Planned Unit Developments Provide Flexibility for New Construction

Q: What is a planned unit development?
A: A planned unit development, often referred to as a PUD, is a technique to provide flexibility for new construction in a community. Instead of rigidly dividing land into exclusively residential, commercial, and industrial zones, PUDs mix these and other uses. For example, a mix of residential and commercial development along with public spaces such as parks can provide a very appealing environment. The Georgetown neighborhood, in Washington, D.C., is a well-known area with mixed residential and commercial uses such as shops, restaurants, and bars.

Q: Does my community allow for planned unit developments?
A: Probably. Planned unit developments are often part of the zoning code. If they are not, many communities allow them by variance or conditional use permit. However, courts can view PUDs as rezonings, so local government officials should be careful about using the variance or conditional use procedure to allow PUDs to be implemented. The better way is for local governments to enact zoning provisions if they want to allow for PUDs.

Q: What do PUDs look like?
A: There is no particular look. Instead, as stated above, a PUD is a technique designed to achieve flexibility in land development. Some common characteristics of this technique include:
1) A large plot of land that is developed under unified control and planned and developed as a whole.
2) A mix of compatible uses such as commercial, residential, governmental (e.g., schools), and public spaces.
3) Comprehensive and detailed plans for the development of the particular piece of land from the utilities to the look and relationship of the buildings to one another. This can be as detailed as predetermined site-plans, floor plans, and building elevations.
4) A program for the occupants of the district to maintain the common areas and facilities.
5) Restrictive covenants to prevent incompatible changes to the structures and appearance of the development.
6) Frequently, there is a tract of land dedicated to a park or recreational use, and buildings are built in close proximity with zero lot line setbacks.

Q: What are the benefits of planned unit developments?
A: The benefits often include a more dynamic, vibrant community because of the mixed uses. Another benefit is often a provision for more green space and public areas. Green space is often gained by clustering the residential areas to achieve the open space and preserve natural features of the land.

Q: Do developers have to get approval for a PUD?
A: Yes. The process is usually very complicated and extensive. Approval can include a review of the site plan by a local government's planning staff, planning commission, zoning board and often the local legislative body. Usually the approval process includes a detailed site plan review and extensive public input. In some communities public input may include an election to approve or disapprove the development in question. Additionally, some sites are large and must be developed in phases. Thus, the approval process can be a multi-year ongoing endeavor.

Q: What are the disadvantages of PUDs?
A: In some communities there is opposition to PUDs. Opponents often reject the cluster home concept used in many PUDs. Developers can counter such reactions by creating high quality, aesthetically pleasing plans and by communicating and cooperating with local government officials and the public. Developers often bargain with local governments exchanging some benefit to the overall community, such as the creation of a public park, in exchange for approval.


This "Law You Can Use" legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall, and updated by Cleveland attorney Robert E. Kmiecik, a partner in the firm of Kaman & Cusimano.​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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