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Planning Jargon

Commonly Used Planning Terms

The following Planning Dictionary of Terms, comes from the Maryland Department of Planning, Smart, Green & Growing Planning Guide: June 2009

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO): Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFOs) are an effort to phase the provision of public facilities consistent with a locally adopted comprehensive plan. An APFO ties development approvals under zoning and subdivision ordinances to specifically defined public facility standards. They are designed to stage the pace of development or in extreme cases to slow or delay development approvals in an area until adequate service levels are in place or reasonably assured.

Build-Out: A theoretical measure of "full development" taking into account all land that is zoned and capable of being developed with or without public facilities.

Capital Improvement Program (CIP): A six-year comprehensive statement of the objectives of capital programs with cost estimates and proposed construction schedules for specific projects. The CIP is submitted annually to the local executive and governing body.

Charrette: A design workshop aimed to gather input from stakeholders, which results in clear guidance about the future development of a particular project or place.

Chesapeake Bay Critical Area: All waters of and lands under the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to the head of tide as indicated on the state wetlands maps, and all land and water areas within 1,000 feet beyond the landward boundaries of and heads of tides as indicated
on approved Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Overlay Zoning Map Amendments.

Cluster Development: An alternative development technique under zoning and subdivision regulations. A cluster subdivision is basically one in which a number of residential lots are grouped or clustered, leaving some land undivided for common use. Generally the same number of lots or dwelling units permitted under conventional subdivision procedures is clustered on smaller-than-usual lots. The land remaining from lot reduction is left undivided and is available as common area or open space.

Comprehensive Plan: Also called a general plan or master plan, this is a plan for development, preservation, and provision of community facilities that recognizes the physical, economic, social, political, aesthetic, and related factors of the community.

Comprehensive Water and Sewerage Plan: A plan required by the state and adopted annually that describes policy related to water and sewerage planning and delineates geographic areas to be serviced within the next ten years and those areas that are not planned for service.

Conservation Agreement: A formal agreement that commits a grading or building permit applicant to the execution of various approved elements of a Conservation Plan, such as a stormwater management concept plan, an erosion and sedimentation concept plan, and a vegetation management plan.

Conservation Easement: A nonpossessory interest in land that restricts the manner in which the land may be used or developed in an effort to preserve natural resources for future use.

Development Regulations: Regulations that limit the size, bulk, or siting conditions of particular types of buildings or uses located within any designated district.

Density: The number of dwelling units or persons per acre of land usually expressed in units per gross acre.

Downzoning: A term for an action that changes a property to a lower density, in effect, limiting development to a less-intense use than permitted under the prior zoning of a property.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): A document that assesses the environmental impact of actions, such as development or infrastructure projects, that significantly affect the quality of the man-made or natural environment. Environmental Impact Statements are used as tools for decision-making and are required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Similar environmental analyses are undertaken by state and local agencies.

Euclidean Zones: Zoning districts that specify particular uses that normally range from less intense to more intense uses as the zoning districts become more permissive. Euclidean zones are usually characterized by regulations that encourage separation of uses and more restrictive requirements for more intense uses in less intense zones.

Floating Zone: A zone that is described in a zoning ordinance with specific requirements for uses but not mapped until applied for by a property owner or placed on a map through a comprehensive zoning process; floating zones provide a more flexible approach in terms of permissible densities, intensities and land uses and overall development design opportunities.

Floodplain: a relatively flat or lowland area adjoining a river, stream, or watercourse, which is subject to periodic, partial or complete inundation.

Geographic Information System (GIS): An organized collection of computer hardware, software and geographic data designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze and display all forms of geographically referenced information, such as land uses, roads, public facilities, natural features, and topography.

Green Area: An undeveloped area of land usually associated with, and located on the same parcel of land as, a building for which it serves to provide light and air, or scenic, open space, recreational, or similar purposes.

Green Building: Practices that consider the impacts of buildings on the local, regional, and global environment, which strive to conserve energy and water use, reduce operation and maintenance costs, minimize construction waste, and reduce/eliminate the use of non-sustainable building materials.

Green Infrastructure: A network of large undisturbed land areas (hubs) connected by designated pathways for the movement of wildlife and humans (green corridors).

Greenways: Areas of protected open space that follow natural and manmade linear features for recreation, transportation and conservation purposes and link ecological, cultural and recreational amenities.

Historic District: A group of historic resources comprised of two or more properties that are united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development and contribute to the area's historical, architectural, archeological, or cultural significance. Historic districts may be listed in the National Register of Historic Places and/or designated under a local historic area zoning ordinance and are afforded different levels of protection based upon the type of designation.

Historic Resource: A building, site, district, structure or object that has historical, architectural, archeological, or cultural significance. Historic resources may include: individual buildings; landscapes; archeological sites; structures, such as bridges or roads; or objects such as statues or monuments. Historic resources may be listed in the National Register of Historic Places and/or designated under a local historic area zoning ordinance and are afforded different levels of protection based upon the type of designation.

