What is the Comprehensive Plan?
The District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Plan is a 20-year framework and guiding document for the future planning and development of Washington, DC. The Comprehensive Plan addresses the topics of land use, economic development, housing, environmental protection, historic preservation, transportation, and more. The Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital: District Elements was originally adopted in 2006 by the DC Council and was amended once in 2011. The DC Office of Planning (OP) has launched an effort to amend the Comprehensive Plan a second time to ensure that the Plan aligns with recent planning efforts, population and demographic projections, and remains responsive to the needs of the District.
The Home Rule Act requires that the District government develop a Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan of the National Capital is comprised of two parts: the District Elements and the Federal Elements. The District’s Comprehensive Plan constitutes the District Elements and OP serves as its steward. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) develops the Federal Elements.
How is the Comprehensive Plan used?
The Comprehensive Plan is the guiding document that District agencies, residents, employers, developers, and other stakeholders use to ensure that Washington, DC evolves in line with our collective vision for “Planning an Inclusive City.” For example, the Office of Planning uses the Plan to evaluate projects, developers use the Plan to guide their proposals, and the community uses the Plan to hold District government accountable. Having a visionary and up-to-date Comprehensive Plan is critical to the long-term success of the District.
How is the Comprehensive Plan structured?
The District’s Comprehensive Plan contains three major components comprised of text and maps: The Framework Element, Citywide Elements, and Implementation (chapters that affect the entire city), Area Elements (chapters that affect certain areas in the city), and Maps (Future Land Use and Generalized Policy). The maps, along with the Citywide and Area Elements, provide the framework for land use related policy in the District.
Twelve topic-specific Citywide Elements (or chapters). Implementation of the guidance contained in these chapters depends upon the resources of multiple District and federal agencies, the public, the private sector and other stakeholders. The Citywide Elements are:
- Land Use
- Economic Development
- Environmental Protection
- Community Services & Facilities
- Urban Design
- Historic Preservation
- Parks, Recreation & Open Space
- Educational Facilities
- Arts and Culture
Ten Area Elements (or chapters) provide guidance for geographically-specific areas across the District. The Comprehensive Plan uses Area Elements in lieu of Ward boundaries. The Plan does not use Ward boundaries because the Comprehensive Plan is a 20-year plan, and the Wards are political boundaries that can change every 10 years with redistricting following the decennial census by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Area Elements are:
- Capitol Hill
- Central Washington
- Far Northeast and Southeast
- Far Southeast/Southwest
- Lower Anacostia Waterfront/Near Southwest
- Near Northwest
- Rock Creek East
- Rock Creek West
- Upper Northeast
Two maps: the Future Land Use Map and the Generalized Policy Map.
- Future Land Use Map: The Future Land Use Map provides land use designations with a range of densities for every site in the District. Examples include moderate or high density residential and other uses such as local public facilities and parks, recreation and open space.
- Generalized Policy Map: The Generalized Policy Map visually represents areas in the District that are expected to change and grow in the future.
How does the Comprehensive Plan become approved and by whom?
The District’s Comprehensive Plan is adopted as legislation by the DC Council. In addition, the Plan is approved at the federal level by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the U.S. Congress. This means that the policy guidance provided in the District Elements—the text (Citywide and Area Elements) and both of its maps—have legislative weight. Furthermore, OP has to provide certification to the DC Council on an annual basis that the District’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
How does the Comprehensive Plan relate to other citywide plans by other agencies and OP plans?
The Comprehensive Plan sets the high-level framework for land use and related policy sectors. Other citywide plans, such as DDOT’s MoveDC or DOEE’s Climate Ready DC, provide more prescriptive guidance for implementation at the policy level. Small Area Plans, which are adopted by Council, also provide more prescriptive guidance for implementation, however this guidance is place-based.
Small Area Plans provide targeted planning guidance for a smaller, defined geographic area, such as a corridor or neighborhood, than the Comprehensive Plan covers. Small Area Plans serve as supplemental guidance to the Comprehensive Plan and are intended to guide long-range development, at a more defined geographic area, stabilize and improve neighborhoods, achieve citywide goals and attain economic and community benefits. Recent examples include the Southwest Neighborhood Plan (2015) and the Central 14th Street Vision Plan and Revitalization Strategy (2012). Small Area Plans are adopted by the DC Council through an approval resolution, and its recommendations are incorporated through legislation into the Comprehensive Plan during amendment cycles. For example, among its policy guidance, Small Area Plans typically include recommendations to change the Future Land Use Map designations of specific sites within the study boundaries of the Small Area Plan.
What are the vision and themes of the Comprehensive Plan?
