Land-Use Planning Dictionary

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  • a

  • Accessory Use
    An accessory use is an activity or structure that is incidental to and subordinate to the main use of the site. For example, a garage is allowed as an accessory use to residential sites, because(...)
  • Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance
    An ordinance that ties development approvals to the adequacy of existing public facilities, such as roads, schools, fire and police departments, and water and sewer systems. If the proposed(...)
  • Air Rights
    The right to control or use the vertical space above a property or right-of-way.
  • Amortization of Nonconforming Uses
    The process by which nonconforming uses and structures must be eliminated or made toconform to requirements of the current zoning regulations at the end of a certain period of time. This period(...)
  • Annex
    To incorporate or add a land area into an existing city, town, or district.
  • Architectural Review
    A review of the architectural plans that ensures that the exterior design of any proposed structures maintains consistency with the style and historic character of the surrounding buildings and(...)
  • Arterial
    A class of street serving high-speed (30-50mph) high-volume of traffic between major points.
  • Automobile-Intensive Use
    A use of a retail area that depends on exposure to continuous auto traffic.
  • b

  • Benefit Assessment District
    An area within a public agency's boundaries that receives a special benefit from the construction of one or more public facilities. A benefit assessment district has no legal life of its own and(...)
  • Blight
    In general, the undesirable appearance or aesthetic quality of a site, including vandalism, disrepair, or abandonment, leading to a reduction in the development and investment in the surrounding(...)
  • Board of Supervisors
    The legislative body of a county. Board members (supervisors) are elected by popular vote and have power to pass laws, levy taxes, and approve a budget for county operations. Many boards appoint(...)
  • Brownfield
    Abandoned, previously developed site that is known or believed to have contaminated soil or groundwater.
  • Buffer Zone
    A transitional area of land between two distinct land uses or types used to lessen the impact of one land use type on another. For example, a commercial area that borders a residential(...)
  • Building Envelope
    The maximum allowable size of a building on a given lot, as determined by the height limits, setback requirements, and other design guidelines for that particular site.
  • Buildout
    The maximum amount of development allowed on a given site under the current planning and zoning regulations that apply to that site.
  • Built Environment
    All aspects of our surroundings that are constructed by people: buildings, roads, parks, etc.
  • Busway
    A traffic lane reserved for busses. Busways or bus lanes are used to speed up public transit by removing it from the normal flow of traffic.
  • c

  • California Environmental Quality Act
    A state law that requires government agencies to review the environmental impacts of their actions and projects; private projects that require government approval or permits are required to pass(...)
  • Caltrans
    California Department of Transportation
  • Capital Improvements Program
    A plan or program designed by a city or county that details
  • Carrying Capacity
    Used in determining the potential of an area to absorb development: (1) The level of land use, human activity, or development for a specific area that can be accommodated permanently without an(...)
  • Channelization
    (1)Hydrology: the process of intentionally altering the course of a river or stream to ensure that it follows a more predictible channel for the purpose of flood control, development on the(...)
  • Charrette
    An intensive, multi-day planning session where citizens, planners, and developers collaborate on the development of a plan or design for a project. Charrettes cycle between feedback sessions,(...)
  • Circulation Element
    One of seven state required elements of a general plan, the circulation element contains goals, policies, and implementation programs that address the movement of people and goods throughout the(...)
  • Community Benefits Agreement
    A contract between a developer and community organizations, wherein the developer agrees to provide certain benefits as part of a development project, in exchange for the community(...)
  • Community Development Block Grant Program
    A program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that provides funds to states and local jurisditions for to ensure allocates annual grants to larger cities(...)
  • Community Facilities District
    Districts created by local governments within a city or county that have the power to issue bonds to fund the planning, design, acquisition, construction and operation of public facilities or(...)
  • Community Plan
    A public document that provides specific proposals for future land uses, developments, and public improvements in a given community within a city or county.
  • Community Redevelopment Agency
    Agencies under local government control which had the power to create and implement redevelpment plans of blighted urban areas. Community redevelopment agencies would declare an area blighted,(...)
  • Commute Shed
    The area that workers might or are known to commute to for employment, assuming maximum travel time or distances.
  • Conditional Use Permit
    A permit that authorizes usages not consistent with the zoning ordinance on a defined site. A public hearing is required in order to obtain a Condition Use Permit (CUP), approval is usually(...)
  • Congestion Management Plan
    A plan for control or reduction of traffic impacts due to development, this plan must be put into place and updated annually by all cities and counties that have urbanized areas. Congestion(...)
  • Conservation Element
    An mandated aspect of a local general plan, that takes into account goals, policies, and implementation mechanisms for the conservation of natural resources of a development.
  • Consistency Requirement
    State law requires the general plan to be consistent across programs and implentation of the general plan, lacking any contradictions or preferential treatment of elements.
  • Council of Governments
    Regional boards consisting of elected officials from member cities and counties. Deals with issues mainly concerning transportation, planning and housing.
  • Covenants, Conditions, And Restrictions
    Written agreement of limitations places on a property and associated usages, usually a condition of holding the property title.
  • Cross-Acceptance
    Examination of plans by multiple jurisdictions, in order to determine if the plans are consistent or can be made compatable across all the affected jurisdictions. This opens up the planning(...)
  • Cumulative Impact
    The accumulated total of impacts over time from individual programs or projects, as used in CEQA.
  • d

