Skip to content
Back to Top

Local Government Resource Desk

Planning & Land Use

Community Planning


Planning is an activity that people do every day without really thinking about it. One of the most common planning activities involves putting food on the table. Whether you live in a large community and get your groceries from the local market or in a rural community where hunting and gathering provide a large part of a family’s food you have to plan for it. Going to the store with no money and no shopping list is inconvenient; but going hunting without enough gas, bullets, and other supplies is foolishness. Failing to plan community development and activities is like heading down the road with no end in sight. In order to choose the direction and guide the development of a community, community members must plan.


The planning process brings people together and provides an opportunity for members of a community to step back and take a look at where they are and think through where they want to go. In this process, local residents consider their current situation, identify goals, and identify options or ways to reach the goals.

After the goals and the options have been identified, the plan is prepared, which lays out the steps to take to implement the plan - essentially a map is created that lays out the actions required to reach the goals identified.

At a minimum, there are some basic elements of the process that must be organized to assure a successful plan. These elements are:

  • assignment of responsibility for coordinating the effort, gathering the information, and writing the plan;
  • public participation and input;
  • identification of needs and goals;
  • action plan laying out the steps needed to accomplish the goals; and
  • assignment of responsibility for completing the action plan.

Of the items listed above, the most important is community involvement in the process. At times, particularly for project-specific planning, there can be a ‘disconnect’ between the planning process and the affected community – people sometimes forget that the point is to gain understanding of the community’s assessment of its needs and vision and to map out the community’s action plan. Without that connection, communities lack a sense of ownership for the outcome. For the planning process to be successful there has to be a commitment by the community to take the steps that make the goals a reality.

This chapter discusses planning in very general terms. For more information on specific types of plan activities, see the remaining Planning chapters in LOGON.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should a community plan?

There are many reasons to prepare a community plan. It can:

  • help the community better prepare for building infrastructure and providing services (as an example, a clinic project can be coordinated with water and sewer extensions to ensure the clinic has a water supply);
  • provide a team approach for identifying goals that the entire community can support;
  • help the community to choose courses of action that benefit the community’s economic and general well-being; and
  • reduce environmental damage and protect resources by identifying areas where development should be avoided.

Why are there different types of plans?

Many types of planning are done at the community level, including:

  • community plan;
  • comprehensive plan;
  • visioning plan;
  • capital improvements program (CIP);
  • hazard mitigation; and
  • flood mitigation.

Federal, state, and regional agencies also conduct planning in communities. Plans that they might prepare include:

  • water and sewer;
  • health clinic;
  • transportation; and
  • housing.

What is a community plan?

A community plan can be anything from a visioning plan, which describes the community’s desired future in very basic terms, to a comprehensive plan, which provides guidance for a range of community concerns and includes a future land use map.

What is a comprehensive plan?

Alaska Statute 29.40.040 requires a municipality to adopt a comprehensive plan before adopting land use regulations. According to AS 29.40.030, the comprehensive plan is a compilation of policy statements, goals, standards, and maps for guiding the physical, social, and economic development, both private and public, of a community. The comprehensive plan may include, but is not limited to, statements of policies, goals, and standards; a land use plan; a community facilities plan; a transportation plan; and recommendations for implementation of the comprehensive plan. AS 29.40.030 requires the municipality adopt the comprehensive plan by ordinance.

Are there situations that require a community to have a specific plan in place?

Yes. If an incorporated municipality (AS 29.35.260) wants to regulate land use, the community must prepare a comprehensive plan as provided for in Alaska Statutes Title 29 (AS 29). Some funding agencies require that a community have a plan in place that identifies as a priority the project for which funding is requested. The type of plan required depends on the type of activity to be funded. The federal Economic Development Administration requires and only accepts the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy format. Whenever a new project-specific plan is developed, it should be incorporated into the community’s overall plan and reviewed and updated on the same schedule as the community plan.

How often should a community’s plan be updated?

Generally, the community’s overall plan should be reviewed by the governing body or planning committee each year and, if appropriate, updated to reflect changes that have occurred in the community. Every five years, the community plan should undergo a thorough review by the community through the planning process and should be amended as needed to reflect changes in community goals.

Who is responsible for doing planning?

Certain classes of municipalities are assigned responsibility in state statute to do planning. Specific grants or programs might require that an organization applying for funding prepare a plan in order to receive the funds. Within a community, various organizations, such as the municipality, tribe, and village corporation, might do community planning. The challenge for any community is to bring all the efforts together in one interconnected community plan document. Alaska communities may have both municipal and tribal governments, each created separately under different authorities with their own separate powers and rules of procedure; however, for the most part, each serves the same group of people. One method for ensuring both entities are working together for the benefit of the community is to attempt to coordinate planning efforts as much as possible. One way to assist coordination is through regular joint meetings or through formal establishment of a committee that includes representatives from each of the various groups active in the community. Community members, as stakeholders, have a responsibility to provide input during the process and to be familiar with the information contained in the plan.

