Creating a Community Master Plan

A community master plan allows your community to recommend zoning strategies to guide private and public projects away from areas where they would likely put people and property at risk. Ideally, plans should reserve the most hazardous areas (e.g., V and coastal A Zones on Flood Insurance Rate Maps, floodways, high-erosion areas) for parks, greenways, golf courses, or similar open space. The master plan can identify areas that are priorities for land acquisition efforts, particularly if the community has funds available through the Community Preservation Act.

The following sites have information on creating master plans:

Floodplain-Specific Master Plan Information

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Coastal Construction Manual offers excellent information on issues associated with development in floodplains, particularly:
    • Section 2.2 and 2.3, which provide an excellent overview of historic storm events and their often forgotten effects, as well as lessons learned that can inform future planning for development and redevelopment.
    • Section 6.4.3, which covers the legal requirements of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), including what land uses are and are not allowed.
    • Section 6.5, which provides recommendations for exceeding NFIP minimum standards.
    • Chapter 7, which covers the importance of identifying hazards in the planning process.
    • Chapter 8, which gives recommendations on how to develop “raw” land, as well as redeveloping land. (Figure 8-5 provides a simple “Do & Don’t” list for land use in coastal areas.)
  • To obtain a free copy of the Coastal Construction Manual (in print or on a CD), contact the FEMA Publications Distribution Facility at (800) 480-2520.

  • The Association of State Floodplain Managers is a great source for information on how to safely use floodplains. Their NAI Toolkit (PDF, 2 MB) is particularly useful for local officials, as is their Coastal NAI Handbook.

General Master Plan Information

  • The Massachusetts Coastal Smart Growth Program website provides information on Low Impact Development, Green Neighborhoods/Open Space Residential Design, and other planning approaches.
  • The Massachusetts Smart Growth/Smart Energy website contains information on land and energy planning.
  • Building Vibrant Communities is a guide to creating community plans in Massachusetts.
  • The Massachusetts Community Development Plans website has additional useful planning information.
  • The publications page of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs contains many planning publications.
  • The Community Preservation Coalition website provides information to help municipalities adopt and implement the Community Preservation Act. The Community Preservation Coalition is an alliance of open space, affordable housing, and preservation organizations.
  • If your community has an area it wishes to rigorously protect, especially an area shared by two or more municipalities, it may wish to consider creating an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). These state-recognized areas have a special regulatory framework designed to encourage regional stewardship of critical resources and ecosystems. See the ACEC program homepage for more information. For examples of coastal ACECs, see Rumney Marshes, Pleasant Bay, Parker River/Essex Bay, or Wellfleet Harbor.

Planning with Historic Properties

Coastal Smart Growth

Consider adding Smart Growth techniques, such as Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), to the master plan. (TDR is a regulatory strategy that harnesses private market forces to permanently protect open space by “transferring” development from areas that a community wishes to protect to other areas more suitable for development.) In addition, Low Impact Development (LID) techniques and practices offer additional strategic advantages for inland floodplain management, such as planning to work with existing natural resources and on-site stormwater management that can reduce flooding. Whatever your planning approach, make certain that you are making appropriate choices that consider your community’s specific hazard vulnerabilities. For example, while high-density housing can reduce environmentally damaging urban sprawl, it’s not generally appropriate in a floodplain because it can expose additional structures to flood damage and adversely affect the floodplain’s natural ability to provide storm damage protection and flood control. Check out NOAA’s Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website for more information on how your community can guide development in ways that make it safer, nicer, and more prosperous.

* Your community needs only 500 points to qualify for reduced flood insurance premiums through the Community Rating System (CRS). For more information (including how to apply for the CRS program), see our Community Rating System (CRS) primer.

Notes from the folks at CRS:

“Activity 520 recognizes the importance of linking the floodplain management plan with other planning studies and with development, redevelopment and population trends. A community master plan may also include information on the impacts of flood hazards on the population, buildings, public safety, critical facilities, and the community’s economy and tax base. Usually, the master plan will also address the need to protect wetlands, sensitive areas, the habitat for rare or endangered species, and to protect the other natural and beneficial functions of the floodplain.”