  • Dedication
    The voluntary transfer of private property to the public by the owner. Dedications are often made as a condition of approval for property development by the approving city or county, usually for(...)
  • Defensible Space
    A deftermined area in which to defend oneself or property, defined as 1) a 30 foot non-combustable barrier between urban and wildland areas, in regards to firefighting and fire prevention, or 2)(...)
  • Density Bonus
    The allowance of a development to surpass allowable floor area ratio (FAR) often under the condition of providing community benefits either at the same site or another location. These benefits(...)
  • Density Transfer
    A method of retaining areas of significance on a property by compacting density, usually near already existing areas of urbanization, allowing for maintainance of open spaces, historic or(...)
  • Density, Control of
    A limitation on the occupancy of land. Density can be controlled through zoning in the following ways: use restrictions, minimum lot-size requirements, floor area ratios, land use-intensity(...)
  • Density, Employment
    The number of employed individuals over a defined area, such as employees per acre of land.
  • Density, Residential
    The average number of households, persons, or dwelling units per acre of land. Densities specified in the general plan may be expressed in units per gross acre or per net developable acre.
  • Design Review
    The comprehensive evaluation of a development and its impact on neighboring properties and the community as a whole, from the standpoint of site and landscape design, architecture, materials,(...)
  • Design Review Board
    A group appointed by the city council to consider the design and aesthetics of development within design review zoning districts. Not all communities have design review boards or committees.
  • Developable Land
    Land that is suitable as a location for structures and that can be developed free of hazards to, and without disruption of, or significant impact on, natural resource areas.
  • Development Intensity
    A measure of the degree of development on a site. High density urban cores are high intensity, while low density rural communities are low intensity. Often measured by dwelling units per acre,(...)
  • Development Rights, Transfer of
    A program that can relocate potential development from areas where proposed land use or environmental impacts are considered undesirable (the donor site) to another (receiver) site chosen on the(...)
  • Discretionary Decision
    As used in CEQA, an action taken by a governmental agency that calls for the exercise of judgment in deciding whether to approve and/or how to carry out a project.
  • Discretionary Review
    A special power of a planning commission, outside the normal building permit application approval process, through which the commission can modify or disallow a proposed, zoning-compliant(...)
  • Downzone
    This term refers to the rezoning of land to a more restrictive zone (for example, from multi-family residential to single-family residential or from residential to agricultural). Downzoning(...)
  • Dwelling Unit
    A room or group of rooms (including sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation facilities, but not more than one kitchen), which constitutes an independent housekeeping unit, occupied or intended(...)
  • e

  • Easement
    Usually the right to use property owned by another for specific purposes or to gain access to another property. For example, utility companies often have easements on the private property of(...)
  • Easement, Conservation
    A tool for acquiring open space with less than full-fee purchase, whereby a public agency buys only certain specific rights from the landowner. These may be positive rights (providing the public(...)
  • Economic Development Commission
    An agency charged with seeking economic development projects and economic expansion at higher employment densities. A possible ally for bringing in businesses such as grocery stores to(...)
  • Eminent Domain
    The right of government to acquire private property for public use upon the payment of just compensation to the owner. This is also called condemnation. (Condemnation can also mean the closing(...)
  • Environmental Impact Report
    A report required of general plans by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and which assesses all the environmental characteristics of an area and determines what effects or impacts(...)
  • Environmental Impact Statement
    Under the National Environmental Policy Act, a statement on the effect of development proposals and other major actions that significantly affect the environment. In California this term is used(...)
  • Exaction
    A fee or dedication required as a condition of development permit approval. Exactions may be incorporated into a community's zoning code or negotiated on a project-by-project basis.
  • Exurb
    A region located beyond a city and its suburbs
  • f

