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LAND USE PLANNING: A GLOSSARY OF TERMS

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Acre: 43,560 square feet of area. For example, a residential parcel of land that is 52’ x 100’ is 5,200 square feet, which is 0.12 acres. The term gross acres means all land within a given boundary. The term net acres means all land measured to remove certain features such as roads, utilities, and open space.

Blight: Physical and economic conditions within an area that cause a reduction of or lack of proper utilization of that area. A blighted area is one that has deteriorated or has been arrested in its development by physical, economic, or social forces.

Brownfield: Abandoned industrial site likely to have groundwater or soil pollution that is a deterrent to redevelopment.

Buffer Zone: A strip of land created to separate and protect one type of land use from another; for example, as a screen of planting or fencing to insulate the surroundings from the noise, smoke, or visual aspects of an industrial zone or junkyard.

Building Area: The total square footage of a lot covered by a building, measured on a horizontal plane, exclusive of uncovered porches, terraces, and steps.

Building Envelope: The net cubic space that remains for placing a structure on a site after setbacks and height / bulk regulations are observed.

Bulk Regulations: Zoning or other regulations that control height, mass, density, and location of buildings. The purpose of bulk regulations is to provide proper light, air, and open space. Some bulk regulations also are intended to reflect context-sensitive design.

Carrying capacity: The level of land use or human activity that can be permanently accommodated without an irreversible change in the quality of air, water, land, or plant and animal habitats. In human settlements, this term also refers to the upper limits beyond which the quality of life, community character, or human health, welfare, and safety, will be impaired. The estimated maximum number of persons that can be served by existing and planned infrastructure systems; the maximum number of vehicles that can be accommodated on a roadway.

Cluster development(zoning): A type of development pattern for residential, commercial, or other uses in which the uses are grouped, or clustered through density transfer, rather than spread evenly throughout a parcel. Cluster development is more efficient because it requires building fewer streets and utility lines.

Community Plan: A portion of the local general plan that focuses on a particular area or community within the city or county. Community plans supplement the policies of the general plan.

Conservation Easement: A tool for acquiring open space with less than full-fee purchase; the public agency or not-for-profit Corporation buys only certain specific rights from the landowner in order to restrict the development, management or use of the land. The landowner may be allowed to continue using the property for agricultural purposes.

Context Sensitive Design (CSD): A collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. CSD is an approach that considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist. (Federal Highway Administration)

Density: The average number of families, persons, or housing units per unit of land. Usually density is expressed “per acre.” Gross density includes the area necessary for streets, schools, and parks. Net density does not include land area for public facilities.

Density Bonus: An increase in the allowable number of dwelling units granted by the city or county in return for the project's providing low- or moderate-income housing (see Government Code Section 65915).

Floor Area Ratio: Abbreviated as FAR, this is a measure of development intensity. FAR is the ratio of the amount of floor area of a building to the amount of area of its site. For instance, a one-story building that covers an entire lot has an FAR of 1. Similarly, a one-story building that covers 1/2 of a lot has an FAR of 0.5.

General Plan: A statement of policies, including text and diagrams setting forth objectives, principles, standards, and plan proposals, for the future physical development of the city or county (see Government Code Sections 65300 et seq.).

GIS — Geographic Information System: Computer mapping system that produces multiple “layers” (coverages) of graphic information about a community or region. For example, one layer might show the parcels, another layer might show key habitat areas, another layer might show school sites, etc. It may be considered a "tool" for analysis and decision-making. It may be composed of maps, databases, and point information.

Grayfield: A blighted area that is ripe for redevelopment; the distinguishing characteristic between a Grayfield and a Brownfield is that the absence of substantial groundwater or soil pollution.

"Granny" Housing: Typically, this refers to a second dwelling attached to or separate from the main residence that houses one or more elderly persons. California Government Code 65852.1 enables cities and counties to approve such units in single-family neighborhoods.

Greenbelt: A wide band of countryside surrounding a city on which building is generally prohibited, usually large enough to form an adequate protection against objectionable uses of property or the intrusion of nearby development.

Gridiron Street Pattern: A pattern of streets that, from the air, looks like a gridiron (i.e., based on right-angle intersections and parallel sets of roadways). Grid street pattern usually refers to shorter, more frequent block patterns, as compared to “superblocks” or a streets system with cul-de-sacs predominant.

