Resources: Land Development Process

The review of any development plan focuses on the consistency of that plan with the policies and ordinances of the municipality. To some extent these are independent reviews which should carefully consider the relationship of the plan to the future vision of the municipality and to the specific provisions of the various land use regulations. It is through the review process that the municipality has the opportunity to link the individual site to the community.

Sketch Plan

A sketch plan is a general layout of the entire property proposed for development. This optional stage in the development process identifies the proposed use of the land and shows:

For more specific details and the suggested elements of a sketch plan see the subdivision and land development ordinance for the appropriate municipality.

Sketch Plan Review

While a sketch plan is not a requirement of the Municipalities Planning Code, it provides an applicant with an opportunity to receive input on an informal basis, prior to major expenditures of money and time on preliminary engineering.

The Chester County Planning Commission provides an unofficial sketch plan review service. This service provides an exchange of public and private objectives in an informal setting without duress of time and regulations. Information and suggestions can be provided on access locations and the internal and external circulation network.

Preliminary Plan Review

Based on information received in the sketch plan, preliminary engineering can be initiated. The preliminary plan must then go through a three level review:

  1. The municipal planning commission first determines how the plan relates to policies established in the comprehensive plan and how the plan conforms with existing ordinances. To assist in its review, the planning commission needs to utilize outside resources including the municipal engineer, traffic engineers, PennDOT, and other agencies.
  2. The Municipalities Planning Code requires that plans be submitted for review to the county planning commission.
  3. The elected body provides a review from a policy standpoint with input from all the previous sources.

The municipal review should focus on compliance with ordinances but should also consider the planning principles and design concepts listed in this chapter.

Traffic Studies

The review process must consider impacts caused by the proposed development. Impacts are determined through traffic impact studies which can be required in a land development ordinance. Municipalities can set guidelines for studies to establish consistency in the format and content. More information regarding traffic impact studies may be found in Chapter 5 - Resources.

Several municipalities throughout Chester County have retained traffic engineers for the purpose of interpreting traffic studies prepared for proposed developments. This provides the municipality an unbiased, professional interpretation of the impacts and strengthens their ability to discuss and negotiate matters relative to the proposal.

Coordination with PennDOT

Determining Roadway Ownership

The first step in determining if coordination with PennDOT will be necessary is to determine whether or not the roadway associated with the proposed development is Local Road or a State Road. This can be done by referring to PennDOT's Type 10 map for Chester County.

Type 10 maps clearly identify state roads with either the standard keystone shield with route number, or with a 4-digit SR number along the roadway. Local roads are typically in a different color and do not have any designated numbering. Please refer to the sample Type 10 map below:

PennDOT map
Example of a PennDOT Type 10 map.

An open, working relationship among PennDOT, the municipality and the developer is an essential ingredient in the implementation of properly functioning access points on state roads. Because of the jurisdictional differences in the control of land use and access, it is critical that municipal concerns about access be conveyed to PennDOT and that PennDOT provide their perspectives on the proposal to the municipality. In some cases, one entity is working on access matters without the benefit of knowing what suggestions or decisions have been made by other jurisdictions.

Access / Highway Occupancy Permits

A land owner or developer must obtain permission from PennDOT to build a driveway or intersection accessing a state highway. This is referred to as an access permit or a highway occupancy permit. The specific provisions and procedures of the access permit process are detailed in Pennsylvania Code Chapter 441: Access to and Occupancy of Highways by Driveways and Local Roads. Because access to state roads is a right deeply embedded in common law, PennDOT has limited grounds for denying an access permit.

PennDOT has developed a procedure in which they require notification from the municipality before PennDOT conducts a review. This procedure is established under the provisions of Pennsylvania Code, Title 67, Chapter 441.3(J) and is initiated after the municipality files a request with PennDOT asking to be included on a review list. Once the municipality is included on the list no access permit application will be accepted by PennDOT's permit supervisor without a notice from the appropriate municipality.

There is a statute which indirectly deals with the coordination of municipal and PennDOT reviews. Article V, Section 508 of the Municipalities Planning Code states that plats requiring access to state roads shall not be finally approved unless the plat contains a notice that a highway occupancy permit is required.

An effective method of insuring coordination would be through the use of interim or preliminary approvals. The flow chart below illustrates a step by step process which should be followed to enable municipalities to use PennDOT's recommendations and vice versa. Conscientious developers will basically follow this process on an informal basis even though it is not required by statute or ordinance.

How a Plan Should Relate to the Access Permit
Source: Chester County Planning Commission, 1993

Coordination with other Municipalilities

It is rare to find a major land development that does not have implications on traffic patterns and problems in neighboring municipalities. Any project which has a regional market or labor pool such as a large shopping center or an office park will draw traffic from and through adjacent communities. This is particularly evident where neighboring municipalities share a common expressway or arterial road. It is therefore important to establish direct coordination between municipalities on matters relating to comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances and traffic studies.

Existing enabling legislation provides limited opportunities for inter-municipal coordination. The Municipalities Planning Code indicates that plans and ordinances should be forwarded to adjacent municipalities before adoption. The Traffic Impact Fee law, Act 209, actually precludes the creation of inter­municipal impact fees but does require that one of the necessary studies be forwarded to adjoining municipalities for review.

One aspect of the Municipalities Planning Code which provides opportunities for municipal coordination is joint municipal zoning. This allows municipalities to develop compatible zoning and to offer suggestions in rezonings which occur in the other municipalities. Coordinated zoning can lead to the development of a coordinated circulation network.

The following identifies other specific practices that can be used to improve inter-municipal coordination:

  1. In reviewing a subdivision or land development plan, a municipality should identify how the plan relates to the policies, plans and ordinances of the adjacent municipality. This can be done by reviewing the proposal with the zoning ordinance, the highway functional classification and possibly the capital improvements plan of the adjacent municipality or by requesting that the adjacent municipality provide their own review. This can be expedited through a regular exchange of information between municipalities.
  2. For projects of a regional nature, PennDOT should supply a copy of their comments on access applications to adjoining municipalities.
  3. For land development projects which involve a change in a traffic signal system, coordination with adjacent municipalities on possible signal interconnection can mitigate some traffic problems.
  4. All circulation networks need to be coordinated including pedestrian networks, transit routes, park and ride facilities, and spur roads.