Site Planning

Land Planner vs Civil Engineer?

In the creation of grading and site improvement plans, the effort usually requires the services of a land planner or civil engineer to design and complete the drawings.  In many ways, the skill sets of a land planner and civil engineer can be quite similar, but there also some tendencies of each that make one or the other a better choice for the task at hand.

Land planners will tend to be more known for their design skills and their knowledge of city zoning codes.  To design a site plan, a planner must have the ability to review and understand these zoning codes as they relate to project density, lot sizes/dimensions, street configuration, height, and other elements – all key factors for the design.  With this zoning knowledge, a good planner will try to incorporate design elements that enhance the development’s livability and visual characteristics.

The civil engineer will tend to be more known for technical knowledge, putting specific information on the grading and improvement plans that a contractor would need to know from a construction aspect.  As example, a land planner might put a simple line in the street with a “W” which tends to signify where the water lines will be located.  The civil engineer, however, will put on the final engineering plans all the details such as pipe material, pipe size, fire hydrant locations, gate valves, air/vac assemblies, etc – all key information for the contractors.

When you are creating the initial design for a tentative tract map, the land planner is a likely choice for this task.  While the engineering detail isn’t required for this preliminary engineering phase, the land planner usually or should have the engineering knowledge to understand that the design can eventually be converted into final engineering plans.  As well, I have seen civil engineers who have the design skills and understanding of zoning codes to perform the work of land planners.  But in the end, the final engineering plans will need to be stamped and signed by a licensed civil engineer – the requirement that cannot be fulfilled by the land planner.

We welcome you to share your comments and questions with us below.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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