Comprehensive Planning

A comprehensive plan can shape your community’s future. 

A comprehensive plan is an official, public document adopted by local government as a guide to decisions regarding the future development of the town.

As part of the process of developing a Comprehensive Plan, your community looks broadly at your town’s character, existing land use pattern, and natural resource opportunities and constraints to identify where different types of development would be most appropriate.

A comprehensive plan contains:

  • A description of the town’s past, present and desired future including its population, economy, public facilities, public services and natural resources;
  • Policies & Goals: statements about where the town wants to be in the future;
  • Strategies: how the town plans to achieve these goals.A comprehensive plan is the collective thoughts of the community.

A comprehensive plan is not…

  • A comprehensive plan is not an ordinance. However, the plan is the legal basis or foundation for local ordinances.
  • The plan is not forever or “cast in stone.” It will be necessary to periodically review the plan to ensure that it continues to reflect the conditions and desires of the community.
Jennifer Peters, Director of Community Development


Please contact Jennifer Peters, Director of Community Development

Phone: 207-255-0983


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Comprehensive Planning FAQ

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A Comprehensive Plan is a document that pulls together information on a wide-range of community issues to assess trends and establish town policies. In a sense, a Comprehensive Plan a lot like a blueprint for a community. Rather than looking narrowly at a specific issue that may be important today, a Comprehensive Plan looks various aspects of community life and how they may interact with town government over a 10 to 15 year period.

In Maine, Comprehensive Plans typically establish town policies dealing with issues such as transportation, natural resources management, municipal capital investment, outdoor recreation, working waterfront access and marine resources, and land use.

Different communities in Maine have differing priorities. Developing a Comprehensive Plan establishes a process for communities to review their priorities relating to these and other issues and establish policies consistent with the community’s priorities.

Why should our community prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Communities complete Comprehensive Plans for a variety of reasons. At their most basic level, communities complete Comprehensive Plans to prepare for the future. A comprehensive review of community issues and policies promotes discussion among neighbors and can help communities avoid problems that sometimes occurs when community decisions are made in a piecemeal fashion.

If that weren’t enough, though, State Law and various agencies have established incentives for communities to develop Comprehensive Plans. Over $80 million is awarded through 25 state grant and loan programs that either require or encourage applicants to have a consistent* comprehensive plan. These include:

  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • Land for Maine’s Future
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • DEP 319(h) Non-Point Source Protection Grants, and
  • DEP State Revolving Loan Fund

Moreover, a consistent* Comprehensive Plan provides legal protection for your community’s ordinances. According to the Maine Growth Management Act, your town must have a consistent* Comprehensive Plan in order to:

  • Legally impose a zoning ordinance beyond the state minimum for shoreland zoning;
  • Legally create an impact fee ordinance; or
  • Legally create a rate of growth or building cap ordinance.

* The term “consistent” means that the Municipal Planning Assistance Program has reviewed a local comprehensive plan and issued a letter finding it consistent with the Growth Management Act.

What is included in a Comprehensive Plan?

Comprehensive Plans include a wide range of information addressing various aspects of municipal government. The Self Assessment Checklist identifies 14 subject areas that should be addressed in a Comprehensive Plan:

  • Future Land Use Plan
  • Population and Demographics
  • Economy
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Recreation
  • Marine Resources (if necessary)
  • Water Resources
  • Critical Natural Resources
  • Historic and Archaeological Resources
  • Agricultural and Forestry Resources
  • Public Facilities and Services
  • Fiscal Capacity and Capital Investment Plan; and
  • Land Use

In some cases a single chapter can address several of the subject areas list above. Most Comprehensive Plans in Washington County are divided into ten or eleven chapters. Each chapter identified key analyses and trends and established community goals, policies and strategies. In order to be found consistent with the Growth Management Act, Comprehensive Plans must also include a Vision Statement, Public Participation Summary, Regional Coordination Program, Plan Implementation section, and Evaluation measures.

Helpful Resources: 

Does the State require a Comprehensive Plan?
Maine communities are not required to adopt a Comprehensive Plan.

However, many land use controls (such as a zoning ordinance that goes beyond the state minimum for shoreland zoning, impact fees, and rate of growth or building cap ordinances) must be enacted pursuant to a consistent* Comprehensive Plan. In addition, a number State grant programs either require or encourage applicant communities to have a consistent* Comprehensive Plan.

* The term “consistent” means that the Municipal Planning Assistance Program has reviewed a local comprehensive plan and issued a letter finding it consistent with the Growth Management Act.

How long does it take to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

For most Washington County communities, it takes between 10 and 16 committee meetings to develop a Comprehensive Plan. If your committee intends to meet once per month, the Comprehensive Plan process may take 12 to 18 months. State review and plan adoption may require an addition 2 to 3 months.

The process can be accelerated to a certain extent if the community is updating a relatively recent Comprehensive Plan or through more frequent meeting time. Even then, the process can be expected to take around 8 months.    

How much does it cost to prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Most towns in Washington County engage the services of a consultant to assist with development of some or all elements of a Comprehensive Plan. The cost of developing a Comprehensive Plan varies depending on:

  • the size of the community,
  • the complexity of community issues,
  • the scope of services for which your community is hiring a consultant, and
  • whether the town has an existing Comprehensive Plan or starting from scratch.
Can our community/committee prepare our own Comprehensive Plan?

Yes. Communities can develop a Comprehensive Plan wholly or mostly on their own. There are a number of good resources available to assist citizen committees in developing a Comprehensive Plans. That said, a word of caution is in order. The amount of work required to complete all of the required elements for a Comprehensive Plan to be found consistent with the Growth Management Act is substantial and preparation of some of the required elements involves both technical skills (such as GIS mapping) and familiarity with applicable state laws.

What does the State review process include?

In accordance with state statute (Title 30-A, §4347-A), The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) Municipal Planning Assistance Program reviews comprehensive plans and growth management programs for consistency with the goals and guidelines of the Act. Municipalities voluntarily submit their comprehensive plans and growth management programs to DACF for review. As the lead agency, DACF coordinates its findings with the input of 10 other state agencies. Each agency, including DACF, reviews the comprehensive plan or growth management program for consistency with appropriate state and federal rules and regulations, as well as agency policies and programs. (DACF relies on the Comprehensive Plan Review Criteria Rule, Chapter 208 to guide the consistency review findings.)


Planners Maps
Climate Vulnerability Assessment
WCCOG Comprehensive Plan Archive

Copies of comprehensive plans from the Washington County Council of Government are available for review on this website. Click here to browse the WCCOG archive. 

View the Status of Comprehensive Planning in Your Community

Click the button below to visit the Maine Municipal Planning Assistance Program webpage where you can view the status of comprehensive plans across the state of Maine. 


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