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Land-Use Control

The Master Plan And Official Map

Municipal land-use regulation begins with a planning process that ultimately results in a comprehensive or master plan followed by ordinances. These ordinances involve the exercise of the municipality's POLICE POWER through zoning, regulation of subdivision developments, street plans, plans for public facilities, and building regulations. Many states provide for the creation of an official map for a municipality. The map shows the location of major streets, existing and projected public facilities, and other such landmarks. Developers must plan their subdivisions in accordance with the official map.

The master plan takes into account the location and type of activities occurring on the land and the design and type of physical structures and facilities serving these activities. Long-range projections of population and employment trends are considered. The planning process is designed to enable a locality to plan for the construction of schools, streets, water and sewage facilities, fire and police protection, and other public amenities, and the private use of land is controlled by zoning and subdivision ordinances enacted in compliance with the plan.

Planned Communities: Read the Fine Print

One in eight people in the United States live in planned communities, which include townhouses, condominiums, co-ops, and entire real estate developments containing single-family homes. A common feature of all planned communities is a homeowner association, which oversees the maintenance and administration of the real estate, especially the common areas shared by all owners. A board of directors of the association, elected by the property owners, enforces the community's rules.

Planned communities often impose a number of restrictions on their members. These are typically contained in the real estate deed, which becomes a contract between the property buyer and the community. Purchasers are bound by these restrictions whether or not they read or understood them. The restrictions may cover a wide range of architectural and aesthetic limitations, and are believed to increase the value of property in the community. Unwary residents may find the limitations extreme.

Residents of planned communities have faced limitations on things such as paint colors, pets, sports and sporting equipment, and outdoor decorations. Under such restrictions homeowners have been threatened with fines for stringing Christmas lights, taken to court because their dog was too heavy, and prohibited from throwing a Frisbee. Association dues can be used to pay for a lawsuit enforcing a restriction, and some bylaws require the defendant homeowner to reimburse the association's legal fees.

Since the 1970s more emphasis has been placed on regional and statewide planning. These planning initiatives have often been based on environmental concerns. Regional planning has become attractive to urban areas that cross state lines. Instead of dealing with two or three competing and conflicting local plans, neighboring municipalities can refer to a regional plan that offers one comprehensive vision and one set of regulations.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Labor Department - Employment And Training Administration to Legislative PowerLand-Use Control - Private Land-use Restrictions, The Master Plan And Official Map, Planned Communities: Read The Fine Print