What does the Department of Planning + Urban Design do?

Are you curious about how the work of your municipal planning department affects your city? Check out our Planning 101 Explainer(PDF, 5MB)! (También disponible en español(PDF, 5MB) !)


Zoning, What is it?

Zoning is the prime tool for implementing the Comprehensive Plan. By controlling land uses and setting development standards throughout the city, zoning can guide development. Zoning also sets standards for long developed areas and can be a very helpful neighborhood preservation tool. Zoning standards for building setbacks, building height, parking, screening, permitted activities, etc. help to ensure that people do not have costs imposed upon them by their neighbors. Zoning makes it possible to create transitional land use patterns so that incompatible uses are separated and buffered and harsh face-to-face relationships are avoided. Zoning is also utilized to protect development from flooding and to assure safe and adequate traffic flow.

The zoning ordinance has (3) principal elements:

  1. official zoning map: shows the boundaries of the districts
  2. schedule of district regulations: regulations sets forth the permitted uses, standards, and requirements for each individual district
  3. text of the zoning ordinance: deals largely with the procedural, administrative, and legal matters and with definitions of terms in the zoning ordinance

Zoning a tool of planning, and the zoning pattern of a city is not a statement of current policy, but a reflection of hundreds and even thousands of decisions made over many years. Due to their legal basis, zoning map changes once made are often very difficult for the City to undue. This is one reason that modern zoning attempts to utilize more flexible techniques such as planned developments and special use permits, and makes an effort to avoid zoning property too far in advance of development.

What is a Comprehensive Plan or a Master Plan?

Historically, the Master Plan contemplated a fixed vision of the City (20) or (30) years in the future. Today, this is not usually appropriate. Comprehensive or Master Plans are, by their nature, flexible and subject to periodic change. A well conceived plan is an expression of local policy, articulated in the form of a map or maps and text which provides a "soft" blueprint of the future of the community. The use of the Comprehensive Plan map is important because, by its spatial nature, it organizes decision making on land use decisions, and can give a more meaningful perspective to capital improvements programming.

A land use plan sets aside locations for land uses and allocates a certain amount of space for each land use, while connecting land uses with the transportation network. Setting aside locations involves applying planning principles based on accessibility needs, the relative need to be located close to similar uses, the site needs, and the external effects of each land use. These principles are consistent and cut across different communities. However, the amount of space allocated for each category must be particular to each planning area. The population, market, and economic studies that go into a plan are primarily aimed at helping to determine how much space should be provided for each category of land use. The balance between location and space is a delicate one. There are areas of conflict or transition where locational characteristics alone cannot determine the most appropriate land use. One community may have more demand for industrial land, another for office, another for multiple family residential use. A parcel with the same locational characteristics thus could very well be utilized for three different uses in three different communities based on space demand or the vision of the community.

Since developers and builders are the ones who build cities, and since their projects must be responsive to a changing and unpredictable market, comprehensive plans likewise must change from time to time if they are to be effective and have credibility. However, because the Master Plan represents continuity between the past, present, and future, reflecting underlying change, while desirable, must only be accomplished after thorough scrutiny. Otherwise, too much sensitivity to change would render the plan not a plan, but simply a reflection of today’s development fashion and point in the economic cycle. Thus, the Master or Comprehensive Plan must strike a balance which acknowledges and promotes flexibility, yet retains its long range sense of direction and purpose.

Subdivision Regulations, What are they?

Subdivision regulations like the zoning ordinance are an exercise of the police power. In some respects, subdivision regulation is more significant because it deals with new development. Subdivision regulations can help assure that new development pays for the costs it creates.

They seek to assure that a new project does not disrupt existing services or create health or safety hazards. They are also important in protecting the natural environment.

Subdivision regulations provide for the future by providing the required rights-of-way for the major street network. Subdivision regulations can prevent urbanization from taking place at rural standards. Unpaved roads, septic tanks, and open and unimproved drainage ditches can work for a while, but unless the density of development is low enough to ensure the perpetuation of the rural character of the area, further development usually shifts the cost of remedying the deficiencies to the residents or the city as a whole. These are costs that are most often higher than the initial costs would have been.

The subdivision regulations become applicable where there is division or development of land falling under the definition of a subdivision. Under this blanket, subdivisions are guided through the preliminary and final platting procedure. The subdivision regulations provide minimum design standards for lots , streets and alleys, sidewalks, and well as provisions concerning the improvement of storm drainage, sanitary sewers, and underground wiring.

Subdivision regulations can be particularly important for a city like Kansas City where the outskirts have received sporadic bursts of rural residential type development over several decades. This has resulted in a very large number of small two to ten acre parcels especially in the western parts of the city. Such small divisions make it more difficult to put together viable projects and along with scattered housing increase development costs. Larger ownerships need to be preserved if the area is to realize its development potential.

I want to build a new residence, What do I have to do?

This is a complicated question, but we can answer it in parts.

First, if you want to build in an existing subdivision where the lots have been platted and streets and utilities have already been made available to your lot, the permission process is simple. A plot plan must be prepared by a registered surveyor or engineer showing where your house will be placed on the property and plans must be submitted to the Building Inspection office for review and approval. There are plenty of others things that must be done with permission. Once you get permission, then there are inspections. Check with Building Inspection: P: (913) 573-8620.

