Frequently Asked Questions - Connect Columbia Update

What is Connect Columbia?

Connect Columbia is the city’s comprehensive plan (sometimes called a general plan). The document serves as a blueprint for growth in Columbia and its urban growth boundary. Connect Columbia is composed of three interconnected elements: Columbia’s Parks and Greenways Plan, Columbia’s Transportation Plan, and the Future Land Use Plan. An additional framework plan articulates the community’s vision for future development and establishes policies for implementation. Each of these describe the city’s aspirations for the future. Connect Columbia identifies goals, objectives, and policies designed to accomplish the city’s aspirations. These policies guide decisions about land use and infrastructure. (back to top) 

Why Does it Matter?

The update will determine what Columbia looks like in the future. Although comprehensive plans are advisory and non-binding in Tennessee, Connect Columbia was adopted by ordinance of the City Council, making it a guiding policy document. The vision of the city’s future contained in Connect Columbia is implemented over time through current planning and zoning administration. In this way, each resident and property owner in the city is impacted by Connect Columbia. Residents interested in where growth will occur, and what it will look like when it does occur, can help establish these guiding principles for growth by getting involved in the connect Columbia update. (back to top) 

How is the Plan Implemented?

Connect Columbia is implemented primarily through current planning and zoning administration. The plan will identify additional policies and actions to guide development over the next five years.

Long range planning is implemented through current planning, the requests which come before the Planning Commission each month. The future land use element of Connect Columbia is a collection of maps and policies which describe how land may be used along with concurrent public services and infrastructure. Requests for annexations and rezoning must be consistent with the plan. 

The plan is also implemented through day-to-day zoning administration. The city’s zoning ordinance contains standards designed to implement the principles articulated in Connect Columbia. At an administrative level, Development Services staff apply these standards to properties throughout the city.

Other policies and actions may include specific capital improvements, place-making strategies, historic preservation, and support for citizen-led community development. (back to top) 

How Does Connect Columbia Differ from the New Zoning Code?

You may have heard that the City of Columbia recently adopted a new zoning ordinance. Connect Columbia, as a long-range plan, is general and aspirational in nature. Zoning is a tool for implementing the comprehensive plan by regulating the day-to-day private use of land. 

The Zoning Ordinance is detailed, specific, and authoritative. In 2018, Connect Columbia identified specific practices for managed growth, including modernized regulatory documents and the adoption of character district design guidelines. The city adopted the new ordinance in 2022 because it better implements the guiding principles of Connect Columbia. This is an example of how long-range planning is implemented over time. (back to top) 

Why Update Connect Columbia Now?

The planning horizon for the land use element of Connect Columbia is five years. The implementing language in the plan suggests an annual evaluation of current conditions and trends. In addition to periodic annual review, the plan provides for a thorough review and update every five years. Columbia has experienced dramatic changes over the last five years, and it is a fitting time to reevaluate the community’s priorities for managing growth for the benefit of all residents. (back to top) 

Who is Performing the Update?

Planning is a community process that involves everyone. The Planning Commission will officially adopt the plan. According to §13-4-201 of the Tennessee Code, “it is the function and duty of the commission to make and adopt an official general plan for the physical development of the municipality.” The Planning Commission works through the city’s professional staff, primarily in the Department of Development Services. The Planning & Zoning Division, led by the City Planner, will perform most of the administrative work. They will also facilitate public participation in the planning process. This is a unique approach for a municipality of Columbia’s size. Many peer cities utilize consultants, as well as in-house planning staff, to create and update their comprehensive plans. Utilizing Development Services staff will ensure that the updated plan is specific to the challenges and opportunities that face Columbia. A volunteer Steering Committee is providing advice and guidance throughout the process. Anyone interested in Columbia’s future is encouraged to participate through surveys and public forums. (back to top) 

What is the Scope of Connect Columbia?

The subject matter of the comprehensive plan is expansive and touches on every aspect of Columbia’s physical development. The Tennessee Code lists specific topics for the Planning Commission to consider: “the plan, with the accompanying maps, plats, charts, and descriptive and explanatory matter, shall show the commission's recommendations for the physical development of the area of the municipal planning jurisdiction.” The Planning Commission is directed to "identify areas where there is inadequate or nonexistent services and facilities." The Commission may add to the plan or carry any part of subject matter into greater detail. The geographic scope of the plan is the Columbia Urban Growth Boundary established by the Maury County Growth Plan. The planning area includes everything within the current city limits as well as additional areas currently in unincorporated Maury County. The plan may contain additional subarea plans. (back to top) 

When will the Update be Adopted?

The Planning Commission has established an ambitious timeline to adopt update the comprehensive plan in late 2023. Currently, staff plans to have a final draft of the plan prepared in October 2023. The Planning Commission will then forward the adopted plan to City Council. Beginning in January of 2023, staff has provided regular updates to Planning Commission describing progress toward the final draft. (back to top)