One of the most important initial steps in the due diligence phase of land development is to review the local jurisdiction’s plans and codes that apply to your project. The result of this review will likely be a significant factor in a developer’s decision to move forward with a project or move on the next opportunity. Therefore, it’s critical to know about plans and codes and how they work together. Generally speaking, plans are an expression of a community’s vision, goals, and policies and codes are the implementation of those policies. Plans and codes both require interpretation – and a professional planner is a vital member of a development team who can translate the meaning of plans and codes and effectively communicate with the planners working for the community.
The overarching plan that will always apply to your subject property is the community’s Master Plan or Comprehensive Plan. This document covers all land within the jurisdiction and will typically include policies about land use, growth, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, parks and open space, public safety, and the environment. While land use is often the most important issue for your potential land development project, it’s important to look deeper into the plan to determine which policies support and do not support your proposed project. The project will ultimately be evaluated by its conformance with the plan, and you want to be sure that there are more policies supporting it than not. Beyond the Comprehensive Plan, there may be one or more additional plans that apply to your subject property. These additional plans will typically be more focused than the Comprehensive Plan in terms of either land area or subject matter. The same level of review should be done for each applicable plan.
Codes are the detailed standards and regulations that implement adopted plans. Most of the applicable regulations for a development project can be found within a community’s zoning and/or land development codes. These codes typically include rules about land use, zoning districts, development standards, subdivision regulations, and review and approval procedures. The approval procedures will include criteria for approval of your application. Developers should begin evaluating their proposed project against the approval criteria early in the process to identify potential risks. Some communities may also have design guidelines that apply to your project. These guidelines may appear in a plan document or in a separate document. Communities will often adopt design guidelines when they want to address issues that require more interpretation or negotiation than strict codes allow.
Plans and codes both contain valuable information regarding the suitability and feasibility of a land development project on a specific property. When there are conflicts between plans and codes, the specific regulations contained in codes will generally prevail. But nonconformance with a plan can still pose a significant risk to a project, even when it fully conforms to the code. Baseline’s team of professional planners is eager to help your project team understand applicable plans and codes and navigate the approval process. Feel free to contact our Planning Director, Ben Thurston, AICP, for your future planning needs by phone at 303.202.5010 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.