What does the Department of Planning + Urban Design do?

Check out our explainer to learn how your municipal planning department’s work affects your city.

Planning 101 Explainer(PDF, 5MB)
Planning 101 Explainer in Spanish(PDF, 5MB)

What is Zoning?

Zoning is the prime tool for implementing the Comprehensive Plan. It guides development by controlling land uses and setting standards throughout the city. Standards for long-developed areas can benefit neighborhood preservation. 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. It also protects development from flooding and assures safe and adequate traffic flow.

Zoning Ordinance Principal Elements

  1. Official Zoning Map - shows the boundaries of the districts.

  2. Schedule of District Regulations - regulations set 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 is a planning tool, and a city’s zoning pattern is not a statement of current policy but a reflection of hundreds and thousands of decisions made over many years. Due to their legal basis, zoning map changes, once changed, are often complicated for the City to undo. Modern zoning attempts to use more flexible techniques, such as planned developments and special use permits, and tries to avoid zoning property too far before development.

What is a Comprehensive Plan or a Master Plan?

Historically, the Master Plan contemplated a fixed future vision of the City (20) or (30) years. Today, this is not usually appropriate. Comprehensive or Master Plans are flexible and subject to periodic change. A well-conceived plan expresses local policy articulated in maps and text for a “soft” blueprint of the community’s future. The Comprehensive Plan map is essential; it organizes land-use decision-making 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. The amount of space allocated for each category must be particular to each planning area. Population, market, and economic studies go into a plan 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, and another for residential use. A parcel with the same locational characteristics could be utilized for three different uses in three communities based on space demand or the community’s vision.

Developers and builders build cities, and their projects must be responsive to a changing and unpredictable market. Comprehensive plans must change 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 a reflection of today’s development fashion and point in the economic cycle. The Master or Comprehensive Plan must strike a balance that acknowledges and promotes flexibility yet retains its long range sense of direction and purpose.

What are Subdivision Regulations?

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

They seek to ensure that a new project does not disrupt existing services or create health or safety hazards. They are also crucial 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. 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. This blanket guides subdivisions through the preliminary and final plating procedure. The subdivision regulations provide minimum design standards for lots, streets and alleys, sidewalks, and provisions concerning improving storm drainage, sanitary sewers, and underground wiring.

Subdivision regulations can be significant 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 many small two to ten-acre parcels, especially in the city’s western parts. Such small divisions make it more challenging to assemble viable projects, increasing development costs and scattered housing. Larger ownership must be preserved if the area is to realize its development potential.

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

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

First, the permission process is simple 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. A registered surveyor or engineer must prepare a plot plan 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 other things that must be done with permission. Once you get permission, then there are inspections. Check with Building Inspection at (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 land's ultimate development potential and assure a reasonably attractive, safe, and healthful environment. The earliest issues probably relate to sewage and water. If a public sanitary sewer system is unavailable, it may be possible to utilize a septic tank or similar on-site system. However, a 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 at least a whole acre and maybe more. Rock near the surface can make 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 is probably beyond the means of most people trying to build a single house.

You now want to build on two acres out of a 40-acre tract. Remember that the remainder of the 40 acres will likely be split up in the future, so remember that your two acres may be only a 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 from being nearly undevelopable. Depending on the plans for the area, the pace of development, and the surrounding development pattern, you may be able to get permission for your two-acre tract. First, though, you will have to rezone the lot to a district that allows the size lot you propose, and you will have to have a surveyor or engineer prepare a subdivision plat. A subdivision plat is a detailed survey. Preparing a plat is not cheap, although we would try to convince you it is worth the cost in the long run. Why is this so complicated? Remember that when you seek to build in such a situation, you bypass what land developers and builders do. You 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. Remember that sometimes what you want to do is not a good fit with the community’s standards.

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 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 materials 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 of other single-family residences in the area where it is to be located. Tell me more about the ordinance.

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 property’s zoning district, 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 that 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 in front of your house because it will usually be too close to the property line on the street.

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

Although the above statement may be 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 the back of the curb. This strip of land is often called the parkway. It allows utility placement, street signs, mailboxes, and in some situations, for widening the street. Nevertheless, as individuals, we are responsible for maintaining the parkway despite not owning it.

Questions or Comments?

Email Us