What is a Master Plan?

Overview

A Master Plan, also called a comprehensive plan, provides a long-range vision for the built environment of a community. It guides the appropriate use of lands within a municipality in order to protect the public health and safety and to promote general welfare. Among other issues, the Master Plan can identify

  • suitable locations for commercial, housing and mixed-use development;
  • locations where the city should increase density, use redevelopment, or intervene in other ways;
  • opportunities to extend and/or improve open space, recreational areas, and civic facilities;
  • strategies from increasing economic development;
  • environmental, historic and cultural resources that need conservation; and
  • strategies for solving congestion and improving transit services.

As a result, the Master Plan has a direct relationship to its citizens, whether you live, work, or own a business in Trenton.

Frequent Questions

Why should a Master Plan be important to you?
Why should I participate in the Master Plan?
Why do we need a Master Plan?
Is the Master Planning process a democratic process?
What is the role of the public in the development of a Master Plan?
How are Master Plans used?
Who uses the Master Plan?
How do I find the issues important to me? How is the Master Plan organized?
What is the Planning Board? What do they do?
What is the Zoning Board of Adjustments? What do they do?
Where can I find the current Master Plan Elements?
How can I get involved?

Why should a Master Plan be important to you?

The simple answer is that a Master Plan is important because it affects things you do every day. Master Plans guide City decisions about important issues like:

  • Where certain types of businesses should be allowed;
  • How much parking should be provided in your neighborhood;
  • What improvements should be made to parks and recreation centers;
  • Where the city should improve streets, intersections, bike lanes, and sidewalks;
  • What economic development strategy the city should take;
  • Among so many other decisions.

So when you wonder why a building is allowed to be located somewhere, why nobody has fixed an intersection you sit at forever, why a park was (or wasn’t) built in your neighborhood: a good place to start looking is the Master Plan.

Why should I participate in the Master Plan?

The simple answer is that a Master Plan, the City’s long range plan, is important because it affects things you do every day and how you’ll do them in the future. Master Plans guide City decisions about important issues like:

  • What economic development strategy the city should take;
  • Where certain types of businesses should the City try to attract;
  • How much parking should be provided in your neighborhood;
  • What improvements should be made to parks and recreation centers;
  • How to protect our natural resources;
  • Why certain areas are designated as historic districts;
  • Among so many other decisions.

So when you wonder why a building is allowed to be located somewhere, why certain streets are one-way streets, why a park was (or wasn’t) built in your neighborhood: a good place to start looking is the Master Plan.

To understand more about the relationship between the Master Plan and City Hall, watch this 5 minute video.

Why do we need a Master Plan?
The Master Plan establishes a shared vision and set of goals for the City. In addition, the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) (and here) requires that all municipalities have a Master Plan. The MLUL stipulates that cities must update that plan at a minimum once every 10 years.

Is the Master Planning process a democratic process?
Yes, Master Plans are officially adopted by the Planning Board and they use it to guide development decisions the city makes. In addition, the City of Trenton has decided to incorporate the Master Plan into the everyday work done at City Hall. For more information about this, watch this video.

What is the role of the public in the development of a Master Plan?
A Master Plan is a reflection of the community’s vision for the future, therefore, public input and engagement is essential to providing a Master Plan that accurately reflects the opinion of the community. The purpose of this website is to provide an opportunity for the public to learn about the Master Plan process and participate directly in the development of a vision for Trenton’s future. Please visit our Participate Page to share your thoughts and opinions about Trenton’s future.

How are Master Plans used?
The Master Plan provides a policy foundation for the City’s land use laws and regulations. The courts require that the City’s ordinances, planning decisions, and regulations have a rational connection to the Master Plan, including its vision and goals.

To explain, let’s take a look at the example of variance applications. If, for instance, a land owner wants to build a restaurant in an area zoned only for offices, he/she must demonstrate that, among other things, the use promotes the general welfare. The Master Plan Goals and Objective is one way for the Zoning Board of Adjustment to evaluate whether the plan is (or is not) going to promote the general welfare.

Who uses the Master Plan?
At the municipal level, powers and duties related to planning and the review of development applications are generally divided among three bodies: the elected Governing Body, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The Governing Body generally is responsible for adopting the laws that regulate development, including the official map, zoning ordinances, subdivision and site plan ordinances, and the capital improvement program, among others. These ordinances are expected to be in alignment with the Master Plan.

The Planning Board adopts the comprehensive Master Plan and is often characterized as the “board of permitted uses,” which means it reviews applications that conform to the Zoning Ordinance. The Planning Board is the official body who “owns” the Master Plan and is often associated with long-range planning activities.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment responds to requests for interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance and petitions to deviate from the Zoning Ordinance, also called variances. The Zoning Board of Adjustment can be seen as dealing with many of the day-to-day zoning activities. The Board is required to report annually to the Planning Board and Governing Body on it activities.

In Trenton, the Master Plan will also be used by each Department within the City to ensure that its activities are in line with the vision and goals of its citizens. For more information about how the Master Plan will affect daily operations, watch this video.

How do I find the issues important to me? How is the Master Plan organized?
Master Plans are divided into “Elements” that generally focus on a specific function of city government. Among these Elements, there are required components and discretionary components, as stipulated in New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law (and here).

A Master Plan is required to contain the following components:

  • Statement of Purpose: A statement of objectives, principles, assumptions, policies and standards upon which the constituent proposals for the physical, economic and social development of the municipality are based.
  • Land Use Plan Element: describes the land use in relationship to natural features such as: topography, soils, geology, groundwater recharge, streams, floodplains, wetland and woodlands. In addition, it includes maps of existing and proposed development in relation to current and proposed zoning ordinances, and recommends standards for development densities.
  • Housing Element: Describes available housing types and strategies to achieve present and prospective housing needs.
  • Relationships with Other Plans: Describes the Plan’s compatibility or consistency with the plans of neighboring municipalities, the county, and the state.

However, Land Use is often affected by a variety of different factors including the economic development strategy of the City, the relationship between different transportation options, and the quality and extent of public facilities, among others. As a result, the City of Trenton has decided to include the additional elements which can be reviewed here.

Each Element of the Master Plan does not need to be adopted at the same time. Most municipalities are continually updating their Master Plan by adding new elements or updating ones that have become out of date.

What is the Planning Board? What do they do?
The Planning Board adopts the comprehensive Master Plan and is often characterized as the “board of permitted uses,” which means one of its primary activities is to review applications that conform to the Zoning Ordinance. The Planning Board is the official body who “owns” the Master Plan and is often associated with long-range planning activities.

To find out when they meet, visit their website.

What is the Zoning Board of Adjustments? What do they do?
The Zoning Board of Adjustment responds to request for interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance and petitions to deviate from the Zoning Ordinance, also called variances. The Zoning Board of Adjustment can be seen as dealing with many of the day-to-day zoning activities. The Board is required to report annually to the Planning Board and Governing Body on it activities.

Where can I find the current Master Plan Elements?
There are two places to review the Master Plan Elements. All new elements created in 2014 or after that are associated with Trenton250 can be reviewed here. Previous Master Plan Elements and other planning documents, many of which may be the most current versions, can be reviewed and downloaded here.

How can I get involved?

There are a number of great ways to get involved: