Comprehensive Planning

A Comprehensive Plan can help determine your community’s future. 

For example, under your current system, if a developer wanted to locate a chemical plant in a residential neighborhood, once the Department of Environmental Protection’s criteria was met, the project could proceed. The homeowner’s only recourse would be costly litigation to prove damages resulted.

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.

With local controls in place, your community could determine where different types of development could occur and what development standards would be achieved.

A comprehensive plan is…

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

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. The plan describes the community and is an expression of the town’s vision for its future.

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.

Comprehensive Planning FAQ

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A Comprehensive Plan is 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 State Planning Office 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. In 2007, the State Planning Office developed a Comprehensive Plan Self Assessment Checklist to guide communities in preparing Comprehensive Plans that are consistent with Maine’s Growth Management Act. 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.

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 State Planning Office 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.

In general, most communities in Washington County are able to develop a new Comprehensive Plan for between $15,000 and $18,000; and to update an existing Comprehensive Plan for between $12,000 and $15,000. 

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.

SCEC encourages any Washington County community that is considering developing a Comprehensive Plan on their own to contact us to discuss which elements of the Plan your community may wish to complete with assistance from a consultant.

What does the State review process include?

Communities may submit their Comprehensive Plan to the State Planning Office (SPO) to have it reviewed for consistency with Maine’s Growth Management Act.* The review process is spelled out in the State Planning Office’s Criteria Review Rule. 

Once a community submits a Comprehensive Plan for review, SPO has 35 business days to issue a Finding of Completeness. During this time, appropriate state agencies and regional planning councils are given an opportunity to review the Comprehensive Plan and issue comments. If the the Plan is found to be complete, SPO issues a “Finding of Completeness.” If the plan is found to be incomplete, the community is given an opportunity to address any identified deficiencies.

Following a Finding of Completeness, SPO has 10 business days in which to review the Land Use elements of the plan and issue a Finding of Consistency. A Finding of Consistency means the State Planning Office has found the Plan to be consistent with Maine’s Growth Management Act. If the plan is found to be inconsistent, SPO will indicate which elements of the Plan are inconsistent with the Growth Management Act and the community has an opportunity to address those issues.

Communities may adopt a Comprehensive Plan prior to submission or at any time within 24 months of a Finding of Consistency from SPO. Under State Law, a vote to adopt a Comprehensive Plan must be preceded by a Public Hearing with 30 days advertised notice; and the Comprehensive Plan must be adopted by the community’s legislative body (Town Meeting in most Washington County communities).

*Communities are not required to have their Comprehensive Plan reviewed for consistency with the Growth Management Act. However, many state grant programs require that communities have a consistent Comprehensive Plan. In addition, communities gain a degree of legal protection for locally adopted land use ordinances that are based on a consistent Comprehensive Plan.

Is there any money to help us prepare a Comprehensive Plan?

Comprehensive Plan Library

Titles in WCCOG Comprehensive Plan Library

Paper Copy

Digital Copy

Addison Comprehensive Plan (2007) yes yes (not final)
Alexander Comprehensive Plan (2007) yes yes
Baileyville Comprehensive Plan yes yes
Beals Comprehensive Plan (2004) yes yes
Beddington Comprehensive Plan (2007) yes yes
Calais Comprehensive Plan (2005) (2010 Update) yes yes
Charlotte Comprehensive Plan no no
Cherryfield Comprehensive Plan (2004) yes yes
Columbia Comprehensive Plan (2004) yes yes
Columbia Falls Comprehensive Plan (2002) yes no
Cooper Comprehensive Plan (2009) yes yes
Cutler Comprehensive Plan (1991) no no
Dennysville Comprehensive Plan (2004) yes yes
East Machias Comprehensive Plan (1995) no no

Eastport Comprehensive Plan (2006)

Eastport Comprehensive Plan (2018)

yes yes
Harrington Comprehensive Plan (2009) yes yes
Harrington Harbor Management Plan (2007) yes yes
Indian Township Comprehensive Plan yes yes
Jonesboro Comprehensive Plan (2008) yes yes
Jonesport Comprehensive Plan (2009) yes yes
Lubec Comprehensive Plan (2011) yes yes
Machias Comprehensive Plan (2007) yes yes
Machiasport Comprehensive Plan (2010) yes yes
Machiasport Harbor Management Plan yes yes
Milbridge Comprehensive Plan (2012) yes yes
Northfield Comprehensive Plan (2008) yes yes
Pembroke Comprehensive Plan (2010) yes yes
Perry Comprehensive Plan (not adopted) yes yes
Princeton Comprehensive Plan yes yes
Robbinston Comprehensive Plan no no
Roque Bluffs Comprehensive Plan (2001) (update under development) yes yes (2001 partial; update under development)
Steuben Comprehensive Plan (2002) yes no
Whiting Comprehensive Plan (2018) yes yes
Whitneyville Comprehensive Plan (2010) yes yes
Screenshot of online map that shows whether municipalities have adopted a comprehensive plan or not.

Comprehensive Plan Status in Washington County

The map above shows whether a town has a Comprehensive Plan, whether it is consistent with state law, and whether it is locally adopted. Click the image above to explore the interactive map.



GIS Maps from University of Maine Machias

The GIS Laboratory at the University of Maine at Machias, with support from partners such as the Washington County Council of Governments and the Downeast Conservation Network, provides interactive online maps for local communities. Use the links below to access maps and instructions:

Washington County Maps for Planners

Washington County Public Parcel Viewer Maps

Hancock County Map for Planners

Climate, Storm Surge & Sea Level Rise Maps

Planners Maps


Climate Vulnerability Assessment

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