What is a Site Plan? 11 Things (2024) You Must Know

A site plan, sometimes known as a plot plan, is a readable map or a residential diagram that shows a plot of land, including the landscape topography and any exterior features, infrastructure or structures.

These diagrams are often required by county and state governments to ensure that local building codes are adhered to as landowners make significant changes to their property.

If you’re looking for information as you construct your site plan, keep reading.

Here’s what you need to know!

1. What is a site plan?

A site plan is an architectural document that’s meant to show the proposed improvements to any given property.

It will typically include what already exists on the property as well as what you intend to add (such as landscape features or a garage).

It’s critical that a site plan shows the relationship between what exists and what you’re planning to add.

Not all site plans are created equally.

Different building authorities require different features.

For example, some jurisdictions require that you hire a land surveyor or engineer.

Other times you are allowed to draw the plan on graph paper yourself.

To determine which route you should go, check with your permitting department for clarification.

Generally speaking, a site plan is a detailed plan that presents the proposed improvements or additions to a particular tract of land.

Local governments require site plans to ensure that local and state building codes are followed when changes are made to a property.

It also helps them retain plans for historical records, especially when landowners make significant changes to the property in question.

2. What’s the purpose of a site plan?

A site plan shows the intended development of a property related to the features of the parcel and its surrounding area.

Not only will it give a general idea of how proposed structures are used, but it allows building officials to check these structures against local building and zoning codes.

A site plan guarantees that any local services (schools, sewers, roads, water, and emergency services) meet the standard for whatever you’re planning to build.

This is essential whenever you’re looking to change something on your land as you want to ensure you’re in compliance with zoning regulations to prevent penalties and issues upon sale.

Additionally, adding something without the appropriate zoning or building codes means that it likely won’t be covered by your insurance policy.

3. What’s the difference between a site plan and a floor plan?

When you first hear the term “site plan,” you may think of the term “floor plan,” but the two are different.

A floor plan describes the arrangement of rooms in one particular story of a building while a site plan describes the arrangement of the entire site.

4. Do you need a site plan?

How do you know if you need a site plan for your property?

Here’s a quick checklist that you can use to gauge whether one is necessary for your specific circumstance.

bulletIf you’re looking to understand your property’s dimensions

bulletIf you’re showing your home relative to your property lines

bulletIf you want a road map for having yard work done, then having a site plan can allow you to mark instructions and avoid confusion

bulletIf you’re looking to sketch out a new roofline

bulletIf you’re having encroachment issues with a neighbor, then you can submit a drawing of the encroachment to the city as an exhibit

bulletIf you’re considering redoing your landscaping, then you should start with a site plan and begin your process of what to keep and what to eliminate

bulletIf you’re applying for a building permit for a new outdoor structure

bulletIf you’re applying for a demolition permit for the demolition of your house or another structure

bulletIf you’re applying for building permits in cities with tree protection requirements, then planning departments find site plans useful to determine if any extra protection is required for trees on the property

bulletIf you’re looking to remove or remodel your swimming pool

bulletIf you need a Conditional Use Permit for commercial properties

5. What does a site plan include?

Different jurisdictions have different requirements, but here are the common types of information that a site plan includes:

bulletYour name and address: Your site plan will include this basic and fundamental information.

bulletLegal description: Your legal description should include your range, township, tax lot, and section.

There are three main types of legal descriptions: metes and bounds, rectangular survey system, and lot and block.

bulletScale: The plan must be a scaled drawing.

bulletCardinal direction: the plan must include the North (cardinal direction) to show how your property is oriented.

bulletProperty lines: Your property lines are required on the plan.

bulletLocation details: Your plan should include the location of your driveway and adjacent streets.

bulletExisting structures and proposed structures: Your plan should include both the existing and proposed structures of the property.

6. How do you create a site plan?

To create a site plan, professional, computer-aided drafting software is typically used.

It produces engineered accuracy that you would not otherwise be able to find through a hand-drawn site plan diagram.

Check out this guide for How to Create a Site Plan for more information.

7. What type of guidelines should you follow?

The specific guidelines you should follow depend on the building authorities in your area.

However, here’s a list of some common guidelines:

bulletYour plan must be drawn to scale

bulletEvery dimension should be shown and labeled 

bulletThe plan should show both property lines and all appropriate dimensions

bulletDashed versus solid lines should be used to distinguish between existing and proposed structures

bulletThe plan must always show the necessary existing structures (proposed walkways and patios)

bulletLarge trees on the property should also be included (i.e. if they have a diameter of more than 2 feet)

8. Where can you get a site plan for your property?

If you’ve already made alterations to your property or if you’re planning on selling your home, you’ll need a copy of your site plan.