  • Final Map Subdivision
    Land divisions that create five or more lots. Also called tract maps or major subdivisions, they must be consistent with the general plan and are generally subject to stricter requirements than(...)
  • Fiscal Impact Analysis
    A projection of the direct public costs and revenues resulting from population or employment change to the local jurisdiction(s) in which the change is taking place. Enables local governments to(...)
  • Fiscal Impact Report
    A report projecting the public costs and revenues that will result from a proposed program or development. (See Fiscal impact analysis.)
  • Floor Area Ratio
    FAR is the ratio of a building's total floor area to the area of the lot on which the building stands. The gross floor area permitted on a site divided by the total net area of the site,(...)
  • g

  • General Plan
    The blueprint for planning and development within a jurisdiction over a certain planning horizon, usually 10 or 20 years. A statement of policies, including text and diagrams setting forth(...)
  • Geographic Information System
    Computer mapping systems that can sysnthesize and display geographic data, producing multiple layers (coverages) of graphic information about a community or region. For example, one layer might(...)
  • Greenbelt
    A policy and land use designation used in land use planning to retain areas of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding or neighboring urban areas.
  • Greenfield
    Farmland and open areas where there has been no prior industrial or commercial activity, and therefore where the threat of contamination is lower than in urbanized areas. (See Brownfield.)
  • Greyfield
    A blighted area, often a failed shopping center, that is ripe for redevelopment.
  • Growth Management
    A local program limiting the rate of community growth. Communities use a wide range of techniques to determine the amount, type, and rate of development desired by the community and to channel(...)
  • Guideway
    A roadway system that guides the vehicles using it as well as supporting them. The monorail is one such system. The most familiar and still most used guideway is the railroad. Most guideway(...)
  • h

  • HCD
    Department of Housing & Community Development, the state agency that has principal responsibility for assessing, planning for, and assisting communities to meet the needs of low- and(...)
  • Housing Element
    0ne of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it assesses the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community; identifies potential sites(...)
  • i

  • Impact Fee
    A fee, also called a development fee, levied on the developer of a project by a city, county, or other public agency as compensation for otherwise unmitigated impacts of new development on a(...)
  • Impacted Areas
    Census tracts where more than 50 percent of the dwelling units house low- and very low-income households. 0ften correlated to food and park deserts, so can be helpful for researching food and(...)
  • Improved Land
    Raw land to which has been added basic utilities such as roads, sewers, water lines, and other public infrastructure facilities. Can also mean structures/buildings have been erected on the land.
  • In Lieu Fee
    Cash payments that may be required of an owner or developer as a substitute for a dedication of land or construction of affordable housing units, usually calculated in dollars per lot
  • Incentive Zoning
    The allowing of more intensive use of land by developers if projects include a community or public benefit, such as preservation of greater than the minimum required open space, provision for(...)
  • Inclusionary Zoning
    Regulatory program that requires development projects to designate and maintain a specific percentage of housing units as affordable for households with moderate, low and very-low incomes.
  • Infill Development
    Development of vacant land (usually individual lots or leftover properties) within areas that are already largely developed.
  • Infrastructure
    A general term for public (and quasi-public) services and facilities, such as sewage-disposal systems, water-supply systems, other utility systems, and roads.
  • Initial Study
    Pursuant to CEQA, an analysis of a project's potential environmental effects and their relative significance, prepared by the lead agency. An initial study is preliminary to deciding whether to(...)
  • Interim Zone
    A zoning designation that temporarily reduces or freezes allowable development in an area until a permanent zoning classification can be fixed; generally assigned during general plan preparation(...)
  • j

  • Joint Powers Authority
    A legal arrangement that enables two or more units of government to share authority in order to plan and carry out a specific program or set of programs that serves both units.
  • l

  • Land Banking
    The purchase of land by a local government for use or resale at a later date. Banked lands have been used for development of low- and moderate-income housing, expansion of parks, and development(...)
  • Land Use
    The occupation or utilization of land or water area for any human activity or any purpose defined in the general plan.
  • Leapfrog Development
    New development separated from existing development by substantial vacant land. The development pattern so created is sometimes referred to as sprawl.
  • Level of Service
    A scale that measures that amount of traffic that a roadway or intersection of roadways can accomodate, determined from maneuverability, driver dissatisfaction, and delay.
  • Life-Cycle Costing
    A method of evaluating a capital investment that takes into account the sum total of all costs associated with the investment over the lifetime of the project.
  • Light Rail Transit
    Light, rail bound trains, different from subway/heavy or regional trains because they can operate in mixed traffic, can have passengers board from the street level (as opposed to a platform(...)
  • Linkage
    With respect to jobs/housing balance, a program designed to offset the impact of employment on housing need within a community, whereby project approval is conditioned on the provision of(...)
  • m

