July 18, 2006
ROLE OF THE STATE PLAN OF CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a discussion of the role of the state Plan of Conservation and Development (Plan of C&D), specifically the circumstances when it is binding rather than merely advisory.
The plan is largely advisory, serving as a statement of the state's development, resource management, and public investment policies. However, large-scale state-funded developments and grants for capital improvements must be consistent with the plan.
This consistency requirement has affected land use in some cases. For example, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) generally will not fund sewer projects in rural areas where this would be inconsistent with the Plan of C&D. The presence or absence of sewers can affect the density of housing developments, which in turn can affect their economic feasibility and profitability.
Further information about the Plan of C&D can be found at
Under CGS §§ 16a-24 through 16a-33, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) must revise the Plan of C&D on a five-year cycle. OLR Report 2003-R-0147 describes the process OPM must follow in developing its draft plan, which must be approved by the legislature. The current approved plan covers the period 2005-2010.
The plan has two components – the plan text and the locational guide map. The text is organized around six growth management principles. These are to:
1. redevelop and revitalize regional centers and areas with existing or currently planned physical infrastructure;
2. expand housing opportunities and design choices to accommodate a variety of household types and needs;
3. concentrate development around transportation nodes and along major transportation corridors to support the viability of transportation options;
4. conserve and restore the natural environment, cultural and historical resources, and traditional rural lands;
5. protect and ensure the integrity of environmental assets critical to public health and safety; and
6. promote integrated planning across all levels of government to address issues on a statewide, regional, and local basis.
The locational guide map divides the state into four types of development areas (regional centers, neighborhood conservation areas. growth areas, and rural community centers) and four types of conservation areas (existing preserved open space, preservation areas, conservation areas, and rural lands). There are specific policy goals for each type of area. For example, the plan seeks to redevelop and revitalize the economic, social, and physical environment of the state's regional centers, which have historically been centers of industry and commerce. On the other hand, it seeks to protect the character of rural lands by avoiding development forms and intensities that exceed on-site carrying capacity for water supply and sewage disposal, except where necessary to resolve localized public health concerns.
ROLE OF THE PLAN
The plan is largely an advisory document, stating the state's development, resource management, and public investment policies. State agencies must consider the Plan of C&D when they prepare agency plans and must submit these plans, when they are required by state or federal law, to OPM for a review of conformity with the Plan of C&D (although the agency plans do not have to conform to the Plan of C&D). Similarly, municipalities and regional planning organizations must note any inconsistencies with the growth management principles when developing their own plans of conservation and development, although their plans are not required to be consistent with the State Plan of C&D.
However, large-scale state-funded developments must be consistent with the state Plan of C&D. This requirement applies to:
1. the acquisition by state agencies of real property, public transportation equipment, or public transportation facilities costing more than $100,000; and
2. the authorization of any state grant for over $100,000 for (a) the acquisition, development, or improvement of real property or (b) the acquisition of public transportation equipment or facilities.
The consistency requirement dates to 1991. PA 91-395 required that the state actions be consistent with the plan; previously the plan was entirely advisory.
CGS § 16a-32 specifies how the plan can be revised during the five-year cycle with the approval of the Continuing Legislative Committee on State Planning (which is distinct from the legislature's Planning and Development Committee). Among other things, the law requires that OPM and the continuing committee hold a hearing in the affected municipality if requested by the chief elected official or planning or zoning official.
In recent years, an increasing number of developers and other parties have sought changes in the plan under this mechanism. In several cases, these petitions have been brought about by a DEP policy that generally denies state funding to sewer projects in rural areas, in the absence of an identified public health or environmental problem, where this is inconsistent with the Plan of C&D. In addition, DEP generally requires that modifications to local sewer service area plans be consistent with the Plan of C&D.
The presence of sewers can affect the maximum density of housing that can be developed on a site, which in turn can affect the economic feasibility and profitability of a development. In effect, when the continuing committee has heard applications from developers regarding the classification of land under the Plan of C&D, it has acted like a local zoning board of appeals.
In response to this unusual role for a legislative committee, the legislature adopted PA 06- 24, which limits who can apply for an interim change to the Plan of C&D. Previously, any person, state political subdivision, or state agency could apply. The act limits the individuals who can apply to the owner of the real property or an interest in the property that is the subject of the proposed change. It limits public-sector applications to a municipality's chief elected official, with the approval of the municipality's legislative body (i.e., other political subdivisions and state agencies cannot apply for a change). It bars municipalities from applying for a change unless they have updated their local plans of conservation and development at least once in the previous 10 years. It also requires that municipal applications include the municipal planning commission's opinion of the proposed change.