“Planning an Inclusive City” is the guiding vision for the DC Comprehensive Plan. An inclusive city is one where every member of the community feels welcome wherever they are in the city, and where everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy, successful, and fulfilling life. In an inclusive city, residents are able to make choices about where they live, how they earn a living, and how they get around- regardless of whether they have lived here for generations or moved here last week, and regardless of their race, income, or age. Realizing this vision requires an ongoing community conversation and a Comprehensive Plan that reflects the values of the District.
The 2006 Comprehensive Plan of the National Capital: District Elements are organized around five themes, which are all still relevant today:
- Managing Growth & Change
- Creating Successful Neighborhoods
- Increasing Access to Education & Employment
- Connecting the City
- Building Green & Healthy Communities
Why Amend the Comprehensive Plan now?
Extensive planning work has been completed by OP and other agencies, since the first amendment cycle, that is not currently reflected in the Comprehensive Plan.
This amendment process will also address new challenges; include policies to promote the role of smart cities, their need for resilience to climate change and social issues; and align our collective vision and goals for today’s needs. Furthermore, the Comprehensive Plan includes an Implementation Element that provides guidance on amending the document. This section recommends that the Comprehensive Plan be amended approximately every four years and that a major revision/update be developed approximately every 12 years.
OP is committed to ensuring the Comprehensive Plan reflects the changing conditions and community priorities throughout Washington, DC. This reflection will allow the District to continue planning for the future with confidence, accuracy, and sensitivity to the needs of the community. The District has experienced significant population growth—100,000 new residents since the Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2006.
What is resilience and why is it being incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan?
As part of the Comprehensive Plan Second Amendment cycle, OP is leading an effort to create a new chapter dedicated to resilience to help District communities be more resilient to the impacts of major shocks and day-to-day stresses. In addition to the new Resilience Element, new resilience policies will be woven throughout the existing Citywide and Area Elements of the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan’s new focus on resilience is also supporting the development of a Resilience Strategy as part of the District’s participation in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program.
Washington, DC is uniquely vulnerable to an array of natural and manmade threats. Because we are home to the United States Federal Government – and destination to millions of tourists each year – we are susceptible to terrorist and cyber security attacks.
We also face natural and environmental threats like 2012’s derecho, one of the most destructive and deadly fast-moving, severe thunderstorm complexes in North American history, and the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit our city in 2011. And now, the changing climate is creating new and significant challenges for Washington, DC. We have partnered with the scientific community to study the issue, and we expect more frequent heat waves and catastrophic flooding stemming from the rivers at the heart of our city. These natural events threaten to disrupt our power grid, harm our economy, and cost lives. As a result, the Department of Energy and Environment has crafted a Climate Adaptation Plan to assess our vulnerabilities and identify solutions to reduce risk and to direct major investments in infrastructure and neighborhood planning. We have also implemented a number of measures to make Washington, DC a more sustainable and energy-efficient city.
Among American cities, Washington, DC has nearly the highest disparity between the rich and the poor. Income inequality is only one of the forms of inequality that affects DC, with significant inequalities in educational attainment, social capital, health outcomes, exposure to violent crime, and other factors. Although our economy has grown and diversified in recent years, our affordable housing stock is reaching historically low levels. These inequalities are reflected in our population clusters, leaving some of our most vulnerable residents at greatest risk in the event of a shock.
How will the results of the community engagement process in 2016 be used in the amendment process?
The community engagement process throughout 2016 allowed OP to build an extensive base of knowledge to inform amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. OP has listened to a diversity of voices through panels, symposia, social events, temporary design activities, and town hall meetings. Thousands of people have now shared their ideas about strengths, issues, and opportunities regarding the future of the District.
That knowledge will steer the development of an Evaluation Framework, which will be used to screen the formal amendment proposals we receive from the public during the Open Call period. That knowledge will also govern what amendments OP and other District agencies propose, and ultimately accept, later this year.
Please note summaries of the seven (7) fall community meetings, including transcribed comments received from participants, can be found here on the [Plan]DC project website. A full report containing public feedback from the meetings and survey will be released this spring. OP will continue to meet with community stakeholders throughout the spring and summer to gather additional information and round out our understanding of community concerns.
What types of amendments are expected during the amendment process?
While this process is intended to be an amendment to the existing plan and not a new plan, any type of amendment proposed by the public or a District agency will be considered. Generally, the amendments fall into five categories.
- Technical Changes. The Comprehensive Plan was last amended over five years ago and much of the document is over 10 years old. Amendments will be proposed to fix technical information such as updating background information and deleting completed actions.
- Reflect New Plans. Many new plans have been developed by District agencies since the last amendment process, including six Small Area Plans by OP. As appropriate, additional plans will be incorporated into the amended Comprehensive Plan as new or modified policies and actions so that it reflects the most recent policy direction for each agency. A list of plans that will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan can be found here.
- Other New or Modified Narratives, Policies or Actions. District agencies or the public can propose other amendments to individual narratives, policies and actions, including new narratives, policies and actions to reflect emerging issues or innovative ideas.