However, if you have never had it on hand before, then you may be confused about where to find it.

Here are a few places you can locate a copy without knowing it.

bulletClosing documents. A copy of your site plan should have been included in the paperwork you received when you purchased your property if one was available.

If you can’t find it in the closing documents, then contact your mortgage lender or title insurance provider.

They may have copies that they can send to you.

If it’s been years since you purchased your home, you should review the site plan sent to ensure it’s still an accurate representation of your property.

bulletCounty government. Many counties will retain copies of residential site plans to ensure that they conform to building regulations and city ordinances.

Your local government may be able to provide you with either a hard copy of your site plan or a downloadable copy that you can print.

Once again, if this is the route you go, then you’ll need to check if it’s up to date and still an accurate representation of your property.

Bear in mind that you’ll likely need to pay a service fee as well.

bulletBuilding company. The builder or construction company that built structures on your property (i.e.: house) may have a site plan on file that they can send you.

However, whether this is a fruitful route will typically depend on the amount of time that’s passed.

Again, if you happen to obtain one from the building company, be sure to verify its accuracy.

bulletOnline services. If you’re unable to obtain a site plan from any of the sources above, it may be time to seek other options.

One is hiring a land surveyor to draw up a new site plan.

However, this can be expensive.

The other is to order a site plan from an online service that uses updated satellite imagery, country parcel maps, and other resources to create a site plan at a much lower cost.

9. What are the 11 elements of a good site plan?

Above, we listed the bare minimum of what a site plan should include.

However, if you want your site plan to include everything (not just the bare minimum), then this is a good guide to ensure your plan goes above and beyond.

bulletDirections, notes, and abbreviations: All of these should be included on a site map in addition to project data and a vicinity map.

bulletProperty lines: Property lines should be identified around the exterior of the lot in the plan.

bulletSetbacks: These are the spaces between a building and its property line.

bulletExisting and proposed conditions: Your site map should show fence lines, utility lines, and power lines.

bulletConstruction limits: On your plan, show the part of the property where the construction is happening and where you’ll be taking up space for equipment parking and storage.

bulletParking: A good plan should show the parking dimensions, including parking spaces, areas for turning around, and the flow of traffic.

This is often most relevant in urban and high-traffic areas.

bulletSurrounding streets and street signs: How does your property function within the streets and avenues that surround it?

bulletDriveways: What are the exact dimensions of driveways and curbs? Be sure to show these on your plan!

bulletFire hydrants: City codes dictate the distance that your property must be from fire hydrants.

A new construction site plan must include these when they are submitted for approval to the city.

bulletEasements: Site plans should always include easements.

This is a feature of your property that is shared by someone else for a specific purpose.

For example, if your property includes a pathway to your neighborhood park, then it should be included in your plan.

bulletLandscaped areas: What landscape features are you planning to include (or are already present)?

Some examples include deciduous trees, desert landscapes, or retaining walls.

10. What are the key issues to consider?

Depending on your locality and zoning regulations, your site plan may be required to include certain elements.

You’ll need to check with your local municipality before drawing up your site plan to be sure it includes what is required.

Here are some general guidelines that you should take into account as it is drawn up.

bulletLocal zoning and other regulations

bulletUtilities located on the property

bulletAccess to the property


bulletNatural light




bulletDrainage and soils

bulletTopographic information

bulletLocation of all existing structures and proposed structures

bulletLocation and dimensions of any access points such as driveways and walkways

bulletLocation of trash receptacles

bulletDistances between the property line and the centerline of any adjacent streets

bulletAny required road improvements

bulletExisting and proposed landscape areas and improvements

bulletNorth arrow and scale

bulletPhasing plan when applicable

11. How does a site plan help you?

Having a detailed site plan not only allows your local government to check whether you’re following the local building codes, but also aids with your own planning.

The site plan will help you to communicate your construction ideas to both the city and your builder or contractor.

Additionally, if you have some agencies that are unable to visit the building site, then you’ll be able to communicate your ideas in a concise fashion.

Your site plan provides a complete and accurate set of plans that expedites the plan review process and allows the project to proceed most efficiently.

Final thoughts 

Having a site plan keeps you, your contractor, and the city on the same page when it comes to current and proposed structures on your land.

While it may seem purely procedural, the site plan and its review process are designed to protect landowners, and it’s ultimately in your best interest to comply with the process.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.


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