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need some major help here with comprehension...


so, i'm really kind of lost with the whole process of development.

let's say that i live on the urban fringe of a suburb. a new development sprouts up north of me and expands. so what exactly happened?

ok, so does the city zone out areas in advance to control what happens there? like they designated an undevelopped area sf-1 and the developpers followed through? but if it's on the fringe, would the city have zoning for it yet? or do potential developpers see a chunk of land they like and do subdivision applications for what they wanna see there and the city can only just annex it and zone it retroactively or...?

or what?

so basically i have all these terms being blown at me, and i have absolutely no idea what goes on when a chunk of land is being developped.

so, basically, here's what I as of now, with my pathetic amount of knowledge assume is happening:
a city has its whole zoning boundary thing mapped out. they take a look at where they expect they want to grow and look at development trends and zone out undevelopped lands accordingly. like say, there's a nice open field right by a highway and they zone it sf-1. some nice developpers come by and they apply for subdivision (i thought i used to know what part of speech subdivision was or what it even meant, but today's research on austin/dallas's development pages have muddled my brain) and then something about design sketches and then booya approval goes and the developpers build new stuff there.

but already there must be flaws in my assumption (aside from probably many many misunderstandings) since that sounds a lot like to me like urban growth boundaries, where developpers can only build where city say they can, and that's something that's only in a few areas. and if my assumption were the case, then the whole hassle of extending services to the new subdivisions wouldn't exist because it'd have been planned before.


but maybe land-use and zoning varies from state-to-state?!

in short, someone please help me!


The easiest way to find out the processes used for development in your community is to call your local municipal planning office.

They won't bite. Really.

And with luck, you'll get an explaination in plain English (or your other language of choice).


It's more the expense of the city providing services to outlying areas than an intended urban growth boundary, I think. For example, if a developer wants to build on the edge of the city, he may have as a condition of developing that land a sewer connection--he would have to hook up to wherever the city has extended sewers, so he won't have 500 people on septic--and he would pay for it. The land may or may not already be zoned for subdivisions; sometimes a rezoning is part of the process, especially if the developer wants higher density. But the land would already be zoned for something. The zoning isn't so much a control as a suggestion or a preference, and the lack of sewer etc isn't so much growth control as cost control. Sometimes cities will put sewer where they want to see growth, and I have heard of cities withholding sewer connections to control growth, but then you sometimes get leapfrog development, as in "Well, fine, we'll just go north three miles to Town B. Town B wants us. They're going to give us services and so on..."
I think I've just confused myself, going to shut up now.


Cyburbian Emeritus
SGB is right, the process varies not only state to state, but community to community. What you see on a Zoning Map is not necessarily whats on the future land use map either.

The best lay person's explanation I've seen of process is the Appleton WI Development Handbook


I'll throw a wrench in this, lol...

I think Plannerbabs, maded some good points... Typically these areas aren't built in for reasons, ie. no sewer, water, etc... It is usually more cost effecient and overall more effecient for the City for development to me more compact in general... Cities control development in their jurisdiction, sometimes that can be somewhat beyond the city limits... This is done through County Planning Agencies in some states.

Hypothetical steps for a residential developer-

1. Rezone Property to Proper Residential Use.
2. Submit a Preliminary Plat (a basic plan of how the lots will be
layed out, streets, utilities, drainage, etc...) This is when it
can get expensive if the Subdivision is required to have city
water / sewer and the nearest connection is a few miles away!
3. Construct utilities so all lots have services available
4. Final Plat approval (adopted by the City streets, etc.)
5. Sale of the lots
6. Construction / Site Plans & Approval
7. Inspection of Structures

Thats kinda of a rough step by step process, every City/County/State is a bit different... Some places Environmental Assessments must be done, some places a City might not have any say if someone builds a massive subdivision on its boundary with only septic tanks and well water, etc...

I'd follow SGB's reccomendation and just call a local agency and ask them, they should be able to help you out quite a bit...


NJ and PA don't have any non-incorporated areas. So this isn't an issue here. Even then municipalities don't have much of a say where developers can build - only how much (if they're lucky) and whether it's commercial, residential, or industrial.

Our state laws, the only laws with any teeth, only deal with development in the Pinelands (a sort of reverse UGB) In the areas where development is allowed the rules are very strict as to what can be built, how much impermeable cover is allowed and even what trees can be cut down/what species can be disturbed

and in coastal areas

If i understand your question correctly you want to know what happens when a developer builds in a non-incorporated part of the county on the edge of the city.

sometimes the county has regulations to deal with this.
sometimes the municipality, through state laws, is not allowed to annex any more areas.

sometimes the city can't annex any property not immediately adjacent to the current city border which puts sprawling, leap-frog development beyond it's reach.


Staff member
Another scenario for this "greenfield development" includes the possibility that the area is located within the city's extra-territorial jurisdiction, or what we refer to as a "Fringe Area". Here, the city has planning and zoning jurisdiction in anticipation of future annexation. To protect the community from having to retrofit the public infrastructure (from a county's usually less-stringent requirements), development is held to the same standards as the urbanized area. While residents and businesses in the Fringe have representation on the Plan Comm'n and Board of Zoning Appeals, they do not have representation on the City Council. That sometimes leads to claims of taxation without representation, but that is a whole different matter.

As to having a fuzzy brain, I have always found that beer is an excellent way to rasa the tabula. Or something like that.


Thanks for the explanation and help outs (and thanks special to Chet for the appleton handbook).

I wonder, though. If a development occurs outside a municipality, what happens to it? Well, nm, that just falls back to the county/state I guess.

So then what can a city really do to discourage fringe growth?

Like the appleton handbook doesn't look like official paperwork, but can there be specific guidelines on how certain new subdivisions are developped? like, uh, just for say, all new single-family residential developments must have blocks at every 300 feet? (or something like that...) and uh a certain number of dwelling units must exist per acre?

ah, these are sort of OT i guess.

wait... so if enough developments leapfrogged out of a municipality into the same place to fulfill a minimum population requirement, they could unify and incorporate themselves into a separate city?