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League of Women Voters of the
District of Columbia
THE 1998 AMENDMENTS TO THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AS THEY MAY AFFECT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
While many of the 1998 Comprehensive Plan amendments have significant economic development implications, the Plan is not self-implementing. Policy changes with no clear implementation mechanism are typically not effective in bringing about real change. There are, however, a limited number of new policies with an economic thrust that will probably be implemented, generally through zoning. These have been summarized and grouped below into five areas:
The Comprehensive Plan for the District of Columbia (District Element)
Urban planning, which has occurred since at least 5,000 BC, has shaped the form and nature of cities throughout the world. In Washington, DC, planning dates back to 1791 and LEnfants plan for the original city. Modified by Ellicott, that plan was followed by a highway plan in 1898, the Macmillan Plan which laid out elements of the current monumental core in 1902, and various comprehensive plans by NCPC from the 1920s to 1970. Following World War II, urban renewal plans and programs changed the face of many central area neighborhoods. In 1973, the Home Rule Act made the Mayor responsible for municipal planning in the District. As the chief planner of the city, the Mayor prepares the District elements of the Comprehensive Plan, with NCPC preparing the Federal elements. The first District elements of the Comprehensive Plan were adopted in 1984 and 1985, amended subsequently in 1989 and 1994 and 1998.
The District Elements of the Comprehensive Plan
The eleven citywide District elements of the Comprehensive Plan, a 20-year policy plan and generalized land use map, form the first tier of the District's 3-tier planning structure. The eight ward plans, providing more focused policies, are included in the Comprehensive Plan and form the second tier. The third tier is made up of small area plans which are the most detailed of the city's plans, providing specific planning and development initiatives and implementation strategies. The District elements include General Provisions, Economic Development, Housing, Environmental Protection, Transportation, Public Facilities, Urban Design, Preservation and Historic Features, Downtown (the most detailed element), Human Services, Land Use and the eight ward plans.
The Comprehensive Plan provides general policy guidance to decision-makers. It must be considered in its entirety, because individual goals and policies often appear to conflict when considered in isolation from others. Also, because of its general policy nature, the Plan provides little direct priority direction. Most importantly, the Plan is not self-implementing. Implementation of the land use portion comes largely through zoning (the Home Rule Charter requires that zoning not be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan). Because the Council has not direct control over the Zoning Regulations, unlike the situation in other jurisdictions, it passes a relatively detailed Comprehensive Plan to give it some control over zoning and, thus, over land use and development. The other unique aspect of the District's Comprehensive Plan is that it is prepared without direction from an appointed planning commission.
Amending the Comprehensive Plan
The Comprehensive Plan can only be initiated by the Mayor (it is adopted by the Council), and is currently required on a four-year cycle. The Mayor, however, can initiate the process at any time for a particular purpose, although he has been advised to do so only under the most urgent circumstances because he then also opens up the process for any Council initiated amendments without there being the context of a full community outreach process. Recommended amendments to the Downtown element of the Comprehensive Plan resulting from the current Downtown planning effort would likely constitute the kind of urgent situation which would justify the Mayor's initiation of an amendment.
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