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Municipal Planning Code and Local Land Use Controls

Housing Development under construction

Have you ever wondered what determines where and how development occurs? In this seven-part series, we will look at land planning in Pennsylvania.


Municipal Planning Code (MPC) Introduction

So, let’s start with the basis of land planning, the Municipal Planning Code. Established by Act 247 in 1968, the MPC became effective on January 1, 1969. The purpose is to promote safety, coordinate development, and protect resources. It must do this while not preventing or impeding an owner’s need for change and use.

The Act regulates local government planning, excluding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This includes planning agencies, comprehensive planning, subdivision and land development, and zoning. At a minimum, it requires a county to establish a comprehensive plan.

The MPC also ensures coordinated planning. This includes coordinating with the county, school district, state, and utilities. Most municipalities require approval letters from other organizations, before their approval. State approval includes ingress and egress along state highways and environmental permitting. Utilities review plans for safe connection, adherence to design standards, and capacity availability.


Series Index:

  • Municipal Planning Code and Local Land Use Controls
  • Planning Commissions
  • Zoning and Zoning Officer
  • Zoning Hearing Board
  • Special Exceptions, Conditional Uses and Variances
  • Subdivision and Land Development
  • Agricultural Planning

Land Use Introduction

The regulation of land use, its arrangement and intensity ensure economic growth, public health and well-being. These regulations allow for property ownership and development, as a right, but also protect public interests. So long as it does not injure, create nuisance or otherwise harm others. There are many acts that grant this authority to Municipalities:

  • The Municipal Planning Code (Act 247 of 1968)
  • Pennsylvania’s Construction Code Act (Act 45 of 1999)
  • Pennsylvania’s Sewage Facilities Planning Act (Act 537 of 1966)
  • Pennsylvania’s Storm Water Management Act (Act 167 of 1978)
  • Pennsylvania’s Flood Plain Management Act (Act 166 of 1978)


Comprehensive Plan

Per the Municipal Planning Code, community planning cannot be arbitrary. Thus, a comprehensive plan develops goals based on public interest and thorough analysis. It considers economics, land use, housing, transportation and recreation.

Plan development brings together officials, community groups and citizens. During the development of the plan, the governing body must hold at least one public meeting. Before adoption, the government must also hold at least one public hearing. Both the meetings are subject to public notice to ensure citizen awareness.

The final product includes reports, charts and maps, that illustrate the analysis undertaken. The outputs develop community goals, future growth objectives and recommended policies. This is important because the MPC states that no action can be inconsistent with or fail to follow the plan.

To see your county’s comprehensive plan, we have included the following links:


Land Use Ordinances

The MPC allows the development of land use ordinances. These ordinances are subject to public notice and review. To enact the ordinance, requires a majority vote of the governing body.

Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO)

Often referred to as the SALDO, this the most common land use ordinance in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, 90% of municipalities have or rely on a county-based SALDO. The SALDO codifies the creation of property and improvement of land. The goal is to ensure wise, safe and planned growth.

The SALDO design standards are for roadways, water, sewer and drainage systems. Additionally, the costs of improvements are borne by the developer, not the taxpayers. The SALDO regulates development of nonresidential land, or two or more residential buildings. This includes development on property that already exist. Finally, these standards can differ based on the planned development type.

Zoning Ordinance

The second most common land use ordinance is a Zoning Ordinance. In Pennsylvania, 67% of municipalities use some form of a Zoning Ordinance. The Zoning Ordinance regulates the use of land. To do this, the municipality divides the properties into zones or districts. These zones or districts are then plotted onto a Zoning Map.

These zones include Agriculture, Commercial, Industrial or Residential uses. They can have varying degrees of density or, by right, use. They also can have uses by Special Exception or Conditional Use. In addition to these traditional zones, Zoning Ordinances can include overlay districts (Historical, Environmental, etc.). They can also employ specialty techniques (Mixed Use, Clustering, Planned Residential Developments, Town Centers, etc.).

The Zoning Ordinance then applies provisions for lot dimensions, setback and density. These standards vary based on the zone. Additionally, the ordinance cannot apply unreasonable restrictions that contribute to unaffordable housing. A Zoning Officer is the primary administrator of the Zoning Ordinance. A Zoning Hearing Board hears requests for relief. These include special approvals, appeals of the Zoning Officer decisions, or validity claims.

Impact Fees

Impact Fees are a common technique utilized in land planning and regulated by the MPC. The MPC sets stringent limitations on impact fees. A transportation impact fee helps offset the cost of future capital improvements. The fee covers a designated service area and requires in depth analysis. The fees will not cover all the cost of improvements. Additionally, they cannot cover the costs of operation and maintenance. The second fee is a recreational impact fee. The fees include construction of recreational facilities, a fee in-lieu of, or preservation of open space. Fees in-lieu of open space can only go towards recreation. The fee value is a reasonable relationship to the use by future inhabitants.


Who is ACA?

Started in 1992 and located in Chester County, PA ACA has grown to become a full-service engineering firm. Today, we merge professional services with practical knowledge for residential and commercial projects. No matter the scale, from installing a fence, to building a structure or developing land, you need permits. Because the approval process includes many permits and agencies, it can be a headache. Working with ACA’s full-service team saves you time, money, and headaches. Every step of the way, we are here to support you and educate you about the process. Here are some of the basic services we provide:

Construction Management | Civil Engineering | Environmental Permitting | Septic System Testing and Design | Land Surveying | Wetland Delineations and Mitigation

Please feel free to browse our website or if working on a project or need help, contact us at (610) 469-3830.

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