Best planning and implementation toolbox

BEST PRACTICES TOOL NAME: Master Planned Communities

Purpose of Tool:
Master planned communities, sometimes called “cities within cities”, are developments similar to subdivisions but are much larger in scale.  They normally cover a sizeable area of land and include a variety of housing options, amenities, schools, recreational facilities, and extensive retail and commercial establishments.  The first master planned community, Sea Pines Plantation, was built in the 1950s, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  Most of these communities have a wide range of housing choices offered by multiple builders, which provides greater choice in type, floor plans, pricing, and lot sizes.  Unlike subdivisions, the businesses in a master planned community are a part of the developer’s original plan and are built with the hope that as housing is developed, business will follow.  A master planned community typically has its own defined community character with many of the details, such as architectural styles, building materials and common areas standardized throughout the development.  Various community features can be incorporated by the developer, allowing for creative and imaginative community design.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Recently, there has been an increase in the attractiveness of master planned communities that offer amenities within walking distance of their homes and places of employment.  Other benefits include:

  • Walkable streets and neighborhoods
  • Many amenities located on-site
  • Property value protection
  • Self-sustaining communities
  • Live-Work-Play environment
  • Various types of housing for differing lifestyles
  • More economical and efficient use of land

  • Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    A master planned development is typically implemented through the following process:
  • A developer submits an application package to the local governing jurisdiction.  This usually consists of a statement of the objectives of the developer, a development schedule, a report detailing the plans for the future of the property, site plans, and necessary environmental documentation.
  • The governing jurisdiction and its planning staff review the application for adherence with local ordinances and zoning codes and to insure that it meets the goals and objectives of the region.
  • The application is either accepted, returned to the developer for revisions and re-submittal, or it is rejected by the jurisdiction.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    In order for a master planned community to be implemented by a developer, it is necessary for the local jurisdiction to have an ordinance stating the specific standards that will be placed on development.  This will insure that it will meet the goals of the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan, if applicable.  As the governing jurisdiction sees fit, the ordinance should address elements such as:
  • Acceptable density
  • Lot sizes
  • Water and sewer service delivery
  • Allowed uses
  • Open space  and bicycle/pedestrian requirements
  • Adherence to underlying zoning

  • It is also necessary that the governing jurisdiction have in place an application submittal and review process.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    This tool is best suited for communities or agencies that have an adequate planning staff, due to the review process required for approval of site plans for proposed master planned communities.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    There are many master planned communities throughout the United States.  The examples listed below have been extremely successful.
  • The Woodlands, Texas:  Located north of Houston, this was established in 1974 and is home to approximately 85,000 people as well as much retail, business, entertainment venues, and several major corporate campuses.  It covers approximately 23.4 square miles.
  • Contact:  

    Steve Sumner
    The Woodlands VP of Operations and Public Safety
    10001 Woodloch Forest Dr, Ste. 900
    The Woodlands, Texas, 77380 

  • Celebration, Florida: This community is an unincorporated part of Osceola County outside of Orlando, Florida, and was developed by the Walt Disney Company in the early 1990s.  It covers approximately 10.7 square miles and is home to approximately 9,500 people.  Celebration also houses an abundance of retail, restaurants, and a hotel.
  • Contact: 

    Celebration Community Development District
    610 Sycamore Street, Suite 130130
    Celebration, Florida, 34747

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:

    Through the comprehensive planning process (if applicable), it can be determined if master planned communities meet a region’s goals and objectives.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
  • “Master-Planned Communities – An Obvious Choice”, by Ruth Baumgart for Ideal Destinations Magazine. 
  • Celebration, Florida – General Information. 
  • Neighborhood map of The Woodlands, TX shows an example layout of a master planned community.
  • Forsyth County, Georgia and Bainbridge, Washington local ordinances for master planned development: