Reporter's Guide to Pennsylvania Local Government

what you really need to know when they send you to a meeting

Subdivision and Land Development

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Subdivision is any division or re-division of land for any purpose except farming.

Land development is any physical improvement to land for any purpose involving one nonresidential use or two or more residential uses on a lot.

In most communities, a developer also needs building permits to put up structures.

Local governments pass their own subdivision and land development ordinances, but they all have to follow the requirements of the Municipalities Planning Code.

Developers have to meet a series of requirements to get approval for a new development. There are deadlines for each stages of the process.

Developers commonly ask for extensions during different phases of a project.

Municipalities often require developers to “post bonds” or “post escrow,” which is money set aside to pay for features of the development such as streets if the developer fails to do what is agreed. Developers of ongoing projects may request reductions in their escrow as phases are finished.

As a general rule, the sequence of events in a typical plan review is:

  • The applicant submits a plan to the planning commission. (Sometimes applicants bring informal plans, called “sketch plans,” to the planning commission before a formal application.) 
  • The applicant submits evidence that the plan complies with county, state and federal regulations.
  • The planning commission submits the plan to the county planning agency for review.
  • The planning commission reviews the plan for compliance with the municipality’s subdivision and land development ordinance and other ordinances such as zoning.
  • When the process involves both preliminary and final plans, the above process takes place twice. A developers might request a waiver to combine preliminary and final plans.
  • The planning commission recommends approval or denial of the final plan to the governing body. (In some municipalities, planning commissions have authority to grant final approval).
  • There might be a public hearing, but it is not required. In some cases both the planning commission and the governing body hold public hearings.
  • The governing body has 90 days to approve, deny, or approve with conditions.  If they don’t issue a decision in 90 days, approval is automatic.

 The steps above apply to plans that comply with the municipality’s ordinances. A municipality is legally obligated to approve a subdivision and land development plan if it meets the municipal ordinances.

If a developer wants to do something that does not comply with the subdivision and land development ordinance, he or she can request a “modification.”

If a developer wants to do something that doesn’t comply with the zoning ordinance, he or she can request a “variance” or “special exception” or mount a legal challenge to the ordinance. Zoning issues come before the municipality’s zoning hearing board.

For more information, go to the “Links” page of this website and scroll down to a series of publications on planning, zoning and land development from The Governor’s Center for Local Government Services.


Written by pareporter

May 10, 2010 at 2:56 am

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