"The goal of land-use planning is to further the welfare of people and their communities by creating convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive environments for present and future generations." 


Planning defines and regulates how the physical world is adapted, modified, or put to use for human purposes in an efficient and ethical way. Good planning helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live. Planning helps communities envision their futures, prevent land-use conflicts, and find the right balance of new development and essential services, environmental protection, and innovative change.


The following is a list of terms commonly used in planning and development that may be useful.


The process by which nonconforming uses and structures must be discontinued or made to conform to requirements of the current zoning ordinance at the end of a specified period of time.


When a person believes a decision was made in error, an appeal may be filed requesting that the case be reviewed.

Architectural Control; Architectural Review

Regulations and procedures requiring the exterior design of structures to be suitable, harmonious, and in keeping with the general appearance, historic character, and/or style of surrounding areas. A process used to exercise control over the design of buildings and their settings.

Board of Appeals

An appointed board that hears appeals on variances and exceptions.

Building Code

Standards adopted by the city governing the construction, alteration, demolition, occupancy, or other use of buildings used for human habitation.

Building Official

The person responsible for the administration and enforcement of the building, housing, plumbing, electrical and related codes.

Certificate of Occupancy

A certificate issued by the city for establishments that meet building codes and fire codes for specific uses and have passed inspections by the building official and fire marshal. A certificate of occupancy is required for any non-residential building that will be occupied. (Residences are inspected through a different process).

Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan is a document that establishes a long-term vision and goals for a city and serves as a policy guide and framework for land use decisions. It includes general concepts about what the community wants to look like in the future and may make recommendations about how to achieve the city's vision. The comprehensive plan serves as a master plan that weaves together the separate but inter-related issues of land use or development, transportation, and parks. Comprehensive plans are generally intended to guide decision-making over a twenty-year period.

Deed Restriction

A private legal restriction on the use of land recorded in the deed. The restriction burdens or limits the use of the property in some way.


The right to use property owned by another for specific purposes or to gain access to another property. For example, utility companies often have easements on the private property of individuals to be able to install and maintain utility facilities.

Economic Development Commission (EDC)

An agency charged with seeking economic development projects and economic expansion to provide local employment opportunities.


Any obstruction or protrusion into a right of way or adjacent property, whether on the land or above it.

Flood, 100-Year

The magnitude of a flood expected to occur on the average every 100 years, based on historical data. The 100-year flood has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year.


A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of normally dry land areas from one of the following:

  • The overflow of inland or tidal waters.
  • The unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source.


The relatively level land area on either side of the banks of a stream regularly subject to flooding. That part of the floodplain subject to a one percent chance of flooding in any given year is designated as an "area of special flood hazard" by the Federal Insurance Administration and is also sometimes called the 100-Year Floodplain.


The channel of a river or other watercourse and the adjacent land areas that must be reserved in order to discharge the base flood without cumulatively increasing the water surface elevation more than a designated height.

Footprint; Building Footprint

The land area taken up by a building. The outline of a building at all of the points where it meets the ground.


The frontage, or front, of a lot is usually defined as the side nearest the street.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Computer-based systems capable of managing, integrating, and displaying geographic and population data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends.


(1) Leveling or smoothing the contours of a property.
(2) The rate of rise or descent of a sloping surface, usually expressed in degrees or a percentage calculated by the number of feet of rise per 100 feet of horizontal distance (a 10 percent grade would mean a 10 foot vertical rise over 100 feet of horizontal distance).

Impact Fee

A fee, also called a development fee, levied on the developer of a project by a city, county, or other public agency to pay for improvements and facilities required to serve new development and to reduce the impacts of new development on a community.

Improved Land

(1) Raw land to which basic utilities such as roads, sewers, water lines, and other public infrastructure facilities have been added.
(2) Land upon which buildings or other structures have been erected


Public services and facilities like sewage-disposal systems, water-supply systems, other utility systems, schools, roads, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and transit systems.

Land Use Classification

A system for classifying and designating the appropriate use of properties.


To impose taxes, special assessments or service charges to pay for public programs or facilities; (noun) the total amount of taxes, special assessments or service charges supporting public programs and facilities.

Licenses and Permits

Certification that an applicant has complied with the provisions for regulating activities being licensed or permitted, such as the licensing of animals or bicycles. Agencies typically levy a license or permit charge to reimburse the costs of regulation.


A claim on assets, especially property, for the payment of taxes or utility service charges.

Living Area

That portion of the dwelling unit which is used or designed for occupancy but does not include carports, garages, and open porches, breezeways, balconies, and terraces.


A tract or piece of land having fixed boundaries and designated on a plot or survey map. A lot must meet the requirements of the zoning district in which it is located and must front on a public street or an approved private street.

Lot Line Adjustment

The adjustment of a lot line between two or more existing parcels where land taken from one parcel is added to an adjacent parcel and where a greater number of parcels than originally existed are not thereby created.

Lot of Record

A lot that is part of a recorded subdivision or a parcel of land that has been recorded at the county recorder's office containing property tax records

Metes and Bounds

A system of describing or identifying land using measures (metes) and direction (bounds) from an identifiable point of reference like a monument or other marker, the corner of intersecting streets, or some other permanent fixture.


Measures that modify a project to reduce or eliminate a significant environmental impact.


Properties on which various uses like office, commercial, institutional, and residential are combined in a single building or on a single site in an integrated development project with significant functional interrelationships and a coherent physical design. A "single site" may include contiguous properties.