- Map Changes. District agencies or the public can propose changes to the two maps included in the Comprehensive Plan: the Future Land Use Map and the Generalized Policy Map. These changes can be proposed by property owners who may wish to change the land use or intensity (i.e., moderate density commercial to medium density commercial) on individual parcels, or by the community to reflect their vision for the neighborhood.
- Resilience Element. As discussed above, OP will propose a new Element to the Comprehensive Plan on making the District more resilient to natural and human-made disasters, such as flooding, extreme weather, terrorism, and other shocks and stresses.
Can an individual propose amendments to the Comprehensive Plan?
Yes, an individual can propose amendments to the Comprehensive Plan during the Open Call for amendments. The Open Call provides the opportunity for the public to help shape Comprehensive Plan policy for future planning and development. The public can propose any change to the Comprehensive Plan, which will be evaluated (please see types of amendments above). This includes changes to the maps, data, the narrative information in each chapter, and the policies and actions in the Area Elements and the topic-specific Citywide Elements. The amendments should be as specific as possible so that the proposed change is easy to understand and evaluate. Please note that the overall structure of the document and Guiding Principles will remain in place.
What is Open Call?
Open call is an established 60-day period for people to propose amendments. These proposed amendments will be evaluated and potentially submitted as part of the package for review and approval by DC Council.
The Open Call for amendments will launch on Friday, March 24, 2017 and end on Friday, May 26, 2017. Amendment submission forms and other supporting materials are available here. Amendments may be submitted via:
Online through the project website: plandc.dc.gov;
Email at [email protected]; or
Mail or in person at DC Office of Planning, Attn: Josh Ghaffari, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650, Washington, DC 20024.
Can the an individual person or organization propose more than one amendment?
Yes. There is no limit to the number of amendments proposed by an individual or organization. However, each individual amendment will require that you complete a separate amendment form. Please read the instructions and how-to guide carefully for how to submit multiple amendments.
Will the Office of Planning assist the public in developing proposed amendments?
Yes, interested parties do not need to be a planning expert or attorney to write a proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. OP understands that writing an amendment to address a specific idea or concern can be complicated and requires expertise and a knowledge of the Comprehensive Plan that not everyone knows.
To assist in the process, OP staff will hold technical assistance workshops (Office Hours) at various public locations throughout the District where interested parties may speak one-on-one with a staff member who can assist with submissions. Dates, times, and locations for these events are posted on the project website (plandc.dc.gov). Additionally, for questions during the process, please feel free to contact the planning team at [email protected].
Will the Office of Planning and other District agencies be proposing amendments?
Yes, OP and other District agencies will be proposing amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. The majority of the proposed amendments will be technical changes and changes to reflect new plans prepared since the last amendment process.
How will amendments be evaluated for inclusion in the Final Comprehensive Plan?
All amendments, including those proposed by the OP and other District agencies, will be evaluated to ensure that they meet the vision of an inclusive city, the guiding principles defined in the Comprehensive Plan, and the ideas expressed by the public during the community engagement. To ensure transparency in the process, OP developed an Evaluation Framework for evaluating individual amendments. The Evaluation Framework can be found here. It is the responsibility of the applicant to demonstrate the need and appropriateness of an amendment in the application form. As part of the amendment review and evaluation process, OP will coordinate with relevant partner agencies for additional guidance.
How will amendments impact ongoing development?
The amendments will not impact ongoing development.
What is the process for amending the Comprehensive Plan?
The following are the steps and anticipated timeline for amending the Comprehensive Plan:
1. Open Call for Amendments, when the public and District agencies can propose specific amendments. (March 24-May 26, 2017)
2. Evaluation of proposed amendments, using the evaluation framework found here. (spring and summer 2017)
3. Draft Amendment Report with the proposed text, justification and evaluation determination for proposed amendments ( released for 60-day public comment period). (early fall 2017)
4. Submission to DC Council for review and approval. (early 2018)
5. NCPC and Congressional review and approvals. (spring 2018)
6. FinaI amendments become effective. (summer 2018)
Are there other opportunities to give my input if I do not submit an amendment?
Yes, the Open Call is not the only way for the public to give their input during the Comprehensive Plan Amendment process. OP will hold additional community engagement activities during the spring of 2017. In fall 2017, OP will release a Draft Amendment Report for public comment. All proposed amendment submissions will be available for public review and feedback. All comments will help OP in making the final determinations of which proposed amendments are submitted for local and federal approval. In addition, there will be an opportunity for the public to give their input during hearings as part of the Council’s legislative process in 2018.
How can I get the latest information?
Please review the project website at plandc.dc.gov. The Comprehensive Plan Team will continually update the website throughout the planning process. You may also email the project team at [email protected] or call the Office of Planning at 202-442-7600.