Now things are different if someone wants to sell you that perfect half acre tract out of his 40 acres. The subdivision regulations and zoning ordinance in this situation are set up to protect the ultimate development potential of the land as well to assure reasonably attractive, safe and healthful environment. The earliest issues probably relate to sewage and water. If a public sanitary sewer system is not available, it may be possible to utilize a septic tank or similar on-site system. However, one-half acre is not enough land to accommodate the necessary lateral fields and possible replacement areas. Thus, that perfect one-half acre tract needs to be at least a whole acre and maybe more. Rock near the surface can be something that makes it impossible for an on-site system. What about water? Fire protection is dependent on water. Without adequate water flow, fire protection is not possible. Most of Kansas City, KS, has adequate fire flow, but do not assume that your particular location does. Extending water mains are probably beyond the means of most people trying to build a single house.

Okay, you now want to build on two acres out of a 40 acre tract. One thing to keep in mind is that the remainder of the 40 acres is likely to be split up in the future, so make sure you remember that your two acres may be only a very small part of the environment you want to enjoy. Most of the time that 40 acre tract will be zoned the AG-Agriculture district. That district requires a 5 acre minimum tract size. Again, the idea is to prevent street frontages along section line roads from being stripped out and the interior of the section to be nearly undevelopable. Depending on the plans for the area, the pace of development in the area, and the surrounding pattern of development, you may be able to get permission for your two acre tract. First, though you will have to rezone the lot to a district which allows the size lot you propose and you will have to have a surveyor or engineer prepare a subdivision plat. A subdivision plat is basically a detailed survey. Preparing a plat is not cheap although we would try to convince you that it is worth the cost in the long run. Why is this so complicated? Keep in mind that when you seek to build in such a situation, you are bypassing what land developers and builders do. You, in fact, are becoming a land developer. Like most things, the closer you get to it, the more difficult it becomes.

The answer is to please call us early in the process and we will try to guide you. Keep in mind that sometimes what you want to do is not a good fit with the standards of the community.

I want to use a mobile home/manufactured home as a residence outside a mobile home park. What are the requirements?

A mobile home may be utilized as a single-family residence in any district in which single-family residences are permitted, subject to the following:

  • The home must be new when placed on the site.

  • The home must be placed on a permanent foundation that complies with the unified government's building code for residential structures. The foundation must include a solid perimeter wall.

  • The home must be oriented on the lot so that its long axis is parallel to the street. A perpendicular or diagonal placement is permitted only if the narrow dimension of the home nearest the street is no less than two-thirds of the lot width at the building line. Garages or other completely enclosed additions may be included to meet this requirement.

  • The home must be at least 22 feet wide over the major part of the mobile home.

  • The home must have a roof sloped at least four feet to 12 over no less than 40 percent of the total roofed area. Roof slope indicates the actual incline of a roof as a ratio of vertical rise to horizontal run, determination must be based on actual measurements and not on nominal designation or rules of thumb. It must consist of shingles or other material customarily used for conventionally built dwellings in the area.

  • The roof overhang must not be less than one foot measured from the vertical side of the mobile home.

  • The home and any attached building additions must be covered with an exterior material customarily used on conventional dwellings in the area. The exterior covering material must extend to the top of the foundation and no less than two feet from the ground. Exterior material customarily used on conventional dwellings does not include smooth, ribbed, or corrugated metal or plastic panels.

  • The home must meet all requirements required of other single-family residences in the area where it is to be located.
    For more information and review the exact ordinance language, please click here

What do I have to do to add on to my house or build a barn, garage, or carport?

You will eventually need a survey to do any of these things. Without a survey you cannot be sure that you will be avoiding utilities, pipelines, or have the required setbacks from property lines. We have most of the plot plans of residences built in the last twenty years and these may be able to help you avoid the expense of a new survey. But don't get a survey, yet. To know the required setbacks we have to find out for you the zoning district of the property, the subdivision plat which may show us some easements, and what you want to build. First, small sheds of 120 square feet or less without utilities do not require building permits although they still need to be located as required by the setback requirements. An addition attached to your existing residence will also usually have a different setback than a detached building. In residential areas, barns, garages, and similar buildings must be no more than 1000 square feet in area. In most cases, such buildings must have siding and roof materials which match your residence or are at least residential in character.

In agriculturally zoned areas, barns can be larger but they still must be related to the permitted use of the property. Such barns cannot be used for businesses that are not agriculture. Agricultural areas also have larger required setbacks.

Decks and carports although different than enclosed additions have the same setbacks in most cases. Thus, it is usually very difficult to put a carport on the front of your house, because it will usually then be too close to the property line at the street.

My property line is the curb line or edge of the pavement. Right?

Although it is possible that the above statement is true, it is not likely. Typically, a residential street has 50' of right-of-way with only 28' improved with asphalt and curbs. Thus, your property line would typically be from 10 - 12 feet in back of the curb. This strip of land is often called the parkway. It is there to allow for utility placement, street signs, mail boxes, and in some situations for widening of the street. Nevertheless, as individuals we are responsible for maintenance of the parkway even though we do not own it.

Comments or questions? You can email Urban Planning and Land Use