  • Mello-roos
    Issued bonds repaid by a special tax imposed on property owners within a community facilities district established by a governmental entity. The bond proceeds can be used for public improvements(...)
  • Mitigation Measure
    The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that when an environmental impact or potential impact is identified, measures must be proposed that will eliminate, avoid, rectify,(...)
  • Mixed-Use
    Zoning which permits various uses, such as office, commercial, institutional, light industrial and residential, to be combined in a single building or on a single site in an integrated(...)
  • Moratorium
    A halt to new development or the issuance of permits. Moratoria are often imposed while a new general plan or zoning ordinance is written or when infrastructure (water, sewer) facilities are(...)
  • n

  • National Environmental Policy Act
    An act passed in 1974 establishing federal legislation for national environmental policy, a council on environmental quality, and the requirements for environmental impact statements.
  • Negative Declaration
    An informational document that describes the reasons why a project will not have a significant effect on the environment or surounding area and proposes measures to mitigate or avoid any(...)
  • Neighborhood Resident Association
    An organization of residential property owners and community stakeholders organized to facilitate participation in local land use debates with the political power and voice of a group.
  • New Urbanism
    An urban design movement which promotes walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use and transit-oriented development, and design practices common prior to the rise of the automobile in the 1930s.
  • Nexus
    In order to impose a fee, there must be a rational relationship between the cost of the service paid for by the fee and/or the cost of mitigating the circumstance to which the fee is related. A(...)
  • Nimby
    Not In My BackYard: refers to people unwilling to allow for necessary regional change (for example more infill housing development) to occur within their communities.
  • Noise Element
    One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it assesses noise levels of highways and freeways, local arterials, railroads, airports, local industrial plants, and other(...)
  • Nonconforming Use
    A use that was valid when brought into existence but does not meet current zoning requirements. Any use lawfully existing on any piece of property that is inconsistent with a new or amended(...)
  • o

  • Office of Planning And Research
    A governmental division of the state of California that has among its responsibilities the preparation of a set of guidelines for use by local jurisdictions in drafting general plans.
  • Open Space Element
    One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it contains an inventory of privately and publicly-owned open space lands, and adopted goals, policies, and implementation(...)
  • Open Space Land
    An area of land that is left undeveloped and devoted to open space use to preserve natural resources, to manage production of resources, for outdoor recreation, and/or for public health and safety.
  • Overlay Zone
    A set of zoning requirements that is superimposed upon a base zone. Overlay zones are generally used when a particular area requires special protection (as in a historic preservation district)(...)
  • p

  • Parcel
    A lot, or contiguous group of lots, in single ownership or under single control, usually considered a unit for purposes of development.
  • Parcel Map
    A minor subdivision resulting in fewer than five lots. The city or county may approve a parcel map when it meets the requirements of the general plan and all applicable ordinances. The(...)
  • Parking Management
    An evolving technique designed to obtain maximum utilization from a limited number of parking spaces. Can involve pricing and preferential treatment for high occupancy vehicles (HOVs), non-peak(...)
  • Parking Ratio
    The number of parking spaces provided per unit of housing or 1,000 square feet of floor area, e.g., 2:1 or 'two per thousand.'
  • Peak Oil
    Since oil is a nonreplenishable commodity, peak oil refers to that point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters(...)
  • Planned Community
    A large-scale development whose essential features are a definable boundary; a consistent but not necessarily uniform character; overall control during the development process by a single(...)
  • Planned Unit Development
    Land use zoning that allows the adoption of a set of development standards that are specific to the particular project being proposed. PUD zones usually do not contain detailed development(...)
  • Planning Area
    The land area addressed by the general plan. For a city, the planning area boundary typically coincides with the sphere of influence that encompasses land both within the city limits and(...)
  • Planning Commission
    A body, usually having five or seven members, made up of residents appointed by the city council, the mayor, or the board of supervisors to consider land use matters. The commission's duties and(...)
  • r

  • Redevelopment
    A program ended in California in February 2012. It provided funds for (urban) renewal and improvement of older commercial and residential areas through actions or programs that encouraged and(...)
  • Regional Housing Needs Plan
    A state-mandated quantification by a regional Council of Governments of existing and projected housing need, by household income group, for all localities within a region. The identified housing(...)
  • Regulatory Taking
    A taking of private property for a public purpose that results from extensive regulation of land.
  • Right-of-Way
    A strip of land designated for use as certain transportation and public use facilities including roadways, railroads and utility lines.
  • Road Diet
    The reduction of the number of travel lanes or width of lanes present to improve safety or provide space for other uses. Alternate uses for the space include wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, turn(...)
  • s