Historic District: An area or group of areas designated by a local agency as having aesthetic, architectural, historical, cultural, or archaeological significance that is worthy of protection and enhancement.

Imageability: That quality in a city or any of its districts that will evoke a strong image in the observer.

Improved land: Raw land that has been improved with basic utilities such as roads, sewers, water lines, and other public infrastructure facilities. The term "developed land" usually means improved land that also has buildings.

Infill Development: The creative recycling of vacant or underutilized lands within cities and suburbs. (Congress for New Urbanism). Among the variables in the definitions of infill development are whether the property must be surrounded by existing development or just within existing urban boundaries, whether infill projects must have a higher density than surrounding properties, and whether individual infill projects must be mixed use.

Infrastructure: A general term describing public and quasi-public utilities and facilities such as roads, bridges, sewers and sewer plants, water lines, power lines, fire stations, etc. necessary to the functioning of an urban area.

Intensity: The degree to which land is used. While frequent used synonymously with density, intensity has a somewhat broader, though less clear meaning, referring to levels of concentration or activity in uses such as residential, commercial, industrial, recreation, or parking. Density usually refers to residential, while intensity usually refers to non-residential uses.

Jobs-Housing Ratio: The numeric relationship between the number of jobs (employment) divided by the number of housing units. A “jobs-housing balance” is the jobs-housing ratio that has a job for every member of households participating in the labor force. For illustrative purpose, if typical housing unit has 3.0 people/housing unit, and 2/3 of those residents are in the workforce, then each housing unit generates 2 workers. In a “closed system,” two jobs need to be available per housing unit within that system (e.g., a region). The actual numbers for the Sacramento region are about 1.14 employed residents per household. The above definition does not measure whether the jobs in a geographic area generate wage levels sufficient to afford housing in that area.

Leapfrog development: Development that occurs well beyond the existing urban limits of urban development, leaving intervening vacant land. The pattern of urbanization characterized by leapfrog development is sometimes referred to as "sprawl.”

Livability Space: Open space used for people, planting, and visual appeal which does not include parking and driveway areas. It is a basic element of land-use-intensity ratings.

Lot Area: Lot area is the total square footage of horizontal area included within the property lines. Zoning ordinances typically set a minimum required lot area for building in a particular zoning district.

Neighborhood: Residential area within a governmental unit that has some distinct identity to its inhabitants and observers.

Neighborhood Completeness: A land use indicator that attempts to define how well a neighborhood is served by specific land uses (e.g., affordable housing, fire/police station, grocery store, parks, library, school, post office).

New Urbanism: Similar to Traditional Neighborhood Development, it is a design philosophy intended to create a strong sense of community by incorporating features of traditional small towns.

Open Space: That part of the countryside which has not been developed, and which is desirable for preservation in its natural state for ecological, historical, or recreational purposes, or in its cultivated state to preserve agricultural, forest, or urban greenbelt areas.

Overlay Zone: A set of zoning requirements that is superimposed upon a base zone. Overlay zones are generally used when a particular area requires special protection (as in a historic preservation district) or has a special problem (such as steep slopes, flooding or earthquake faults). Development of land subject to overlay zoning requires compliance with the regulations of both the base and overlay zones.

Planned Unit Development (PUD): Land use zoning which allows the adoption of a set of development standards that are specific to the particular project being proposed. PUD zones usually do not contain detailed development standards; these are established during the process of considering the proposals and adopted by ordinance if the project is approved.

Quality of Life: Those aspects of the economic, social, and physical environment that make a community a desirable place in which to live or do business. Quality of life factors include those such as climate and natural features, access to schools, housing, employment opportunities, medical facilities, cultural and recreational amenities, and public services.

Rural: Areas generally characterized by agricultural, timberland, open space, and very low-density residential development (e.g., less than one dwelling unit per acre). A rural community is not generally served by community water or sewer services.

Setback: A minimum distance required by zoning to be maintained between two structures or between a structure and property lines.