Municipal Services

Services traditionally provided by local agencies, including water and sewer, roads, parks, schools, and police and fire protection.

Net Acreage

The portion of a site that can actually be built upon. The following generally are not included in the net acreage of a site: public or private road rights-of-way, public open space, and flood ways.

New Urbanism

A design philosophy intended to create a strong sense of community by incorporating features of traditional small towns or urban neighborhoods. Compact, walkable neighborhoods with active streets are a key hallmark of new urbanism. The Congress for New Urbanism defines the philosophy according to these principles: "neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice."

Non-conforming Use

A use that was valid when brought into existence, but by subsequent regulation becomes no longer conforming. It is a generic term and includes (1) non-conforming structures (by virtue of size, type of construction, location on land, or proximity to other structures), (2) non-conforming use of a conforming building, (3) non-conforming use of a non-conforming building, and (4) non-conforming use of land. Thus, any use lawfully existing on any piece of property that is inconsistent with a new or amended general plan, and that in turn is a violation of a zoning ordinance amendment subsequently adopted in conformance with the general plan, will be a non-conforming use. Typically, non-conforming uses are permitted to continue for a designated period of time, subject to certain restrictions.

Off-site Improvements

Conditions that can be required of a project that involves the installation of streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street trees and other improvements that are located adjacent to the project on public property.


A law or regulation adopted by a public agency, usually a city or county.


A land use designation on the General Plan Land Use Map, or a zoning designation on a zoning map, that modifies the basic underlying designation in some specific manner. For example, overlay zones are often used to deal with areas with special characteristics, like flood zones or historical areas. Development of land subject to an overlay must comply with the regulations of both zones.

Overlay Zoning

Additional or stricter standards to existing zoning that can be used to protect particular natural or cultural features or to avoid or mitigate potential hazards.


A specific authorization from a planning body to engage in a particular type of development or


Permitted Use

An authorized use within a zoning district.

Plat Map

A map of a lot, parcel, subdivision, or development area where the lines of each land division are shown by accurate distances and bearings.


An amendment to the map and/or text of a zoning ordinance to effect a change in the nature, density, or intensity of uses allowed in a zoning district and/or on a designated parcel or land area.


A strip of land occupied or intended to be occupied by certain transportation and public use facilities, like roads, railroads, and utility lines.


The minimum distance required by zoning to be maintained between two structures or between a structure and a property line or right-of-way line; the required yard for a property. Setbacks shall be measured perpendicular to lot lines.

Setback Regulations

The requirements that a building be set back a certain distance from the front, side or rear lot line. The frontage or front of a lot is usually defined as the side nearest the street.

Site Plan

A plan, to scale, showing uses and structures proposed for a parcel of land. It includes lot lines, streets, building sites, public open space, buildings, major landscape features – both natural and man-made – and, depending on requirements, the locations of proposed utility lines.

Site Plan Review

The process whereby local officials, usually the Planning & Zoning Commission and staff, review the site plans of a developer to assure that they meet the purposes and standards of the zone, provide for necessary public facilities like streets, parks, and schools, and protect adjacent properties through appropriate siting of structures and landscaping.

Special District

A governmental entity formed to deliver a specific service, like fire protection, water service, recreation or the maintenance of open space

Special Exception

A tool cities use to consider a proposed land use on a case-by-case basis. For example, on some properties, an auto inspection station or tire repair shop would be compatible with surrounding uses and would not be considered a nuisance. In some cases, however, these uses would be unsuitable. Certain criteria must be met to receive a special exception; for example, the person or company applying for the special exception must be able to argue that the proposed use won't endanger public health or impair the ability of a neighboring property owner to have the full use and enjoyment of his or her property.


Anything constructed or erected that requires location on the ground (excluding swimming pools, fences, and walls used as fences).

Temporary Use

A use established for a fixed period of time with the intent to discontinue such use upon the expiration of the time period.

Traffic Calming

A strategic set of physical changes to streets to reduce vehicle speeds and volumes. It refers to the use of street design techniques, such as curb extensions, widened sidewalks, traffic circles and speed humps, to slow and control the flow of automobile traffic.


Most cities establish regulations governing the form that land uses may take, such as how far a building must be from the property line (these required distances are called setbacks), maximum or minimum building height, and minimum or maximum lot sizes. In certain cases, these standards cannot be met because meeting the standards would create an undue hardship or because it would be almost impossible to meet the standards. For example, some properties have very steep slopes or have large sections in the floodplain, making building difficult or impractical under a city's setback requirements. In these cases, the property owners may apply for a variance from the zoning or subdivision regulations. If the variance is granted, the property owner would not be required to meet the regulation in question.

Water Table

The upper surface of groundwater, or the level below which the soil is seasonally saturated with water.


The total area above a given point on a watercourse that contributes water to its flow; the entire region drained by a waterway or watercourse that drains into a reservoir, lake, or sea.


Landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings.


A tool for providing compatibility and predictability in land use and development and for protecting a city's health, safety, and general welfare. Zoning categorizes the city into zoning districts and establishes permitted land uses within each district. Zoning districts also specify how dense or intense each use may be (for example, by specifying how big or small lots may be or how many homes are permitted per lot).

Zoning District

A designated section of a city or county for which prescribed land use requirements and building and development standards are uniform.