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Land Development Process

Whether you are a residential property owner who owns four acres and wishes to subdivide a two acre parcel so your child can build a home, or you are a commercial developer interested in building a shopping center, warehouse, office, or other non-residential use, the process of land development in Pennsylvania can be time consuming, expensive, and somewhat more difficult than one would imagine. The land development attorneys at Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. can help.

Although the economy has not yet recovered from the boom in the early 2000’s when subdivision and land development plans were being submitted to municipalities in record numbers, the economy is slowly recovering so that landowners are now able to consider the possibility of future development.

Prior to beginning any such development, the owner or developer should consider putting together a group of consultants who can assist them in the process. This “team” should include a professional civil engineer and/or a professional land surveyor, who will be needed to formally prepare and submit the subdivision, or land development plan. A land use attorney who is knowledgeable in the municipality would also be of great assistance in the process which, in some cases, can take years, as opposed to months. The lawyers at Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. have significant experience with development projects throughout Montgomery, Berks, and Chester Counties.

Another person that could be very valuable in the process, although not directly involved in the submission of the plan, is a lender or banker who might be needed to finance the project, since banks have not been lending money at the same rate as they did 10 or 15 years ago.  In addition, depending upon the complexity of the project, there may be other individuals needed, including environmental consultants, and traffic engineers.

Prior to any formal submission of a subdivision or land development plan, the developer or attorney should contact the municipal manager, zoning officer, or planning and zoning administrator of the municipality to ensure that the team has current copies of the municipal ordinances, and applications. Most municipalities have their ordinances online, and many of the applications are also attached to their websites. It is also important to ensure that the development team has the most recent municipal fee schedule, which lists the amounts, and types of fees that will be needed when filing the formal Plans.

Each municipality is governed by its own Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, and some ordinances will require the submission of a sketch plan. Other municipalities will encourage the submission of a sketch plan prior to the submission of a fully engineered preliminary subdivision, or land development plan. Discussion with the municipality at the sketch plan stage is invaluable because it can save time and resources in the future, and also begin a dialogue with the municipal officials to bring to light issues which may become controversial later in the process, or to identify potential issues that perhaps have not been considered previously.

Some municipalities will allow and encourage you to attend a staff meeting with a manager, zoning officer, township municipal engineer, or solicitor to obtain information that may save time in the process. Establishing a level of communication early in the process tends to expedite the process and also allows you to address issues which, in some instances, may otherwise be very difficult, or impossible to overcome. If the municipality has a practice to hold such an internal staff meeting, many times the municipality will require the developer to sign a Professional Services Agreement to reimburse the municipality for any costs incurred through its use of its engineer, or solicitor. Following a staff meeting or more formal review of the municipal ordinances, it is not unusual for the proposed project to be found not viable or reasonable in its present form, and therefore the developer may wish to reconsider or change the scope of the development.

By submitting a sketch plan and having a staff meeting, the stage has now been set for the formal plan to be submitted to the municipality for review. The informal process of reviewing the proposed Plan will save both time and money in the long run. It is a relatively inexpensive process when compared to the actual process of submitting and having a subdivision, or land development approved by the municipality.

We can fully explain the formal Plan submission process along with the requirements that are contained in the Municipalities Planning Code and each municipal Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance that hopefully will result in an approval of a Final Subdivision and Land Development Plan. Our attorneys have significant experience in municipal representation, zoning, and land use matters. Contact us today to add our expertise to your team.

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