What is a Specific Plan?

What is a Specific Plan?

A Specific Plan is a planning document that implements the goals and policies of the General Plan. These plans contain detailed development standards and implementation measures to which future projects located within a specified geographic area must adhere.

A Specific Plan is a popular form of a land use overlay. An overlay is an additional layer of planning control, establishing stricter standards that go beyond what the underlying zoning would normally regulate. Cities generally implement overlays to achieve goals that may not ordinarily be attainable through zoning rules alone—ranging from more specific standards governing the production of affordable housing to tailored rules on historic preservation.

Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan
Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan, located within a portion of the Canoga Park-Winnetka-Woodland Hills-West Hills Community Plan Area

An easy way to understand overlays is to think of them as additional planning tools intended to address neighborhood-specific issues that cannot be implemented through the general policies and land use designations found in the City’s General Plan and Community Plans. So, what is a General Plan and Community Plans—and how do they both relate to Specific Plans?

Every city in California is required under State law to have a General Plan. The General Plan establishes development and conservation goals, as well as the location and intensity of different land uses. In many ways, the General Plan is a statement of a city’s vision for the future—prescribing policy goals and objectives to guide its physical development. 

Like a book, the General Plan is composed of chapters called “elements,” each covering topics related to planning. In Los Angeles, it is the Land Use Element that defines a range of allowable land uses for any parcel of land. Due to the sheer size of Los Angeles, the Land Use Element is broken up into 35 Community Plans.

Each of the 35 Community Plans outline strategies for targeted communities in Los Angeles, setting neighborhood-level regulations that aim to achieve certain priorities. The unique characteristics of the City’s many neighborhoods may, however, require more granular analysis.

Here the need for an overlay, such as a Specific Plan, often arises. Aligned with the goals of the General Plan and Community Plans, a Specific Plan “houses” additional development regulations for applicants to follow to achieve the goals of the General Plan. 

A Specific Plan may be general, setting forth broad policy concepts, or detailed, providing direction to every facet of development: the type, design, location, and intensity of uses. In Los Angeles, there are more than 50 Specific Plans. 

One example of a Specific Plan is the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan, which was adopted to ensure that future development along Eagle Rock’s major thoroughfare is compatible with the surrounding residential community. The Specific Plan aims to achieve this through the application of a number of regulations that go beyond the City’s Zoning Code. 

Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan Map

To learn more, visit Planning4LA.org. We’ve created a dedicated page that features most of our overlays to assist developers and residents to better understand the local planning rules and regulations in the neighborhood.

Click here to explore for yourself.