What is Land Planning? By Patricia Parish

Patricia ParishLand and water resources are essential for agriculture, forestry, wildlife, tourism, urban development, transportation infrastructure, and other functions. The increasing demand for land, coupled with a limitation in its supplies, is a major cause of conflicts over land use throughout the world.

These conflicts urge lawmakers and politicians to guide land use decisions by creating ordinances to guide development and protect sensitive lands.  These come in a number of formats:  Zoning Codes, Comprehensive (Long Range) Plans, Transportation Plans, etc.  These policies and codes guide the decision-makers to keep within parameters and in keeping with the vision of the citizens of the community.  Prior to adopting these codes, often communities will have meetings where a Vision Plan is created.  This Vision Plan will also guide the direction of development in the area.

Codes and Policies vary between jurisdictions.

There are common scenarios where these documents are useful, such as:

  •  Two adjacent uses that are incompatible.  For example, if an industrial use is proposed next to a residential use, these zones commonly require a landscape buffer, wall or other mitigating technique.
  • A Liquor Store is proposed next to residential.  These uses typically require a separation of 500’ or more from schools, daycares, libraries, etc.
  • Changing a development standard within a zone.  For example, a developer would like to put a large building on the property, but because of slope conditions cannot meet the typical setback for the commercial zone designated on the property.  There is a process for exceptional circumstances or hardships that, had the jurisdiction followed the letter of the law, would prevent development of the property because of slope, access or other things out of the control of the developer.
  • Residential development within a wetland/natural wildlife habitat.  The Prebles Jumping Mouse, designated as protected species, has a habitat along many creeks in the Colorado Springs area.  This habitat is put into a conservation area to prevent development and disturbance.  The residential lots are situated around this area.

What is Land Planning?

These are just a few examples of why there is need for a Land Use Code.  Land Planning relies on these codes to guide decisions.  Unfortunately, lawmakers and politicians can interpret these Codes in varying degrees, which sometimes creates an inconsistent decision by Council.  In those cases, past policies of interpretation may be brought in to support a certain interpretation.  Land Use Codes and Policies are updated based on need and arbitrary or outdated language.  Codes, Policies and Decision Makers influence the type of development that may be approved for a lot.  An experienced Land Planner can sometimes circumvent conflicts by obtaining public opinion for the development prior to the decision.  This is done through a number of neighborhood meetings and forums to present the project to stakeholders and get feedback.  Education is key to successful Land Planning and tools such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems), computer simulations and modeling assist in showing alternative scenarios and the ultimate impacts.