Comprehensive Plan Defined

A comprehensive plan consists of goals and objectives that establish the county's vision for the future. The comprehensive plan is not a legal document. It does not dictate how the community is to be developed, but is meant to outline a possible future that could occur over the next ten years through the use of planning and investment policies, and regulatory tools. The comprehensive plan contains policy goals for many aspects of the community; including, for example, land use, transportation, housing, parks and open space, infrastructure, facilities and economic development.

For more information about the comprehensive plan and answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), please see this FAQ Sheet.


An overview of the existing economic conditions of Johnson County will be provided to inform the final plan.


The location of current and future infrastructure will be considered when planning for future growth and development. 


A demographic profile will be compiled and analyzed to understand the impact conditions will have on future growth. 

Land Use

The distribution of land uses in the county will be analyzed to protect natural resources and farmland while balancing growth increases

Quality of Life

The comprehensive plan will identify ways to increase the quality of life for residents of Johnson County


The comprehensive plan will incorporate sustainable development practices in line with the Iowa Smart Planning Legislative Guide to help ensure a bright future for all residents.

Comprehensive Plan Purpose

The comprehensive plan has several different purposes and roles.

Guides Change and Growth 

Johnson County faces unique challenges and opportunities that should be addressed with long-range planning. It is home to 11 incorporated cities and 9 unincorporated traditional villages surrounded by tracts of agricultural land and environmentally sensitive and scenic areas.  Johnson County is home to The University of Iowa, several international firms, and start-ups, and maintains a large agricultural economy.

The county has considerable environmental, cultural, recreational, and agricultural amenities, including the Iowa River, Coralville Reservoir, Lake Macbride, and several thousands of acres of public ground owned by the County, State, and Federal Governments. Johnson County is the fourth most populous county in Iowa and had the second highest rate of population growth—18%—between 2000 and 2010.  The rate of growth has continued through the first half of this decade. This growth rate will likely lead to development pressures for the county that can be addressed and planned for with the comprehensive plan.

According to the last Census, Johnson County’s population was 130,8821 in 2010.  By 2014, the American Community Survey estimated that the population has grown to 136,8022. The population living in unincorporated Johnson County is 22,036. The largest city in the county is Iowa City (70,597) followed by the cities of Coralville (19,677), North Liberty (14,503), Solon (2,460), Tiffin (1,921), Lone Tree (1,394), University Heights (1,214), Oxford (877), Hills (812), Swisher (805), and Shueyville (506).

Zoning was first adopted in Johnson County in 1960, when the entire county was mass zoned.  The zoning ordinance has been updated numerous times since. The first Johnson County Land Use Plan was adopted in 1998 and updated in 2008.  The current plan contains many aspects of a comprehensive plan, but focuses on land use management, promoting sustainable development, and preserving agricultural land and environmentally sensitive features. The comprehensive plan update will build upon these existing documents to provide a strong future-oriented plan.

Community Visioning 

Johnson County is responsible for planning the unincorporated areas of Johnson County. This requires an understanding of the plans and needs of the cities located within its borders, but also the more agricultural focus on the unincorporated areas.  This balancing act must be responsive to the county’s aspirations for a desirable quality of life, for economic prosperity and for a county character that values families, retains identity and creates a sense of connectedness. While the plan will consider strategy and tactics and define technically correct answers to technical questions, these are secondary to the core “value” questions: What aspects of our life today do we value and wish to retain and enhance? What are our aspirations for the future of our community? What are we willing to do to achieve this future?

Creates policies, strategies, and actions for county growth

The Johnson County Comprehensive Plan will only be as valid as the vision that inspires and motivates it, and the policies, strategies and actions that will carry it out. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to identify sound growth concepts. Vision and concepts must be backed by sound, factual understanding of the dynamics of community change. These begin with socio-economic and technological trends and other external and internal influences. The larger incorporated cities such as Iowa City and Coralville contribute to growth pressures and influence investment and land use patterns. These pressures influence, and are influenced by, transportation and other public facility demands, all of which determine the county’s fiscal health and quality of life. With a multitude of variables and choices, the planning process sorts and compares concepts and strategies, leading to the selection of an “optimum” – one that is technically sound, but also capable of broad support.

Identifies a county "to do" list

The Johnson County Comprehensive Plan is crafted to identify the actions, timetables, responsibilities and resources required for effective implementation. The planning process is crafted as a continuum – from Vision to Goals, Objectives, Policies and Strategies, to a timeline of short-term, intermediate and long-term actions – that becomes the community’s “to do” list. To gain immediate traction the Plan includes an implementation element that clearly spells out:

• An action program and schedule identifying short, mid-term and long-term actions to be taken.

• A protocol for plan administration, reporting and updating that ensures that the plan cannot be “put on the shelf.”

Civic Engagement and Conversation

There will likely be a wide variety of opinions on what is best for Johnson County's future.  Some may be resistant to change, whether in the place, or the way of life that they now have. Others may be more receptive to what growth can bring with it: better local jobs and shopping and a greater variety of activities and amenities. Still others may simply be unaware of the degree of growth and change and how it may affect them. The process of preparing the comprehensive plan attempts to raise public awareness of the quantitative measures of growth the community is facing and the qualitative measures of quality of life the growth may affected. The goal of the planning process is to bring awareness to the public of the trends underway and their possible consequences. By providing enhanced opportunities for public engagement, the comprehensive planning process is a way to raise awareness about the choices needing to be made in how growth may best be managed. These conversations will guide the county to an approach is best for the common good of Johnson County.

(Taken in part from the Center for Planning Excellence)