What is a Comp Plan?

City governments provide many important services, but one function stands apart in its impact on future generations—the authority to engage in community planning and zoning. Comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances adopted and enforced by current officials affect the future layout and landscape of a city for many years to come. Whether it is the development or preservation of open space, or the redevelopment and revival of existing properties, what a community will look like dozens of years from now depends on decisions made today.

A comprehensive plan is an expression of the community’s vision for the future and a strategic map to reach that vision. Comprehensive planning is an important tool for cities to guide future development of land to ensure a safe, pleasant, and economical environment for residential, commercial, industrial, and public activities. Planning can help:
  • Preserve important natural resources, agricultural land, and other open lands
  • Create the opportunity for residents to participate in guiding a community’s future
  • Identify issues, stay ahead of trends, and accommodate change
  • Ensure that growth makes the community better, not just bigger
  • Foster sustainable economic development
  • Ensure more efficient and cost-effective infrastructure and public services 
  • Provide an opportunity to consider future implications of today’s decisions
  • Protect property rights and values
  • Enable other public and private entities to plan their activities in harmony with the municipality’s plans
A comprehensive plan sets forth a vision and goals for a city’s future, and provides the overall foundation for all land use regulation in the city. State law encourages all cities to prepare and implement a comprehensive municipal plan. The Johnston Comprehensive Plan will outline the vision and goals of the community through 2040.

Planning is a professional field that encompasses a broad array of skills and techniques. In developing comprehensive plans, many cities use educated, certified, land use professionals. At its core, planning is a relatively straightforward three-step process:

  1. A community takes stock of where it is today.
  2. The community generates a shared vision and goals for what the city will be like in the future.
  3. The city develops a set of specific strategies and polices to achieve that vision over time.
The comprehensive planning process helps communities identify issues before they arise, stay ahead of trends in land use development and redevelopment, and anticipate and navigate changes in populations and land use patterns. 

The comprehensive plan includes a land use plan that lays out the desired timing, location, design, and density for future development, redevelopment, or preservation. Components of comprehensive plans typically include or address:
  • An overview of existing conditions in the community
  • Vision and Guiding Principles for the future
  • Future land use
  • Economic development and housing
  • Water resources
  • Transportation and mobility
  • Parks, recreation, and open space
  • Urban design and community character, and
  • Implementation strategies
The State of Iowa has passed “Smart Planning” legislation that outlines the principles that communities should follow in creating and updating comprehensive plans. These principles are as follows:
  • Collaboration
  • Efficiency, Transparency, and Consistency
  • Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy
  • Occupational Diversity
  • Revitalization
  • Housing Diversity
  • Community Character
  • Natural Resources and Agricultural Protection
  • Sustainable Design
  • Transportation Diversity
State law determines how comprehensive plans are adopted or amended. When the draft Plan is ready for consideration, a public hearing is scheduled with the City Planning and Zoning Commission. The Commission considers the Plan, takes public testimony, and then makes a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council then holds another public hearing, and also considers testimony, and evaluates the proposed Plan and recommendation from the Planning Commission. The City Council then takes final action on the Plan.

Once adopted, the city should actively consult the plan, periodically review it for consistency with current policies and practices, and recommend amendments whenever necessary. State law provides that comprehensive plans should be implemented through zoning and subdivision regulations, coordinated public improvements and city services, and a capital improvements program.


Since the Johnston 2030 was adopted in 2009, the City has experienced tremendous growth, including a population increase from approximately 17,278 to 22,000 residents, more than $217 million in new commercial/industrial construction, more than 2,200 residential units have been constructed, and approximately 1,500 acres have been annexed, thus necessitating the need for a plan update.