The challenging process of site plan review

Site plan review of proposed developments and projects can seem like a daunting task, especially to new commissioners. However, a well-written code explaining the requirements and procedures is the best approach to address such issues.

Site plan review can seem like an overwhelming process to those planning commissioners who are new to their respective commissions. The process can involve multiple reviews, several different departments and even external units from county and state government. Many communities have a multi-page check list that describes all of the information to be covered in the plan.

The goal of any site plan review process is to ensure that all plans have all the appropriate information and that all plans meet the requirements of their respective community as well as any other county, state or federal requirements. And these requirements can vary tremendously depending on the complexity of the project. The variation in the information needed for a review has resulted in some codes having waiver language to account for the fact that all projects are not created equal and will not require the same level of review. Large-scale new construction projects are generally the more challenging of the projects in terms of site plan review.

Planning commissioners want to be clear on preliminary and final site plan review processes. As a part of their review, they should at a minimum have an evaluation of the project to determine its consistency with the master plan, cited zoning code standards and how the plan meets those standards and other relevant ordnances and whether or not the plan meets those requirements. They should also include any other approvals needed beyond the city boundaries. Many commissions will preliminarily approve plans subject to additional approvals and final site plan review.

The final plan, complete with all approvals may or may come back before the planning commission. Some codes allow staff to ensure that all requirements are met before permits can be issued for the project. Some commissions reserve the right to conduct final site plan review based on the nature of the proposed plan. Regardless of the process, the overall goal should to ensure that all standards are met. Michigan State University Extension has a series of trainings and workshops on these topics. Contact a local land use expert for more information.

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