Do the city and tribe have to have one plan?

If both the city and tribal government represent the community at large, it makes sense to develop one rather than two different plans. Some granting agencies either require or encourage municipal and tribal governments in a community to work together and develop a plan that is adopted by both governments. Some agencies also require project-specific plan documents, such as a new water/sewer project, that may not have been anticipated when the original plan was prepared. In this situation the original community plan should be given consideration when preparing the project-specific plan and it should be incorporated into the overall community plan as an amendment.

How much does it cost to do a plan?

The cost of a community plan varies depending on several factors, including, but not limited to:

  • the type of plan being developed;
  • the size of the community;
  • whether a consultant is used;
  • whether travel costs are involved; and
  • the number of meetings required to complete the plan.

Community plans can be prepared using volunteer labor, local agency staff (for example, municipal or tribal government, regional Native nonprofit, or borough), or other agency planning staff. A plan may cost anywhere from $7,500 to $75,000.

What sources of funding are available for doing a plan?

Communities often seek funding for planning from outside sources. Community Development Bock Grants (CDBG) can be used to fund the development of a plan. However, a grant is just one choice available for funding. It is important to explore all available resources before deciding if additional funding is necessary and what source best suits the community’s need.

Should a community hire a consultant?

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to hire a consultant. The most important is what type of plan is being developed. A sanitation plan requires a degree of technical expertise that isn’t readily available in most communities. On the other hand, a community visioning plan is relatively simple and there are many resources available to guide a community through the process.

The process isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does require a commitment of time and effort to successfully complete a plan. The Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA), provides numerous publications on planning. (See the Additional Resources section.) DCRA also maintains the Community Database Online, which contains information such as population, housing, and public facilities, services which can be used in a community’s plan documents.

If a community has local residents who can compile the background information, facilitate the community meetings needed to gather input, and write the plan, it can probably do the plan without hiring a consultant.

With that said, however, getting all but the simplest plan done with volunteer labor is very difficult. The individuals working on the plan should be doing so in their employed capacity. Other considerations on whether to hire a consultant include:

Are there issues in the community that can be dealt with more effectively by someone from outside the community?

A consultant will bring a different “flavor” to the planning process. Is the community comfortable with the idea of having an “outsider” taking the community through the planning process?

How should a community select a consultant?

If a community decides to hire a consultant, selection of the consultant will be the most important decision the community can make. The person or business hired will greatly influence the outcome. The community needs to know what it wants from a consultant, write a Request for Proposal that describes what the community expects from the consultant, and do a complete assessment of those who apply. References should be checked, and other communities that have used the consultant to prepare a community plan should be contacted to find out what they liked and didn’t like about the consultant.

How does the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) fit in with community planning?

In general, a capital project is a community asset of significant value that has a service life of several years. Examples include community-owned buildings, roadways, utility systems, landfills, and heavy equipment. In small communities, a capital project might also include a fire truck or computer system, because the relative value of each of these assets is significant. A CIP is a multi-year (usually about five years) guide identifying capital projects needed by the community or municipality. In smaller communities, the CIP is usually developed and adopted by the local governing body. In larger municipalities, the planning commission usually recommends a CIP to the governing body. The CIP should be incorporated into the community plan and this section of the plan should be updated as the community works its way through its CIP priorities or identifies new projects and priorities.

The many benefits of a CIP include:

  • saving money by timing projects to make better use of equipment and labor;
  • preventing the waste of funds by coordinating the construction of projects (For example, a newly paved street may not have to be torn up to replace utility lines.);
  • ensure that high priority projects are built first;
  • building support by showing residents that a project has been assessed in relationship to other requested projects; and
  • communicating to agencies and others doing business in the community the capital improvements that are needed and supported by the community.
Additional Resources


Recommended web site search topics:

  • Alaska Planning and Land Management
  • Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Statewide Transportation Improvements Program and Needs List
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Native Americans
  • U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
  • University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, VISTA
  • U.S.D.A. Rural Development in Alaska
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Sustainable Communities
  • UAF Cooperative Extension Service – Community Support
Applicable Laws and Regulations

Alaska Statutes

  • AS 29.35.180 planning within a first or second class borough in accordance with AS 29.40, planning within a home rule borough.
  • AS 29.35.250 Cities inside boroughs.
  • AS 29.35.260 Cities outside boroughs.
  • AS 29.40.010-.200 planning, platting, land use regulation, borough responsibilities, delegation of responsibilities, planning commission, mandatory planning commissions, borough comprehensive plan, limitation on land use regulation variance, appeal, delegation of authority.

Revised 12/18/2014