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LAND-USE CONTROLS

Although land-use controls are not as powerful a shaper of land use as is public capital investment, they are still extremely important. Their development and implementation constitute a major share of the work effort of most planning agencies. In the minds of many citizens, land-use controls are almost synonymous with planning.

In this section we discuss subdivision controls, zoning, and several miscellaneous types of land-use controls.

Subdivision Regulations

Subdivision regulations are an old form of land-use control, going back to the early nineteenth century and before. Their enforcement is an exercise of the police power by the municipality within the framework of the powers granted to it by the state.7 Subdivision regulations control the manner in which blocks of land over a certain size may be converted into building lots. Before building lots can be sold or the owner can make improvements, the municipality must approve a plat (map) of the property. The ordinance will require at a minimum that the map shows streets, lot lines, and easements (rights of way) for utilities. It will also stipulate what improvements must be made before building lots can be sold or before building permits may be granted. Thus the community is able to compel the property owner to construct internal streets that link up in a satisfactory manner to the municipality's street system and meet its standards for width, safety, and quality of construction. Similarly, it can compel the developer of the property to provide sewer, water, and drainage facilities that meet the community's standards. Subdivision requirements frequently also stipulate that certain land dedications (or payments in lieu of such dedications) be made to the community by the developer for schools, recreation, or community facilities. Many subdivision regulations require that the design of the subdivision be compatible with the municipal master plan and zoning ordinance, thus reinforcing the implementation of these documents. In general, subdivision regulations apply to residential development, but in some communities they also govern some commercial and industrial development.

Although less well known than zoning laws, subdivision regulations give communities substantial power to ensure that new residential development meets community standards and fits in with community development plans. Like zoning laws, subdivision regulations are subject to litigation and various forms of political pressure. Like the power to zone, the power to regulate subdivisions can be abused. For example, some communities, seeking to screen out less affluent people or less expensive housing that will carry a lower assessment and therefore pay less in property taxes, have enacted subdivision regulations that impose unnecessarily high costs on builders, thus blocking the construction of moderately priced housing.

 
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