Smart Growth:A contemporary catch phrase related to encourage development that better serves the economic, environmental, and social needs of communities. The US Environmental Protection Agency identifies the following 10 principles of smart growth:  

  1. Mix Land Uses
  2. Take Advantage of Compact Building Design
  3. Create a Range of Housing Opportunities and Choices
  4. Create Walkable Neighborhoods
  5. Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place
  6. Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty, and Critical Environmental Areas
  7. Strengthen and Direct Development Towards Existing Communities
  8. Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
  9. Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair, and Cost Effective
  10. Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration in Development Decisions

Specific Plan: A plan addressing land use distribution, open space availability, infrastructure, and infrastructure financing for a portion of the community. Specific plans put the provisions of the local general plan into action (see Government Code Sections 65450 et seq.).

Sphere-of-Influence (SOI): A planning area usually larger than, although sometimes contiguous with, a city's municipal limits. Spheres-of-Influence are assigned by each county's Local Agency Formation Commission and typically indicate the probable ultimate boundaries of a city (including areas, which may eventually be annexed).

Sprawl: The process in which the spread of development across the landscape far outpaces population growth. The landscape sprawl creates has four dimensions: a population that is widely dispersed in low-density development; rigidly separated homes, shops, and workplaces; a network of roads marked by huge blocks and poor access; and a lack of well-defined, thriving activity centers, such as downtowns and town centers. Most of the other features usually associated with sprawl—the lack of transportation choices, relative uniformity of housing options or the difficulty of walking—are a result of these conditions. (Smart Growth America)

Subdivision: The process of laying out a parcel of raw land into lots, blocks, streets, and public areas. Its purpose is the transformation of raw land into building sites.

Suburban: Areas generally characterized by low-density residential development (e.g., 1 to 5 dwelling units per acre) and limited commercial uses.

Sustainability: A strategy by which communities seek economic development approaches that also benefit the local environment and quality of life. For a community to be truly sustainable, it must adopt a three-pronged approach that considers economic, environmental, and cultural resources. Communities must consider these needs in the short term as well as the long term (Smart Communities Network).

TND — Traditional Neighborhood Design: These neighborhoods encompass many modern land use strategies into one concept. Several cities across the nation (including Sacramento) have studied these models to improve the efficiency and facilitate the use of transit, pedestrian, and other alternatives to single-occupant motor vehicles. Public transportation and pedestrian-use is encouraged through compact neighborhood development, where the distance from the center to the edge of a neighborhood can be walked at an easy pace in 10 minutes. Public interaction is fostered through the development of sidewalks, trees along streets, narrow roads that slow down cars, and parks or plazas that are located close to housing.

Universal Design: Various sources list the Seven Basic Principles of Universal Design:  

  1. Equitable Use (design it fair)
  2. Flexibility in Use (design it adjustable)
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use (design it elegant)
  4. Perceptible Information (design it obvious)
  5. Tolerance for Error (design it safe)
  6. Low Physical Effort (design it easy)
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use (design it reasonable)

Urban: Areas generally characterized by moderate and higher density residential development (e.g., 5 or more dwelling units per acre), commercial development, and industrial development.

Urban Design: The attempt to give form, in terms of both beauty and function, to entire areas or to whole cities. The focus is on the massing and organization of buildings and on the spaces between them, rather than on the design of individual structures.

Urban Service Area: Urban Service Areas are assigned by a county's Local Agency Formation Commission and indicate the area eligible to receive urban infrastructure (sewer and/or water service) in the short term.

Valued Environment: A place that holds personal meaning for a group of people, who may act to enhance or protect it.

Visual Preference Survey: An innovative and successful technique that enables citizens to evaluate physical images of natural and built environments. The process involves asking participants to view and evaluate a wide variety of slides depicting streetscapes, land use, site designs, building types, etc. Individual scores indicate whether or not the participant likes what they have seen and whether they feel it is appropriate for the community.

Williamson Act: The California Land Conservation Act of 1965--commonly referred to as the Williamson Act--enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use. In return, landowners receive property tax assessments, which are much lower than normal because they are based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value. Local governments receive an annual subvention of forgone property tax revenues from the state via the Open Space Subvention Act of 1971.

Zoning: Local codes regulating the use and development of property. The zoning ordinance divides the city or county into land use districts or "zones,” represented on zoning maps, and specifies the allowable uses within each of those zones. It establishes development standards for each zone, such as minimum lot size, maximum height of structures, building setbacks, and yard size.