Project Approvals

Why A Specific Plan?

In a previous post, we mentioned that a project approval may be for a “specific plan”, which does not provide for street and lot layouts like a tentative tract map, but yet it can be a very valuable approval document for downstream approvals.  The specific plan is essentially creating project-specific zoning codes for multiple parcels, which can be beneficial to both the developer and the local jurisdiction.

As an example, let’s say that you have a 200-acre parcel that has a general plan use designation and zoning for 5 homes per acre – or 1,000 homes in total.  However, for that large of a project, both the developer and city would probably prefer to see that a variety of housing types get built.  And, a project of this size will probably want to include some areas for parks, schools, and possible commercial uses.  A specific plan can create the base zoning and land uses for the entire 200 acres.

The specific plan is usually prepared by a land planner with experience in designing master planned communities.  The major arterial streets would probably be illustrated and maybe 20 to 30 parcels that have zoning standards.  Some parcels could be designated for lower density homes and others for higher density projects, such as apartments.  Parcels for parks, open space, shopping centers, schools, and other uses would be in the specific plan.  And each of these parcels would have zoning standards that describe what and how the development can get built.

One of the key reasons for specific plans is to allow for the diversity of community uses and home types.  But as well, a large master planned community may take years to complete.  The market changes and therefore the product needs to be revised as well.  If you have a parcel that calls out for 75 – 100 single family lots, a home builder might prefer to build on lot sizes of 50 x 100 based on the market conditions.  If the entire 200 acres had a tentative tract map approved for 1,000 lots of 70 x 120, a market opportunity of smaller lots can be missed.  As well, a variety of lot sizes and products ensures that multiple builders are not competing against each other for a limited segment of the market – again, missing a market opportunity.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions 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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