Clear, accessible definitions for common urban planning terms.

What Is a Planned Unit Development?

3 minute read

A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a specific type of plan or development commonly associated with master planned communities and sprawl. The specific definitions of a PUD vary by jurisdiction, but the term generally refers to a flexible approach to the planning of a variety of housing types and land uses on a relatively large portion of land.

Master-Planned Community

The Beachwalk development in St. Johns, Florida was planned as the Twin Creeks Planned Unit Development in 2018. The PUD calls for 450,000 square feet of retail, 1 million square feet of commercial, and 3,000 residential units across 3,000 acres. | Twin Creek Development

A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a technical term for developments also known as a master planned communities, new towns, or subdivisions.

Like those other terms, a PUD can refer generally to a variety of development examples, with specifics that vary by jurisdiction and by project. The use of the term PUD, however, can also refer to the regulatory process by which these developments are planned. So, a PUD is not just a type of development—it's also a technical term that describes a common, widely used planning tool. 

PUDs are intended to create a cohesive development plan for a large tract of land, integrating transportation systems with a variety of housing types and other uses, like park and open space and commercial or retail uses. A key goal of PUD regulations is to allow flexibility in deciding how to integrate these various uses, depending on location, topography, and the market for the development. PUDs thus allow developers a large degree of flexibility in where to locate uses as compared to the strict rules about what can be built in locations subject to most other forms of zoning codes.

PUDs are most common in suburban and rural areas, where a larger supply of undeveloped land and lack of surrounding uses lend to a higher degree of flexibility in planning and development. Even large, urban cities can include PUDs, however, if they are growing quickly into the periphery, if large parcels are available for development, or if the market allows for the assemblage of multiple parcels. Austin, Texas, for example, considered a PUD for 2.4 million square feet of development called the Grove at Shoal Creek in 2016 (the project has since been completed).

The history of PUDs emerged as a response to the 20th century history of car-centric planning and sprawl that continues to create the suburbs and exurbs that comprise much of the built environment in the United States. In addition to widely cited but heavily paywalled examples of the origins of PUDs in locations like Levittown, New York; Park Forest, Illinois; and Prince George's County, Maryland, the origins of contemporary PUDs can also be traced to Radburn, New Jersey, established in 1929 and marketed as "Town for the Motor Age." Radburn is credited as one of the first U.S. cities to combine development superblocks, peripheral collector streets, quieter residential streets, and a centrally located park, borrowing from concepts first explored by the Garden City movement first expressed in the United Kingdom. The use of PUDs throughout the 20th century, however, is generally considered to have fallen short of the ideals expressed in Radburn.

Recent planning trends have reinforced the potential for PUDs to live up their original ideals as an improvement on the shortcomings of the Euclidean zoning, exclusionary zoning, and sprawl of 20th century planning. If designed thoughtfully, PUDs can require a mix of uses and housing types with the potential to increase access to housing at various income levels while reducing excess car trips and greenfield development.

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