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Land Development Regulations (A Simple Guide)

Regulation Signs

If you want to construct something on your property, simply having a plan created that shows what you want built is most likely not going to be good enough.

Your proposed land development plan will have to meet certain regulations and could require the obtaining of certain permits before construction can actually begin.

After the plan showing your proposed construction is created, it would have to be submitted to certain review agencies, reviewed for compliance with applicable regulations, and revised as required. This process would then be repeated until all review comments are addressed before your plan can be approved for construction.

This review process is just one of the steps of the overall land development design process.

The Various Levels of Regulation

Land development can be regulated by different levels of government depending on both the location of your site and what topographic features are located on the site. Your proposed project would have to comply with every level before a site contractor would be able to use your plans for construction.

The following are the various levels of regulation with which your proposed land development plan would have to comply.

1) Municipal
2) County
3) State
4) Federal


The Municipal Level

The municipal level of regulation is developed and controlled by the local government which could be a township, borough, or city. This would most likely be the level at which you would have the most regulations with which to comply.

The governing municipality will have various ordinances that would affect your proposed land development design. The main ordinances pertaining to the preparation of a land development plan include the zoning ordinance, the subdivision ordinance, and the land development ordinance.

You might often find that a condition of plan approval at the municipal level could be the obtaining of certain approvals at other levels of regulation.

What Might Be Required at the County Level

At the county level, land development regulations might be a little more general than those at the municipal level.

For example, a county planning commission might want to review your proposed plan for compliance with an overall general plan that has been designed for the county.

Also, the erosion and sediment control part of your proposed plan might be required to be reviewed and approved by the applicable reviewing agency at the county level.

What Could Be Required at the State Level

The two main reviewing agencies at the state level would be the state department of transportation (DOT) and the state environmental regulatory agency.

The state DOT would be responsible for approving any proposed work within a state-owned road or a state right-of-way. This work would include proposed utility connections within a state road and driveway connections to a state road.

The state environmental regulatory agency would be responsible for approving any construction that would impact existing waterways.

Complying With Federal Regulations

The main reviewing agency at the federal level would be the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This agency would have to approve proposed construction that could impact a delineated floodplain boundary.

The Review Process

The following is the general review process that you would have to go through (with the help of your land development engineer) to obtain land development plan approval.

1) Obtain and go over the regulations that are applicable to your project.
2) Create a checklist of requirements to be met.
3) Prepare your land development plan.
4) Check to be sure all requirements are met.
5) Submit your plans to the applicable reviewing agency for review.
6) Receive review comments.
7) Address any review comments and resubmit plans for another review.
8) Obtain plan approval.


What an Approval Might Look Like

Once your plans have been reviewed and approved by each applicable reviewing agency, you should receive an approval that could be in one of a few different forms.

An approval might just be a letter from an agency stating that your plan complies with the requirements of that agency.

If your project requires an actual permit, you should receive a document that functions as your permit. You might also be asked to keep a copy of this permit at your site during construction.

What Time Frame You Can Expect

Reviewing agencies can differ with regard to their review procedures and the amount of time that is required to review a plan. However, you can probably reasonably expect to wait at least a couple of months to obtain all required approvals and permits after your first submission of plans.

Related: How to Create a Land Development Design (In 12 Steps)

Related: Recommendations for Land Development Books

Posted in Land Development

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