Subdivision ordinances are applied to ensure that growth does not outpace available local facilities when a piece of land is being divided into lots for sale or development. Subdivision ordinances are therefore useful primarily for controlling new development.

Like zoning, subdivision regulations can establish:

  • source controls
  • density standards
  • and design/performance standards.

Some municipalities incorporate a very important feature in their subdivision regulations for source water protection:  the requirement for open space dedication.  Municipalities can require developers to set aside some land to be preserved as open space. Locating the open space lands within source water protection area boundaries can be an important protection tool.

Subdivision Regulations

Subdivision regulations are another traditional land use tool that is used to control the division of land into lots. These regulations set standards for public improvements, which can be designed to protect community water systems and source water supplies.

Section 503, Part 10 of the Municipalities Planning Code authorizes municipalities to regulate subdivision and land development activity so that

“Provisions and standards for insuring that new developments incorporate adequate provisions for a reliable, safe and adequate water supply to support intended uses within the capacity of available resources”

are present. This means that municipalities can identify areas that are most appropriate for private wells or to be served by public water systems. Growth can be directed to areas of higher density in designated growth areas to take advantage of areas with existing public water supply or where it may be easily expanded. Development outside of these areas should be limited and tailored to the resource carrying capacity of the particular site.

In addition to identifying water supply and wastewater management options, traditional subdivision regulations often specify the following requirements.

Site design, engineering, and construction requirements establish standards for streets, curbs, gutters, and other drainage structures, and for the use of impervious surfaces to protect water resources, both on- and off-site.

On-site wastewater and erosion and sedimentation control requirements can be stipulated in subdivision requirements.

Dedicated area requirements for ground water recharge or public amenities such as open space and parkland may also be established in subdivision requirements

As with the alternatives to zoning tools, subdivision regulations are being adopted to protect natural resources. Many local governments are adopting subdivision ordinances to allow flexible development designs that are based on the natural features of the site, enabling the developer to protect stream corridors, wetlands, and other sensitive areas.

Sensitive Area Set-Asides – Conservation subdivision ordinances are similar to performance-based zoning in that they enable the developer to concentrate development on suitable parts of the land parcel, resulting in less impervious surface, reduced infrastructure costs, and better source water protection. This tool can direct the set-aside of a percentage of the development in a natural state, targeting the protection of sensitive areas.

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