Development Review Process Overview

Important Information: Development Review Timelines and Procedures

The Development Review Section of the Durham City-County Planning Department reviews site plans and subdivision plats and serves as the case managers and the central distribution point for plans going to each operational department in the City and/or the County.

Pre-Application Conference

Pursuant to paragraph 3.2.2.B of the Unified Development Ordinance pre-application conferences are required for Conservation Subdivisions, and site plans or preliminary plat applications zoned or in the process of being zoned as a Design District or with a Development Plan.  Pre-application conferences are recommended but not required for all other site plan and preliminary plat applications.  Applicants are encouraged to meet with City and County departments prior to submitting any development application to determine what is required for each project. There are 2 types of pre-application meetings, a Concept Meeting or a PreSubmittal Conference. Each is described below:

1. Concept Meeting

A “concept meeting” is a meeting limited to Planning staff only. These meetings are offered on Thursday afternoons in 30-minute intervals on a 1st-come, 1st-served basis upon request received a minimum of 48 hours in advance. The meeting is meant to explain, in general terms, the development review process, to determine what is allowable, and answer what may be required to accomplish the development in question. There is no fee for a concept meeting. A concept meeting can be scheduled by submitting the Development Review Concept Meeting Request Form (PDF) to the staff listed on the form.

2. Presubmittal Conference

A “presubmittal conference” is a meeting involving multiple departments. Meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month and must be requested a minimum of 1 week in advance. The meeting is not meant to be fully comprehensive. It is meant to provide direction and give an applicant an idea of the requirements for review as applicable to the proposal and site. These meetings are most effective when a design professional is present. There is no fee for a presubmittal conference. A presubmittal conference can be scheduled by submitting the Pre-Submittal/Re-Submittal Conference Request Form (PDF) to the staff listed on the form.

Types of Plans Approved Administratively

  • Level 1 Site Plans - Typically involve requests with no increase in impervious surfaces, new land disturbance, building area, or changes that would require review by any agency or department except Planning.
  • Level 2 Site Plans - Typically involve requests that require review by multiple department or agencies, the plan involves a maximum of 200 square feet of new impervious, no change in stormwater management, and no more than 200 square feet of new building area, and less than 12,000 square feet of land disturbance.
  • Level 3 Site Plans - Typically involve requests that require review by multiple department or agencies, the plan involves more than 200 square feet of new impervious, no change in stormwater management, and no more than 1,000 square feet of new building area, and less than 12,000 square feet of land disturbance.
  • Level 4 Site Plans - Typically involve requests that do not meet the definitions of a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, or Major Site Plan
  • Preliminary Plats - Typically involve requests for subdivision of land into more than 6 lots, and may also involve public dedication of land and/or streets, utility extensions, required diffuse flow mechanisms, and/or required stormwater management facilities. 
  • Site Plan or Preliminary Plat Amendments - Site plan or preliminary subdivision plat amendments are reviewed based on the ordinance that was in effect during the time that the site plan or preliminary plat was approved. Site plans and preliminary plats to be amended must receive a confirmation from the Planning Department that an amendment is possible before being submitted for review. Site plans and preliminary plats that have not received amendment confirmation will be placed on hold for up to 1 week to allow the submission to be reviewed for an amendment determination.
 Final and Exempt Plats Information

Plans Approved by Governing Body

Major Site Plans/ Major Preliminary Plats - typically involve requests that, according to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) requires governing body approval; requires a major special use permit (UDO Section 3.9); or are located in a Watershed Protection Overlay Critical Area, with impervious surface that exceeds the maximum permitted by the Low Density Option under Section 8.7, Watershed Protection Overlay Standards.

Application Submittal

Developers or their representatives submit site plans and subdivisions, drawn by registered professionals with proficiency in site or subdivision design, to the Planning staff. Submittals, except for Level 1 site plans and exempt plats, must be made by appointment up to 5 business days in advance. Appointments are available weekly on a first come first serve basis and submittals are batched at the end of the week and distributed to other departments for review. Click the following link for information regarding Development Review Timelines and Procedures

All supporting information, including the latest application for the project type, applicable departmental checklists, landscape calculations, stormwater impact analyses (and required maps), traffic impact analyses, specimen tree surveys, tree coverage calculations, the correct number of folded plans, and fees, must be included for the submittal to be considered complete. Additional submittals and fees may be required by other City or County departments, including but not limited to Stormwater, Fire Marshal, and Sedimentation and Erosion Control, as part of the plan approval process. All submittals must be folded to fit in a standard legal folder (maximum 8.5 inches in width by 14 inches in length).

Tracking the Status of Reviews

Applicants are notified of their application number after submittal. Status and comments on submittals may be found on the Land Development Office (LDO) website, which is searchable. The required login is 0000, and the password is 0000. Once logged in, click on "Plans Review" and then enter the application number.


Applicants should thoroughly address any comments and are encouraged to contact the person making the comment if there are questions. Corrected plans, with changes highlighted and a thorough written response to each of the comments, should be resubmitted to the Planning staff no later than Tuesday by 4 p.m. for processing by the end of that week. Resubmittals may be made at any time but will be held until the next distribution cycle if the Tuesday deadline is missed. Resubmittals made directly to other departments are not considered valid. The Planning staff will distribute the plans to the commenting departments for re-review. Click the following link for information regarding Development Review Timelines and Procedures.

Time Frame

Resubmittals must also be made within 90 days after the comments are received; re-submittals associated with a Notice of Violation must be made within 30 days of receiving comments. If resubmittals are not made within the specified time frame the plans will be considered administratively withdrawn. Extensions may be granted due to circumstances beyond the control of the applicant at the discretion of the Planning Department staff. Requests for extensions should be made in writing to Planning staff in advance of the resubmittal deadline.


Application fees are due with the initial submittal. If repeat comments are not addressed, or changes made by the applicants require a re-review beyond the 3rd review, a re-review fee will be charged plus any applicable surcharges. Re-review fees are due at the time of each re-submittal.

Coordination With Other Approvals

Occasionally site plans and subdivisions require additional approvals other than site plan or plat approval. Depending on the request and/or location of the proposed development, additional applications may also require approval. The following are the most common additional applications, but applicants are encouraged to schedule pre-submittal meetings to determine what, if any, additional approvals would be necessary for a particular proposal:

Plan Approval

Once a plan is determined consistent with all applicable ordinances, it may be approved by staff if it is a Level 1, 2, 3, or 4 site plan, a minor preliminary plat, or an exempt or final plat. Final determination on a major site plan is made by the appropriate governing board (Durham City Council or the Durham County Board of County Commissioners). Meetings of each governing board are open to the public.