Updating Growth Plans: the Next 20 Years

When developing the growth plans, the coordinating committees were required to consider where growth would occur over the first 20 years of the plan.  This 20-year planning period is soon ending.  Concerns have been raised about the status of the growth plans at the end of the 20-year period and whether they should be reviewed or amended periodically.  Although the growth plans are based on 20-year growth projections, there is nothing in the law that would cause the plans to expire after 20 year or after any length of time.  However, there is also no statutory requirement to update them.  This is left to local discretion.

While one of the primary reasons for cities and counties to establish growth plans—to define where cities could annex without consent—has been eliminated, growth plans are still relevant for local governments.  A city cannot annex territory in another’s UGB, even if the owner requests it.  New cities can only incorporate in a PGA.  The UGBs also serve as boundaries for cities’ planning and zoning authority outside city limits where cities have been given that authority.62  A city’s planning and zoning authority outside its city limits can extend up to its UGB but it cannot extend beyond it.  There are 100 cities with planning and zoning authority outside their cities limits.63

Given that growth plans are still relevant for local governments, the plans should reflect the current development patterns in the counties.  Plans based on outdated information are unlikely to be useful.  The population projections that were used at that time have already been changed several times.  This is to be expected because projections are always tentative.  One reason for the difference from projections was the economic downturn, which changed the economy in ways that are affecting growth and development.  Some counties are growing faster than projected while others are growing more slowly—and this is certain to happen again.  See the map below.


Eighteen of the state’s 95 counties had 2010 populations that were more than 5,000 greater than projected.  Thirty-six counties already have Census-estimated 2013 populations higher than their 2020 projections.  Five counties had 2010 populations that were more than 2,500 less than projected, and 31 were still smaller in 2013 than projected for 2010.  Of the state’s 345 cities, 210 were still smaller in 2013 than they were projected to be in 2010.  Half were more than 13% under projections; 55 were off by more than 20%.64

62 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 13-3-102.
63 “Status of Planning and Land Use Controls,” Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, accessed February 12, 2015, https://www.gnrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/status-complete-2011.pdf.
64 Population projections prepared by UT Center for Business and Economic Research, March 1999; US Census Bureau Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013.