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Sevices at Chuff and Kosierowski. Subdivisions, Zoning and Land Development.Services by Chuff and Kosierowski, exceeding your expectations.
Chuff and Kosierowski, p.c. Attorneys at Law
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Land Use Issues

Human development impacts all facets of the environment. While most apparent in urbanized areas, there is literally no place on the globe that does not bear some evidence of the impact of humankind. Consequently, all new development and redevelopment must be undertaken with consideration of its resultant effect on the environment as well as on the existing neighborhood. The reality of this fact un-derscores the importance for planning and design principles and controls to insure compatibility and to minimize negative impacts as this development occurs.

Land Use Relationships

1. General Environmental Considerations and Compatibility Issues
Any physical development is going to have some environmental impact. The degree or extent of that impact is dependent upon such factors as the category of use, the intensity of the development, and the physical characteristics of the site. For example, the construction of facilities (structures, pavement, etc.) on a site affects the surface permeability and hence increases the amount of surface run-off. This can have an impact upon the water table and on adjacent and/or down-stream sites. Site preparation may require removal of existing vegetation and always requires the regrading of the ground surface, sometimes dramatically, to accommodate the development. This, in turn, may increase soil erosion, stream sedimentation, and disrupt the natural character of a site and its surroundings. Removal of vege-tation may also expose a site and its surroundings to wind and sun from which they were previously protected. Disruption of natural site patterns may also have an impact upon wildlife habitats. The kinds of physical changes mentioned above may also result in significant visual impacts upon a site and its surroundings. The aesthetic response to these visual impacts may be very instrumental in the acceptance of or resistance to new development within its surrounding context.

Most land use controls consider compatibility in establishing land use districts. However, the focus fre-quently is on suitability of adjacent uses to each other, rather than on the environmental compatibility of the given land use. There are some ordinances that do delineate environmentally sensitive areas such as steep slopes, flood plains, coastal zones, ridge lines, woodlands, or conservation districts. Development options are based upon the limitations imposed by the particular physical properties or conditions.

2. Legal Mechanisms
a. Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan is a written and graphic document that serves as a guide for community growth. It provides the basis for policies and regulations affecting growth and establishes a framework for long-range planning. Although specific requirements vary from one state to another, since it frequently serves as the legal basis for land use controls, the comprehensive plan must include certain components. For example, the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code specifies that a comprehensive plan include “a statement of goals and objectives, land use and housing plans, a circulation plan, a community facilities plan, a statement of the interrelationships between the various plan elements and with surrounding communities, and a discussion of implementation strategies”.

b. Land Use Controls
The term land use controls refers to restrictions on the use of land by the property owner for the common good. Traditionally, such restrictions may be imposed through either common or statutory law actions. The former is essentially a reactive, case by case response driven by very specific circumstances. For example, the operation of a company may result in air or noise pollution, diminishing the value of a neighboring parcel. If the neighbor takes the offending company to court, the result might be an injunction of the offending activity or monetary compensation to the neighboring property owner. This is a response to a specific set of circumstances. Legislation and regulation on the other hand provide a more formal, encompassing approach. In this particular instance, zoning would likely separate the incompatible land uses, precluding the offending impact from arising in the first place.

Land Use Planning

Land use planning implies an orderly process by which the use of land within a municipality, a county, or some other jurisdiction is regulated. Land use controls (ex, zoning, subdivision regulations, etc.) are the legal mechanisms by which the patterns of human growth and activities are directed.
1). Zoning – Zoning is a form of police power which is delegated by the states to local governments through enabling legislation to ensure the welfare of the community by regulating the most appropriate use of the land. A zoning ordinance is the mechanism by which new development is controlled as growth occurs. Zoning is a classification of land uses that limits what activities can or cannot take place on a parcel by establishing a range of development options.

2). Subdivision and Land Development Regulations – Under enabling legislation, local governments also have the authority to establish regulations to control the subdivision of a parcel of land into building lots for specific land uses. The subdivision process actually entails dividing a parcel of land into blocks, lots, streets, open space, and community use areas. The purpose is to protect public interest by maintaining a level of quality control, justified on the basis that the development will increase the cost of public services. Subdivision regulations provide for a structured process of approval that generally includes the following steps:

1. A preapplication stage where the developer and planning staff discuss the proposed development to check if all the requirements are met.

2. A preliminary plat, often prepared by a landscape architect, registered surveyor, or engineer, is submitted to the planning agency.

3. The planning commission and/or agency reviews the preliminary plat and approves or denies it (If denied, the agency so notifies the applicant by noting the defects and citing the appropriate provisions of the ordinance).

4. Most subdivision regulations next require that the developer construct the improvements specified in the preliminary plat (usually within a specified time period, frequently three years).

5. A final plat, which is sometimes two documents: an engineering plat and a plat of record, is submit-ted for approval.

6. The approved plat is recorded.

3). Design Review - Another level of local control is the design review board, which is typically a board of citizens appointed by an elected official under the authority of a local ordinance for a fixed period of time. The design review board reviews proposed development projects on the basis of specific standards which must have been established in advance. Traditional review may be for purposes of aesthetics, historic character, environmental quality, etc. Specific qualities that may be addressed under those purposes may include building height, architectural styles, materials, orientation, view pre-servation, etc. Ridley, Chuff, Kosierowski & Scanlon, P.C. provides legal consultation and representation to local and regional municipalities, as well as private entities, in connection with land development in Northeastern Pennsylvania.