Submitting an Application for Development
More Details About the Process
In Pennsylvania, the authority to regulate, review and approve subdivisions and land developments is given to the most local level of government (West Whiteland Township in our case) by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), also known as Act 247 of 1968. The MPC permits the Township to use the following tools to regulate land use:
- Comprehensive Plan (long-range policy plan)
- Zoning Ordinance (regulations on permitted land uses, lot standards, and arrangement of structures)
- Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (regulations for the review and approval of subdivisions and land developments along with design standards for certain improvements)
Land Development Approval Forms
The Sketch Plan review is a process by which someone contemplating a development project may receive informal, unofficial comments from Township staff, consultants, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors prior to proceeding with the investment of time and funds required for an official submission. Since this is an informal review, neither the Planning Commission nor the Board of Supervisors will pass any motion regarding a Sketch Plan, but they will discuss various aspects of the plan with the Applicant, advising what are likely to be the principal points of Township concern. The Sketch Plan should also demonstrate that the proposed development will comply with the local regulations in the Township Zoning Ordinance.
Variance – Zoning Hearing
A variance is permission to do something that does not fully comply with the Zoning Ordinance. In most cases, the Township will require that any zoning issues be resolved before accepting a subdivision and/or land development plan for review. Variances are properly granted when the applicant demonstrates a “hardship” (i.e., an element of the property that causes the zoning regulations to hinder or to prevent entirely its reasonable use). A hardship could be related to the configuration of the lot (does it have an irregular shape, or is it unusually narrow), the topography (are there steep areas that cannot be built upon) and environmental constraints (are there floodplains or wetland areas that restrict the usefulness of the lot). Personal hardships (such as the need to build an addition to your home to accommodate a growing family) are not considered sufficient justification for the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) to grant a variance. For additional information and guidelines regarding variances and the ZHB see the Zoning Hearing Board Guidelines.
Not every project requires conditional use review.Those that do are listed in the “use regulations” section for each zoning district in the Zoning Ordinance as well as the portions of that ordinance that address floodplains, steep slopes, and historic preservation (Articles XIII, XIV, and XVI respectively). Finally, Section 325-124 of the Zoning Ordinance lists project types that require conditional use approval regardless of which district the property is in:
- Any subdivision that creates fifteen or more lots.
- Any project (subdivision or land development) that will create fifteen or more dwelling units.
- Any project that will create 20,000 square feet or more of non-residential floor space.
Regardless of whether a project will require review as a subdivision or land development, the Township recommends that conditional use applicants provide some sort of plan of the project site showing the improvements that are proposed.
The Conditional Use process includes a review by the Planning Commission and a formal hearing before the Board of Supervisors. The Board may include reasonable conditions with their approval. Such conditions are typically in response to issues brought to light during the review process and t need not be anticipated or specifically required by the Zoning Ordinance.
Subdivision and Land Development
The approval process for subdivisions and land developments includes review by the Township Planning Commission and – if the project has an impact on a designated historic resource – the Township Historical Commission. The Commissions advise the Board of Supervisors, which has the authority to approve these plans. Plans submitted for Township review must include the information and materials listed in Sections 281-15 to 20 of the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance. Although the Ordinance describes a two-step process – a preliminary plan followed by a final plan – applicants may provide all of the information necessary for a Final Plan with their Preliminary Plan, thereby allowing the Board of Supervisors to approve the Preliminary Plan as a Final Plan and shortening the approval process considerably. Once approved, the plan is recorded at the office of the Recorder of Deeds, thereby completing the process.