Site Plan Review

Next to placing land into various zoning districts, site plan review is the most powerful planning and natural resource protection tool. Easily enforced, site plan review is a way for communities to ensure what is approved on a site plan is what will be built.

A site plan is a plan, drawn to scale, showing the layout of proposed uses and structures.  Site plans include lot lines, streets, building sites, existing structures, reserved open space, utilities, and any other required information. Communities can require landscaping information, use of native plant species, on-site stormwater treatment, percentage of allowable impervious coverage, and a host of other environmental design considerations through the use of site plan review.

The information provided from a natural features inventory comes into play again with the use of site plan review. To effectively address environmental considerations, planning officials must have information on topography, soils, drainage, wetlands, relationship to surrounding land uses and habitat, and a variety of other factors to evaluate a site plan. Thus, maps of environmental features, as well as of public facilities, and land use that is gathered as part of the preparation of the future land use map are critical for implementing site plan review requirements.

Most ordinances automatically call for site plan review of industrial, office, commercial, and multi-family uses. But communities can require that other uses, even uses allowed by right, go through site plan review.

For example, proposed single-family home construction in areas where wetlands, critical habitat, sand dunes, or other unique natural features exist, can be regulated to protect these features through the site plan review process. Communities can also adopt provisions addressing preservation of mature trees, preventing light pollution, and other design mechanisms which in turn protect community character.

For environmental as well as aesthetic concerns in a community, site plan review is one of the best overall zoning tools that can be implemented by local governments. Site plan review is a good way of eliminating any development “surprises” and also serves as a mechanism for working with a community’s natural features. In most cases, this would be through buffer zone and greenbelt provisions and implemented through site plan review as described above.

Credit: Filling The Gaps