The Comprehensive Plan is now adoptedStaff is working to archive this website to document the engagement and planning process. Some information on this page may be out of date or reference a project phase that is now complete. For the most up-to-date information on the Comprehensive Plan, see the Adoption Process page 

Elaine Hyman, immediate past Chair of the Durham City-County Planning Commission, would like to welcome you to the ENGAGEDurham process for the new Comprehensive Plan and Transit Plan.

Durham Comprehensive Plan

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

The Comprehensive Plan is Durham’s strategy for how we manage growth and development over the next 5, 10, 20 years. The Comprehensive Plan decides what can be built where in Durham. It decides what size and kind of homes can be built in what part of the City and County, where schools and businesses can be built, and where streets can run through. The plan will have strategies on where and how development can happen. It will also guide how the City and County should provide public buildings, amenities, and services to support future growth.

Since the development of our current Comprehensive Plan in 2005, Durham has added approximately 49,000 new jobs and 57,000 new residents. Over the next decade, we are projected to add an additional 19,000 jobs and 43,000 new residents. Durham is changing, and it is critical we have clear policies on a variety of issues for the future.

The City and County are undertaking this work using a racial equity lens. As a broad vision document, our Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to address racial equity in our growth and development outcomes and to begin to address the historical inequities in past land use and transportation decisions. In order to do that we need to ensure that all voices are heard, in particular the voices of vulnerable communities, those that have been traditionally underrepresented or not been heard at all.

Why does Durham need to update its Comprehensive Plan? How will this process be different?

Our last Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2005. Our current plan is nearly 13 years old and Durham has seen a lot of change in that time. That change has benefited some residents, while others have been negatively impacted. Durham looks the way it does because the 2005 plan guided how it could grow and develop. In the past, government officials (usually white) have written this plan without hearing from or engaging folks from all parts of our community. This means the rules have been very unfair to residents of color. What we’re doing right now is writing a new plan. And this time, we want our residents, especially our residents of color, to help write this plan. The City and County are undertaking this work using a racial equity lens. As a broad vision document, the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to address racial equity in our growth and development outcomes and to begin to address the historical inequities in past land use and transportation decisions. There are important choices to be made about where and how we continue to grow and develop. Our new Comprehensive Plan will work to ensure that everyone benefits from future policy decisions.

Who is involved in the Comprehensive Plan process?

Everyone! The vision for Durham’s future needs to reflect the needs and wishes of the residents. Past plans have not intentionally brought in the voices of all of Durham’s residents and often residents of color and lower income residents were left out. As we begin writing a new plan, we want our residents, especially those left out in the past, to help write this plan. Durham City-County Planning staff is coordinating this process with the support from the City of Durham Innovation Team and City of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services.

How long will the Comprehensive Plan process take?

The entire Comprehensive Plan process was expected to take about three years with engagement happening throughout. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project timeline has been impacted. More on the project schedule can be found here and will be updated frequently. There will be more intensive engagement opportunities in the first year of the process to ensure that the diverse voices of Durham are heard from the very beginning to set a strong foundation. Check out the Process and Timeline page to learn more! 

Do I have to be an expert in planning to contribute ideas?

Absolutely not! We understand that residents are experts on Durham by living, working, owning a business, going to school or raising a family here. Your expertise on the needs and desires of this community is vital to the plan’s success.

How will the engagement process inform the Comprehensive Plan?

When you contribute an idea, you are contributing directly to the Comprehensive Plan. Your ideas will serve as the foundation of the plan’s goals and objectives, inform specific policies, and set the course for implementation. It is critical that community voices and feedback are reflected in the document’s policies. Each comment will be recorded, categorized, and analyzed for consideration by the planning team and then shared back with the community on the project website.

What are the limitations of the Comprehensive Plan?

While the name “Comprehensive Plan” might make you think that this plan can do anything and everything – there are actually a few key things that Comprehensive Plans are most effective at. The Comprehensive Plan is a Land Use plan, meaning that it’s mainly focused on how land is used and what is built on that land. The vast majority of land in Durham is privately owned, and almost all new development in Durham is built by private property owners and developers. When a property owner wants to build something new on their property, the Comprehensive Plan, along with other tools, like zoning, are effective ways to set guidance and regulations for how that development should happen.  The Comprehensive Plan doesn’t have the ability to immediately change everything, or require that private property owners make significant changes to their property. Instead, the Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap for how Durham residents want to see changes over time.

Example: In North Carolina, private property owners have a lot of rights for how they are allowed to build and develop on their land. In many cases, local governments, like Durham, are not allowed to place restrictions on property owners that go beyond what the State says is allowed or required. One good example is affordable housing. Per state law, Durham is not allowed to require that houses that are built on private property be set at a certain price point – a concept called “rent control”. Local government is also not allowed to require that a certain number of houses in a big new residential development are affordable. Developers can build affordable units if they wish, but Durham is largely prohibited by state law to require that a developer build affordable houses on their private property.

Due to these constraints, we may not be able to do everything the community wants and needs right now, but we can be creative, work together to find solutions, and map out the future we want to work towards.

Where can I learn more?  

Sign up for email newsletters and we’ll keep you updated on upcoming meetings and major announcements. If you have any questions or ideas, share them at

How is the County Transit Plan related to the Comprehensive Plan process?

The County Transit Plan will determine how Durham’s ½ cent special transit sales tax will be spent. The transit tax revenues can be used for new services such as new bus routes, more frequent bus service, and bus stop improvements. As the Comprehensive Plan determines how the City and County grow for the next 30 years, how we get around will be critical to a sustainable future. Transportation policies will be incorporated in the Comprehensive Plan. Staff are coordinating engagement opportunities for the Comprehensive Plan and Transit Plan.

Planning Terminology

What is a Future Land Use Map?

A future land use map (FLUM) is a map, found in the Comprehensive Plan, which guides future development in a community. Durham’s FLUM was created based on the community’s vision from the 2005 Comprehensive Plan and is used to determine where and what type of development should occur where in Durham.

What is zoning? What is the Unified Development Ordinance?

Zoning is a legal designation applied to a parcel of land that determines how the land can be used. There are many different types of zoning in Durham, including residential, commercial, industrial, office and institutional, downtown, compact, and mixed use zoning designations. Zoning determines what types of use are allowed, where, how big, or how high buildings or structures can be through zoning regulations in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), a legally binding document which sets the rules and regulations for zoning and development.

How does a rezoning occur?

Currently, when the Planning Department receives an application to change the zoning of a property, we first review the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Map (FLUM) to see if the proposed new zoning matches what the community has said it wants to see there. If so, then Planning Department will recommend approval for the zoning change. If not, the Planning Department will recommend denial of the zoning change. The Planning Commission also reviews the application and makes an advisory recommendation. The City Council or Board of County Commissions ultimately decide if the zoning change is allowed. The Place Type Map and the Place Type Guide will replace the FLUM to be used in a similar way, but will provide more information about the area’s desired future uses.

What does by-right development mean?

By-right development refers to cases where someone (a property owner or developer) chooses to build something that the existing zoning for a property already allows. The developer will not need to change the zoning in this case, and can move forward with an application for building that meets the current zoning. Their development approvals are “by-right”, because they, as a property owner, have the legal right to build what is already set in the zoning.

The application (usually a site plan) to build by-right is reviewed by staff in various departments for compliance with the regulations that are associated with the zoning. In these cases, there is no public hearing and City Council does not get to vote on whether to approve the development or not. If the development proposal meets the current zoning, it has to be approved. This approval is done by staff.

“What is a Comprehensive Plan” handout