Land Use


Effective land-use planning begins with a local comprehensive plan, also known as a general land-use plan. It is a statement of policy and vision for the future of a community. Comprehensive planning efforts guide the physical development of the community and thus should be developed with ample public involvement.

In the 20th-century, land-use planning was geared toward separating commercial, residential, retail, and industrial uses. More recently planning has shifted back toward promoting mixed-use areas in many locations, allowing residents to walk or take public transportation between homes and commercial areas (see section above Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities). Planners sometimes include incentives for developing and preserving housing targeted to people with low and moderate incomes, for example set-asides, inclusionary zoning, and density bonuses for developers (see this chapter’s section on Housing Affordability).

Expanding housing choices increasingly involves updating state and local regulations and land-use policies. For instance, some municipalities require that a percentage of units in new developments serve residents with low or moderate incomes. Others have tax set-asides to fund affordable housing or provide density bonuses to developers who agree to include affordable housing.

Decisionmakers can revise zoning and building codes to promote mixed-use development and remove barriers to housing alternatives. These include accessory apartments and shared housing. They may also redevelop existing infrastructure to improve the physical design of communities and better meet the housing and mobility needs of older adults and those who have low and moderate incomes.

State and local governments may develop a variety of approaches in land-use planning to meet the livable community goals in this chapter and to respond to local conditions. Plans that support all members of the community, including residents of all ages and ability levels, are ideal outcomes for any land-use planning process.

Land Use: Policy

Planning for an aging population

In this policy: LocalState

Policies affecting development support the independence and active community engagement of older adults through a supply of affordable and suitable housing options, well-designed communities and infrastructure, and the availability of community services.

State and local governments should support and endorse “age-friendly communities” and other efforts to encourage the planning and development of communities that support people of all ages.


In this policy: LocalState

Policymakers should utilize affordable housing districts, inclusionary zoning, density bonuses, and other zoning regulations that promote the construction of quality affordable housing.

Policymakers should enact legislation based on AARP’s Accessory Dwelling Units: Model State Act and Local Ordinance to promote appropriate options for accessory dwelling units.

States should encourage changes in local zoning regulations to permit the development and location of accessory housing units, manufactured homes, multifamily projects, shared homes, board and care homes, Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities units, and other alternative housing arrangements consistent with neighborhood character, appropriate planning practice, and fair housing law.

Public involvement in planning

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Ample and effective public involvement should precede government decisions affecting land use, housing, and transportation. Opportunities for such involvement should extend beyond typical hearings to include community visioning, scenario planning, advisory committees, and opportunities to provide input through electronic media.

Public meetings should be well publicized, held in multiple locations, “close to home,” and accessible to those with physical limitations as well as to those arriving on foot or by car, bicycle, or public transportation.

Planning coordination

In this policy: FederalLocalState

States should enact comprehensive planning statutes, regulations, and incentives that promote coordinated land use, infrastructure investment, housing, and transportation planning and service delivery.

State policymakers should require local governments to plan for a variety of affordable and appropriate housing options interspersed throughout the community.

State and local policymakers should periodically review infrastructure and zoning requirements to assess their impact on the availability of affordable housing and mixed-use development. The findings of these assessments should be subject to public hearings and comment.

The federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, along with other federal agencies, should provide support for state and local governments that require technical assistance to conduct these activities successfully.

Found in Land Use