailed plans and background material just for that purpose – to provide that information for coordination purposes and as a cost savings for municipalities in that county. Using the county planning commission’s work as a starting point can result in strong coordination with the county and other municipalities which have also used the county plan, a very important part of planning.

All of this is very involved and can be complex. Just like one has requirements for training volunteer firefighters, tax assessors, and others a municipality should expect planning commission members to go to planning and zoning training, and should provide resources to pay for that training. For more on training see Land Use Series: "Training, continuing education is best strategy for planning and zoning risk management."

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