Proposed Comprehensive Plan Standards

Designation Program Background

Why is APA exploring this program?

APA feels (and our members confirm) that we have a critically important role in promoting the importance and value of comprehensive planning. Although many resources exist on this topic, there is limited guidance and assistance available for communities seeking to develop high quality comprehensive plans that are both relevant and effective today. The standards, developed as a part of this project, are meant to serve as the concise, go-to resource for desired content for comprehensive plans for sustaining places.

The standards can also be used to determine whether comprehensive plans that strive to achieve principles for Sustaining Places, as defined in PAS Report No. 567 (published by APA in January 2012), are doing so in a complete and integrated manner. The proposed designation program is envisioned as a means of recognizing communities that are at "the leading edge" of integrating sustainability into their comprehensive plans.

What will APA call the program?

"Designation program" was selected as a working title after a number of possible terms were considered. "Certification" and "accreditation" were among those considered initially, but were discarded based on member feedback and concern that they could be confused with other certification/accreditation programs. Other terms under consideration include "recognition" and "endorsement." As the design of this program continues, the name may be modified.

To whom and what will this program apply?

The program is completely voluntary for those communities that are interested in measuring their comprehensive plans against a set of standards and best practices.

The standards are not intended to apply to traditional comprehensive plans, but rather to comprehensive plans aimed at sustaining places. They are designed for communities that want to go above and beyond what is required in state enabling legislation (if applicable) and tackle the relevant issues of the 21st century.

How does this program relate to state level requirements and guidance for comprehensive plans?

This program would not replace or eliminate the need for a community's plan to meet state requirements (if applicable). It is intended to supplement such requirements for interested communities seeking to address a range of substantive issues.

APA's mission and vision is to provide leadership in the development of vital communities and to develop solutions to address the emerging issues that communities will face in the 21st century. Our members have expressed the need for resources (consolidated, up-to-date, and easy to use) that will help them produce higher quality plans and plans that are more relevant in their community.

The standards are designed to provide assistance on how to create a high quality, relevant comprehensive plan while leaving the flexibility to design a plan that best meets the needs of each community.

How would Sustaining Places designation relate to the STAR Community Rating System and other sustainability certification programs?

Sustaining Places designation differs from national and state level sustainability rating systems in that it would focus specifically on local government comprehensive plans. APA has coordinated its work with representatives of STAR Community, Sustainable Jersey, and other sustainability certification programs. The input received was that Sustaining Places designation would be a valuable complement to these programs and would fill a valuable niche in sustainability practice.

How would this program be operated?

The Sustaining Places comprehensive plan designation program would be a voluntary one for communities seeking validation that they are at the leading edge of practice in incorporating sustainability into their comprehensive plans. Each community would submit its completed plan and an application providing context and background information.

The review would be carried out by trained, two-person teams who would use a scoring system to recommend plan designation levels: Designated (basic achievement), Silver (medium achievement), or Gold (advanced achievement), depending on the degree to which the comprehensive plan standards are met.

APA would coordinate the review process, ensuring a pool of qualified reviewers, assigning plans for review, and maintaining a database of designated plan reviews.

What happened at the 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta?

During the six months leading up to the 2014 National Planning Conference, APA worked with 10 pilot communities that were at various stages of developing comprehensive plans to refine the standards and scoring system for designation. Three additional communities volunteered their completed comprehensive plans to "test" the scoring system.

The conference program included an all-day workshop and panel session on the Sustaining Places comprehensive plan standards and potential designation program. The workshop was led by David Godschalk, FAICP, with APA staff. Representatives of the pilot and "test" communities shared their experiences with the program and worked with workshop attendees to evaluate the completed comprehensive plan using the scoring system.

The feedback received from both the pilot communities and the attendees was positive. APA is currently working on a PAS Report (designed as a "how-to" guide for Sustaining Places comprehensive plans), which will contain the finalized standards and proposed designation system.