Addressing Contemporary Challenges & Opportunities through Comprehensive Planning

By: Waverly Klaw, AICP

This article originally appeared in Colorado Municipalities magazine.

How current is your comprehensive plan? Does it take recent demographic data and future trends into account? How well does it address of some of today’s “big hairy problems,” and offer strategies towards solving these problems? This article examines six current policy and land use challenges, and offers recommendations for how they can be addressed within the comprehensive plan.

Renewable Energy and Vehicle Electrification: On January 17, 2019, Governor Polis issued an Executive Order setting a goal of reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2040 and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.

Cities consume approximately 70% of global energy, and therefore are a critical player in reaching the statewide renewable energy goals. Municipalities should consider exploring goals and strategies for promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency, vehicle electrification, public transit, and transit-oriented development within their comprehensive plan.

Buildings are also a major consumer of energy, accounting for about 39% of total U.S. energy consumption. Has your town had thoughtful conversations about how existing or new buildings can be made more energy-efficient? Or have you examined whether any regulations in your land use code present barriers to installing solar panels?

Resilience to Natural Hazards and Other Stressors: In the last ten years, Colorado communities have been severely affected by floods, wildfires, drought, and other hazards. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, Colorado experienced wildfires and floods that destroyed a total of 2,944 homes, resulted in an estimated $556 million in economic impact, and inundated an estimated 67,000 acres of farmland and grazing pastures. As temperatures are projected to rise between 2.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, Colorado will face increased potential for more frequent and severe wildfires, drought, extreme heat, and floods.

Cities and towns should assess their vulnerability to natural hazards and other stressors, and incorporate mitigation strategies into their comprehensive plan that will enable them to be more resilient in the future. The assessment of hazards is required by statute and integration of hazard mitigation principles is required for comprehensive plans funded by DOLA’s Energy/Mineral Impact Assistance Fund grants. DOLA’s Planning for Hazards: Land Use Solutions for Colorado guide gives specific guidance for integrating natural hazards into comprehensive plans, and DOLA’s Colorado Resiliency Office offers assistance to communities wishing to increase their resilience to shocks and stressors.

Water: Increased population growth, a warming climate, and decreases in precipitation mean that Colorado’s communities are already experiencing a water squeeze. The 2018 Colorado Climate Plan predicts that because of these factors, “an additional million acre-feet annually may be needed by mid-century to meet demands.” Unfortunately, mid-century is only about 30 years away. For this reason, cities and towns will want to work with their water providers to determine their water demand trajectory based on population growth, climate change, and other factors, and consider in the comprehensive plan those development patterns that conserve water. Pursuant to Senate Bill 8 passed in 2015, the State and its partners have resources available to support better integration of water demand management and conservation planning into land use planning.

Attainable Housing:  How can your city’s long-range plan help ameliorate the housing challenge that cost-burdened residents in your community are facing? When updating your plan, it’s important to 1) establish proactive policies that encourage or incentivize attainable housing, and 2) identify and resolve barriers to creating or maintaining such housing stock. The Department of Local Affairs published an Affordable Housing Guide for Local Officials that describes a set of land use planning practices that, when applied in balance with other community priorities can encourage and sustain housing that is attainable for its residents. 

An Aging Demographic: Colorado’s over 65 population is projected to grow by 43% between 2019 and 2030. Lifelong Colorado, an initiative launched by Governor Hickenlooper in September 2018, encourages cities across Colorado to develop age-friendly plans by focusing on the environmental, economic, and social factors that influence the health and wellbeing of older adults.

For example, when assessing transportation in your plan effort, consider that 30% of Coloradans aged 65 and older were unable to get somewhere within the last month due to a lack of transportation. How will your community plan help to ensure transportation is made easier for all, and that older Coloradans can age in place? The recently updated 2018 Strategic Action Plan on Aging offers guidance on steps that the State and local governments can take to plan for the opportunities and challenges related to aging.

Infrastructure Improvements and Municipal Services: Finally, cities and towns told CML through its State of our Cities and Towns survey that the most common major challenge from 2008 to 2018 was unfunded street maintenance and improvement needs. Communities are struggling to keep up with demand, and are considering more resilient and lasting approaches to solving these issues.

If your town commiserates with these challenges, you can develop strategies to address them in the transportation or infrastructure sections of your comprehensive plan as well as in your capital improvement plan, like the City of Longmont has done.

Good Planning Principles

As a reminder, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when updating your comprehensive plan. A good comprehensive plan:

  • Includes vision statements, guiding principles, goals, objectives, and policies;
  • Describes an implementation strategy comprised of action plans, metrics, and outcomes to drive your community vitality and future sustainability;
  • Analyzes existing conditions and trends regionally and in the community;
  • Is developed in consultation with service providers and neighboring jurisdictions;
  • Reflects the desires of the community through robust public engagement;
  • Is actively managed and adopted by the Planning Commission;
  • Includes a 3-mile plan per Colorado Revised Statute § 31-12-105(1)(e)(I);
  • Uses graphics, visuals, and a thoughtful layout to increase readability;
  • Incorporates sustainability, equity, and resilience throughout;
  • Includes all elements relevant to the community, including land use (with future land use map), transportation, utilities/facilities/infrastructure, housing, culture/history, education, energy, environment/natural resources, water (supply, demand, and quality), parks and open space, economic development, public health, hazard mitigation, and recreation and tourism (required by statute);
  • Conforms to the regulations put forth in C.R.S. § 31-23-206.

The American Planning Association’s Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans by David R. Godschalk and David C. Rouse remains a helpful resource for developing a strong and multifaceted comprehensive plan. Please reach out to DOLA’s Community Development Office, Resiliency Office, or Demography Office if we can provide you with any assistance.


City of Fort Collins, 2011. City Plan. Available at

City of Longmont, 2016. Envision Longmont Multimodal and Comprehensive Plan. Available at

City of Manitou Springs, 2017. Plan Manitou integrated comprehensive and hazard mitigation plan. Available at

State of Colorado, 2015. Colorado Water Plan. Available at


American Planning Association, 2010. PAS Report 560: Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning. Available at

American Planning Association, 2015. PAS Report 578: Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans. Available at

DOLA Division of Housing, 2017. Affordable Housing Guide for Local Officials. Available at
State of Colorado, 2016. Planning for Hazards: Land Use Solutions for Colorado. Available at

State of Colorado. Resources for Integrating Water & Land Use Planning. Available at

Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging, 2019. 2018 Strategic Action Plan on Aging. Available at

Waverly Klaw, AICP, is an Associate Director of Resilient Communities and Watersheds at the Sonoran Institute. She leads the Institute’s Colorado-based initiatives, including its Growing Water Smart program, climate resilience work, and water conservation efforts. This article was penned while Waverly was a Senior Planner for the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs, where she provided assistance to counties and municipalities on hazard mitigation, sustainability, and resilience through long-range plans and land use regulations. Waverly holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Colorado Denver.




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