The Comprehensive Plan

Adopted in February 2021, the Framework plan defined a long-term vision for Tuscaloosa and set the direction for the City’s growth and development in the coming decades.  Several major steps are now underway to implement the plan.

What is a comprehensive plan?

A comprehensive plan is a strategic guide that expresses the values and aspirations of a community. The broadest public policy document a community can create, it establishes a long-range vision for development, housing, environment, economic development, transportation, community facilities and services, and related topics. The comprehensive plan acts as a guidebook for decision-makers and is not a legally binding document.

The Plan includes goals, objectives, and specific actions (policies, projects and programs) and identifies timing and responsibilities for undertaking those actions. It also contains map-based recommendations that indicate the city’s intent for where and how it will use land resources and design infrastructure improvements. The Plan serves as the foundation for the city’s budgeting process, zoning ordinance, land development regulations, and other ordinances. It is implemented over time through many distinct decisions including annual budgeting, departmental work programs, rezoning, and subdivision of land.

documents and work products created during the planning process

The Future Land Use and Character Map

The Future Land Use Map (FLUM) within the comprehensive plan, is the primary guide to the future physical development of the City of Tuscaloosa. The map and its land use designations describe the desired types, character, intensity, and spatial arrangement of the city’s land uses to achieve the vision described in the plan.

What the FLUM does

  • Serves as a guide for future decisions about zoning, development, and infrastructure investments

  • Describes intended use and character attributes for future development throughout the city

  • Is related to zoning, but serves a different purpose

What the FLUM does not do

  • NOT a zoning map

  • NOT a mandate for development or redevelopment

  • Does NOT change property rights allowed by zoning in place today

The Future Land Use Map is a policy guide and is not the same as the Zoning Map.

The differences include:

Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan

Zoning map and the Zoning Ordinance

FUTURE. Describes land uses and physical characteristics intended in an area in the future.

TODAY. Defines land uses and development characteristics allowed on a specific site today.

GENERAL INTENT. Describes general land uses, physical characteristics, and other considerations.

SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS/ALLOWANCES. Defines specific permitted or conditional land uses, minimum and maximum structure size, required architectural and site design features, and review procedures.

GENERAL LOCATIONS. Not parcel specific.

SITE SPECIFIC. Each parcel of land is assigned a specific zoning district.

A FLEXIBLE GUIDE. Makes recommendations about the future, but is not legally binding. Adopted by Planning Commission as a guide. Zoning changes should be “in accordance with” the Plan.

A LAW. The map and zoning ordinance are legal documents adopted by City Council.

Future Land Use categories

  • Generally describe the appropriate use and character of development for a location in the future.

  • Must balance predictability with long-term flexibility.

  • More than one zoning district may be appropriate to implement a FLUM category.

View the Category Definitions

Who uses the FLUM?

City Staff

  • As a basis for recommendations on development applications or rezoning requests (the FLUM is not the only factor considered)
  • To guide focused planning such as potential future infrastructure needs

City Planning Commission and City Council

  • To inform recommendations/decisions about zoning changes (other factors may also be considered)

Private Sector

  • To inform investment and development opportunities

Example: Zoning change (rezoning)

  1. Property owner or representative requests a change to the zoning of their property (rezoning)

  2. City staff reviews the request for alignment with FLUM, prepares a recommendation to Planning Commission

  3. Planning Commission considers the request and staff recommendation at the public hearing, making a recommendation to City Council

  4. City Council votes on rezoning at public hearing

Considered along with other factors

The FLUM should provide a strong rationale for supporting or opposing a rezoning. Other factors such as unique conditions or context of a site are also considered. A rationale should be given for clear deviations from FLUM guidance.

Other common questions about the comprehensive plan

How does Framework and the Comprehensive Plan relate to Elevate? Public feedback at the beginning of the Framework process shaped the priorities of Elevate. Elevate provided the funding mechanism, through which the Framework comprehensive plan can be realized and acted on today. The proposed projects included in Elevate remain open to public feedback through the drafting process of the Framework comprehensive plan.

How does the Comprehensive Plan relate to the West Tuscaloosa Community Inventory? The West Tuscaloosa Community Inventory was underway when Framework began in July 2018 and was completed early in the Comprehensive Plan development process in September 2018. The major findings and recommendations from that effort have been incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan’s actions and Future Land Use Map. Many of these recommendations are listed in the West Tuscaloosa Concentration Area.

How does the Comprehensive Plan relate to other city plans and studies? The Comprehensive Plan covers a broad range of topics at a relatively general level. Its intent is to incorporate and reconcile many past plans with awareness of recent studies, current conditions, community input, and best practices. The Comprehensive Plan references many recent detailed studies, including the West Tuscaloosa Community Inventory, the city’s Transportation Standards, and the Riverwalk Masterplan among others. These recent plans and studies will continue to be used for their detailed guidance. Older plans, such as district specific plans, are incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations and not specifically referenced. The Comprehensive Plan should supersede those documents.

What happens when the Comprehensive Plan is complete? Once the plan is complete, there will be a formal adoption process involving Planning Commission and City Council. Once the plan is adopted, Framework will focus on the second major phase: rewriting the zoning code. The zoning code rewrite process will begin in early 2020 and last roughly 12-15 months.

Will there be opportunities to provide input into the zoning code update? There will be several public meetings and online input opportunities at key stages in the process.

How is the Comprehensive Plan used? The plan is intended to be used to inform city actions and policy decisions. These decisions include development approvals, capital improvements, city projects, and departmental work programs. The plan’s Future Land Use Map and related recommendations serve as the basis for the city’s zoning ordinance and zoning map. The plan may also help inform and guide private development and investment decisions.

Will the Comprehensive Plan change the zoning of my property? zoning map changes involve a separate City Council public hearing process. However, the plan may change the potential for a property to be rezoned to a specific zoning district in the future. For example, if a property is in a single family residential or neighborhood area on the Future Land Use Map, it might be challenging to rezone the property to a non-residential zoning district.

Will Framework’s zoning code rewrite affect the zoning of my property? Not immediately and then, it depends. The zoning code rewrite is a significant undertaking that will take at least a year to draft. There will be several opportunities during the process for public input. The code rewrite will attempt to maintain what works today and update aspects of the code to make it more user-friendly, incorporate best practices, and implement the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations. The rewrite may redefine or consolidate some existing zoning districts, and a few new districts may be added. Once the zoning code is complete (in more than a year from now), the city will undertake a process to update the zoning map. That zoning map process will also involve public input and a hearing process.