Every locality in Virginia must express its goals in a Comprehensive Plan, a twenty-year vision which must be reviewed and/or revised every five years. These documents are of foundational importance for communities that wish to shape their own future.
Although the plans are not legally binding, they are intended to guide all local policy and they serve as legal justification for the locality's decisions on proposed developments.
The plan, with the accompanying maps, plats, charts, and descriptive matter, shall show the locality's long-range recommendations for the general development of the territory covered by the plan. It may include, but need not be limited to:
1. The designation of areas for various types of public and private development and use, such as different kinds of residential, including age-restricted, housing; business; industrial; agricultural; mineral resources; conservation; active and passive recreation; public service; flood plain and drainage; and other areas.
2. The designation of a system of community service facilities such as parks, sports playing fields, forests, schools, playgrounds, public buildings and institutions, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community centers, waterworks, sewage disposal or waste disposal areas, and the like.
3. The designation of historical areas and areas for urban renewal or other treatment.
4. The designation of areas for the implementation of reasonable ground water protection measures.
5. A capital improvements program, a subdivision ordinance, a zoning ordinance and zoning district maps, mineral resource district maps and agricultural and forestal district maps, where applicable.
6. The location of existing or proposed recycling centers.
7. The location of military bases, military installations, and military airports and their adjacent safety areas.
8. The designation of corridors or routes for electric transmission lines of 150 kilovolts or more.
Most Comprehensive Plans include a Future Land Use Map, showing where various kinds of land use will be encouraged. Public input during a Comprehensive Plan review is vital to the creation of a document that will accurately reflect the local citizens' vision. However, it is important to keep in mind that the plan itself cannot make this vision a reality, because the plan is not legally binding. Once the vision is established, the local government must follow through by enacting laws and policies that will fulfill the community's goals.