  • Safety Element
    One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan that contains adopted goals, policies and implementation programs to protect the community from any unreasonable risks associated(...)
  • Setback
    A minimum distance required by zoning to be maintained between two structures or between a structure and property lines.
  • Single-Room Occupancy
    A single-room-occupancy building is a multitenant building that houses one or two people in each room. Tenants typically share toilets, kitchen facilities, and other common areas within the building.
  • Smart Growth
    Development that better serves the economic, environmental and social needs of communities than that of the post World War II development guides previously used. The U.S. Environmental(...)
  • Specific Plan
    A plan addressing land use distribution, open space availability, infrastructure and infrastructure financing for a portion of the community. Specific plans put the provisions of the local(...)
  • Sphere of Influence
    Planning areas are usually larger than, although sometimes contiguous with, a city's municipal limits. Spheres of influence are assigned by each county's Local Agency Formation Comission (LAFCO)(...)
  • Spot Zoning
    Rezoning a lot or a parcel of land to permit uses incompatible with surrounding zoning and land uses. Spot Zoning is legally vulnerable because zoning must be consistent with a community's(...)
  • Sprawl
    A process where the spread of development across a landscape outpasses population growth causing low-density of population, rigid seperation of houses from comerce and workplaces, a lack of(...)
  • Street Tree Plan
    A comprehensive plan for all trees on public streets that sets goals for solar access, sets standards for species selection and maintenance, creates replacement criteria and criteria for(...)
  • Sustainable Development
    Development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and confers well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies rely. Sustainable(...)
  • t

  • Tax Increment Financing
    When property values within a development area increase a redevelopment agency can issue bonds against the anticipated additional revenue of the tax increment. State law permits the tax(...)
  • Tentative Map
    A map or drawing illustrating a subdivision proposal which a city or county must approve or deny based on the design depicted. For a subdivision to be complete the final map must be certified by(...)
  • Traffic Calming
    The process of increasing pedestrian safety by decreasing automobile traffic speed and volume.
  • Traffic Model
    A mathematical representation of traffic movement within an area or region based on observed relationships between the kind and intensity of development in specific areas. Many traffic models(...)
  • Traffic Zone
    In a mathematical Traffic Model the area to be studied is divided into zones, with each zone treated as producing and attracting trips. The production of trips by a zone is based on the number(...)
  • Transit-Oriented Development
    Focussing redevelopment and new construction around transit nodes, enhancing access to mass transit options and helping curb car usage and encourage mixed-use neighborhoods.
  • Transportation Demand Management
    Reducing demand on the road system by reducing the number of vehicles using the roadways though increasing the number of carpools, vanpools, buses, trains, biking and walking feasibility.
  • Transportation Systems Management
    A strategy developed to address the problems caused by new development, increased commuting and a shortfall in transportation capacity that coordinates many forms of transportation (car, bus,(...)
  • u

  • Urban Design
    The attempt to give form, in terms of both beauty and function, to selected urban areas or to whole cities. Urban design is concerned with the location, mass, and design of various urban(...)
  • Urban Growth Boundary
    An urban growth boundary defines where development should and should not happen. The line circumscribes an entire urbanized area and is used by local governments to guide land-use decisions.
  • Urban Limit Line
    A boundary, sometimes parcel-specific, located to mark the outer limit beyond which urban development will not be allowed. It has the aim of discouraging urban sprawl by containing urban(...)
  • Urban Planning
    Controls by central or local government over the use of land. Land-use planning is used to keep activities causing harmful externalities, such as noise or visual intrusion, away from places(...)
  • Urban Sprawl
    Haphazard growth or outward extension of a city resulting from uncontrolled or poorly managed development.
  • Use Permit
    The discretionary and conditional review of an activity, function or operation on a site, in a building or in a facility.
  • v

  • Variance
    The act of moving away from any zoning requirement provision, except use, without changing the zoning ordinance of the parcel. Typically granted as limited waivers under special circumstances(...)
  • Vehicle Miles Traveled
    A key measure of overall street and highway use. Reducing VMT is often a major objective in efforts to reduce vehicular congestion and achieve regional air quality goals.
  • Volume-To-Capacity Ratio
    A measurement of the operating capacity of a roadwy or intersection where the number of vehicles passing through is divided by the number of vehicles that could theoretically pass through when(...)
  • z

  • Zoning
    Legislatively dividing a city or county into areas, or zones, to specify allowable uses for property and size restrictions for buildings within these areas.

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