Choose Your Land Use Planning Tools Carefully

Land use regulations serve different purposes.
Choose Your Land Use Planning Tools Carefully - Articles


The use of tools is an effective means of accomplishing a task or reaching a desired result. The use of the proper tool is a critical component of the work task and process. If a tool doesn't fit, isn't properly handled or is out of date, its effectiveness is diminished or counterproductive.

When it comes to land use planning, the two primary regulatory tools are zoning ordinances and subdivision and land development ordinances. While both address land use, they are not the same and are not "interchangeable". Zoning controls the location of land uses as well as density, while subdivision and land development primarily regulates lot layout as well as improvement design and completion. Relying on a subdivision and land development ordinance to control the location of a proposed land use is an improper use of this tool. If a municipality desires to regulate land use location as well as design, it should consider both ordinance types.

Pennsylvania municipalities and counties are not mandated to have land use ordinances, but through the PA Municipalities Planning Code they are enabled to create, adopt and enforce them if they so desire. If a local municipality and the county in which they are located both have a similar type of land use ordinance, (zoning or subdivision/land development) the local municipal ordinance takes precedence.

In Pennsylvania, the degree to which land use ordinances are used varies significantly. According to the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, (Local Land Use Controls in PA - 2014 Planning Series #1):

Subdivision and Land Development

  1. Ninety percent of the municipalities in the state regulate the subdivision of land or are covered by a county ordinance.
  2. Just over half of municipalities have enacted their own ordinance, and about 1,000 rely on a county level ordinance.


  1. Sixty-eight percent of Pennsylvania's municipalities have enacted zoning regulations.
  2. Twelve counties have enacted some type of county level zoning.
  3. Zoning at the municipal or county level is in effect in 68% of Pennsylvania's municipalities covering:
  • 54% of the total area
  • 92% of the total population
  • 98% of the urban population
  • 69% of the rural population

Community leaders should review the goals and desired future of their municipality and determine if they have adequate and up-to-date land use safeguards.