Sustainable Land Use Planning

Land development can adversely impact water resources but there are many ways to protect natural resources while encouraging economic growth. The American Planning Association (APA) released a policy guide on smart growth which is a set of principles that promote “efficient and sustainable land development,” (APA). Benefits from smart growth that relate to water resources include reduced cost of water sanitation, conservation-sensitive design, reduced cost of flood disaster cleanup and mitigation, protection of groundwater and surface water quality, among others.

Pennsylvania has developed their own land use and development principles based on the smart growth principles. Known as The Keystone Principles & Criteria for Growth, Investment, & Resource Conservation, these principles were adopted by the PA Economic Development Cabinet in 2005. The document includes ten principles for economic growth, of which the following aid in protecting water resources: redevelop first, concentrate development, restore and enhance the environment, enhance recreational and heritage resources, and plan regionally – implement locally.

Implementing Sustainable Land Use Planning

The following are important municipal tools for land use planning that can protect natural resources:

Creating a comprehensive plan is essential to developing a strategy for sustainable land use (re)development by outlining future growth and priorities for a community. Counties are required to adopt a comprehensive plan; municipalities are only required to adopt a comprehensive plan if they have joint zoning with another municipality or are enacting a transportation impact fee ordinance (PA Land Trust Association).

Comprehensive plans are typically composed of “an analysis of a municipality’s population, economy, land use, housing, transportation, and community facilities; proposal of recommendations for the municipality’s future development, growth, and well-being; and work sessions with municipal officials, community groups, and citizens to determine the community goals and objectives,” (DCED, 2014).

For more information on comprehensive local land use planning see Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code or Governor’s Center for Local Government Services “The Comprehensive Plan in Pennsylvania” guide or their “Local Land Use Controls in Pennsylvania” guide. To learn more about methods to consider including in comprehensive plans, explore on the following practices.

Local Ordinances

Local ordinances are used to enforce and enact the comprehensive plan in a municipality. They can also be used for more specific land use planning issues such as zoning, subdivision and land development, floodplain development, etc.


Codes are the method used to enforce local ordinances and ensure land use practices have minimal harm on the natural environment while protecting public safety. For more information on codes, visit our Local Regulations page.

Explore Sustainable Land Use Resources and Tools

Planning and Resiliency Resources Local Regulations