Infill Development: Development that takes place on vacant or underutilized parcels within an area that is already characterized by urban development and has access to urban services.

Infrastructure: The built facilities, generally publicly funded, that are required in order to serve a community's developmental and operational needs. The infrastructure includes such things as roads, water and sewer systems and schools.

Intensity: A term referring to the gross (total) floor area and/or the degree to which
commercial and industrial land uses generate traffic, noise, air pollution and other potential impacts, for commercial and industrial uses.

Land Use: The types of buildings and activities existing in an area or on a specific site. Land use is to be distinguished from zoning, the latter being the regulation of existing and future land uses.

Master Plan: A document that guides the way an area should be developed. It includes a compilation of policy statements, goals, standards, maps and pertinent data relative to the past, present, and future trends of a particular area including, but not limited to, its population, housing, economics, social patterns, land use, water resources and their use, transportation facilities, and public facilities.

Mixed-Use Zoning: Zoning that permits a combination of uses within a single development. Many zoning districts specify permitted combinations of residential and office/
commercial uses. The term has also been applied to major developments, often with several high-rise buildings, that may contain offices, shops, hotels, apartments and related uses.

Open Space: Areas of land not covered by structures, driveways, or parking lots. Open space may include homeowners' association common areas, parks, lakes,streams and ponds, etc.

Pedestrian-Oriented Design: Land use activities that are designed and arranged in a way that emphasizes travel on foot rather than by car. Elements include compact, mixed-use development patterns with facilities and design that enhance the environment for pedestrians in terms of safety, walking distances, comfort, and the visual appeal of the surroundings. Pedestrian-friendly environments can be created by locating buildings close to the sidewalk, by lining the street with trees, and by buffering the sidewalk with planting strips or parked cars, small shops, street-level lighting and signs, and public art or displays.

Plot Plan: A plat of a lot, drawn to scale, showing the actual measurements, the size and location of any existing structures or structures to be erected, the location of the lot in relation to abutting streets, and other such information.

Record Plat: An official plat of subdivision usually approved and signed by a local government planning official and public works official and recorded in the land records of the local governing body.

Sensitive Environmental Features: These features include streams, stream valleys, and their associated features; the habitats of state-listed species that are rare, threatened, and endangered; 100-year floodplains; and certain high-priority forests.

Setback: The distance between a building or structure (not including ground-level parking lots or other paved surfaces) and property lines or from other buildings.

Site Plan: A plan, to scale, showing uses and structures proposed for a parcel of land,
usually required by local development regulations. A site plan includes lot lines, streets, building sites, reserved open space, buildings, major landscape features both
natural and manmade, depending on requirements, the locations of proposed utility lines. Note: Site plans are also often required to show wells, septic fields, and easements.

Special Exception: A land use that would not be appropriate generally or without restrictions within a particular zoning district but which, if controlled as to intensity, area, location, or relation to the neighborhood, would be compatible with the public health, safety, welfare, morals, order, comfort, convenience, appearance, prosperity or general welfare. Such uses may be permitted with specific conditions and through a special approval process.

Subdivision: The division by plat or deed of a piece of property into two or more lots, plots, sites, tracts,parcels, or other land divisions in accordance with local county code.

Subdivision Regulations: The control of the division of a tract of land into individual lots by requiring development according to specific design standards and procedures adopted by local ordinance.

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR): A land use/growth management tool normally used to protect designated rural and environmentally sensitive areas by allowing development rights to be transferred from areas to be protected or preserved to properties in areas where development is encouraged.

Transit-oriented Development (TOD): Land uses that are sited,designed and combined adjacent to or in close proximity to transit stations to maximize use of transit, particularly rail ridership.

Transportation Improvement Program (TIP): A six-year regional schedule for the study, acquisition, upgrading, or development of major highway, transit, bike and pedestrian facilities, and services.

Urban Design: The process of giving form, shape and character to the arrangement of buildings to whole neighborhoods, or the city with an emphasis on compact, mixed-use development with good pedestrian and public transportation access. Urban design blends architecture, landscaping and city planning concepts together to make an urban area accessible, attractive and functional.

Variance: A departure from any provision of the zoning requirements for a specific parcel, except use, without changing the zoning ordinance or the underlying zoning of the parcel. A variance is usually granted only upon demonstration of hardship based on the peculiarity of the property in relation to other properties in the same zoning district.

Visioning: A method for defining, sharing and communicating a community's future through intensive public participation.

Zoning: Land development regulations of a city or county where areas, or zones, are created, which specify allowable uses for real property and size restrictions for buildings within these zoning districts. Zoning is a key implementation tool of a Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning Text Amendment: A change in the wording, context, or substance of a zoning ordinance.

Zoning Map: A map that graphically shows all zoning district boundaries and classifications within a local jurisdiction, and which is revised and adopted on a regular basis by the local governing body.

Zoning Map Amendment: A change in the zoning or district boundaries of the official zoning map.