There is a common misconception among municipal officials and planners in Pennsylvania, something similar to the following:  “The State told us we have to update our comprehensive plan.”

While the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), the Commonwealth’s enabling legislation, certainly permits municipalities to plan and regulate land use and development, the MPC does not require municipalities to either:  (i) adopt local comprehensive plans or ordinances; or (ii) revise such plans or ordinances.

But when municipalities choose to prepare and adopt local land use or development plans or ordinances, the MPC sets forth certain procedures, timeframes and contents to which municipalities must adhere or incorporate.

While Section 301(c) of the MPC states “[t]he municipal … comprehensive plan shall be reviewed at least every ten years,” nowhere does the MPC require municipalities to revise local comprehensive plans. [Emphasis added].

Interestingly, while the MPC does not require municipalities to adopt or revise local comprehensive plans, counties on the other hand, are required by the MPC to not only prepare and adopt county comprehensive plans, but also revise such plans.

First, Section 301.4 of the MPC states that “[i]f a county does not have a comprehensive plan, then that county shall … prepare and adopt a comprehensive plan…”  [Emphasis added]

Next, Section 302(d) of the MPC states that “[c]ounty comprehensive plans shall be updated at least every ten years.” [Emphasis added]

Regardless of whether the MPC requires comprehensive plans to be adopted, reviewed or revised, it is good practice for municipalities and counties with adopted comprehensive plans to at least review such plans annually, if not more frequently, and make any necessary revisions to reflect and address current and emerging trends and issues important to the constituents.

By way of a case study on this issue, for more than a decade, Cumberland County has been the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania.  Certainly, the increased number of people has resulted in increased demand for land, infrastructure, utilities and services necessary to accommodate the additional housing, businesses, schools and vehicles. In order to help keep up with this growth, Cumberland County Planning (“CCP”) recently announced that it is embarking on a process of reviewing and updating its existing comprehensive plan (“County Plan”) that was last updated in 2017.

And while several of the County Plan’s goals and objectives for guiding natural resource conservation, land use, economic development, housing and transportation appear to remain valid and appropriate, CCP intends to focus on updating the future land use component.

Kirk Stoner, AICP, CCP’s Director commented that, “We want to rework the map, decrease the number of future land use categories and provide more specific guidance of what we believe as a county are smart growth measures.”

The purpose of this update is to help provide better guidance for determining consistency between local comprehensive plans and ordinances and the County Plan.

In determining consistency between comprehensive plans and ordinances, it is important to remember that the goals, objectives and strategies of the future land use element and all other applicable plan elements must be considered.

Therefore, regardless of the specific land use classification that a piece of land is designated for on the future land use map, such map is not the sole factor that must be relied upon in determining consistency, but it is only one of the components that must be considered.

Remember, since reviewing and updating the County Plan is a public process, property owners, developers, builders, business operators, municipalities and community or faith-based organizations should keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in CCP’s upcoming process.

If you have questions regarding this post or planning issues generally, please contact the McNees Wallace & Nurick Real Estate Group for assistance.

Photo: “Flag-map of Pennsylvania” by Niagara is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.