Institutional Master Plan

What is an Institutional Master Plan?

Institutional Master Plans provide a framework for development of institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, which control large areas of land within the City. These institutions are unique because they generally contain a greater density of development than surrounding areas, are a source of substantial employment, and are usually located immediately adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

As such, the Institutional Master Plan allows the institutions the flexibility to plan and develop project and campus-based standards for building height and mass, parking, urban design and neighborhood compatibility.

Finally, Institutional Master Plans provide a level of understanding to the public and the community about the potential growth of institutions and the resultant impacts. All institutions located in Education Medical Institutional zoning districts are required to have a current Institutional Master Plan.


Existing Institutional Master Plans

Review the Insitutional Master Plan Best Practices Guide.


What needs to be in the Institutional Master Plan?

A complete outline of topics and issues required to be covered in an IMP is detailed in Section 905.03.D.2 of the Zoning Code.

These topics broadly are:

  • Planning Horizon of 10 and 25 Years
  • Mission and Objectives of the Institution
  • Existing Property and Uses
  • Needs of the Institution
  • Ten-Year Development Envelope
  • Twenty-Five-Year Development Sites
  • Transportation Management Plan
  • Environmental Protection Plan
  • Open Space and Pedestrian Circulation Plan
  • Urban Design Guidelines
  • Neighborhood Protection Strategy


What is the first step in the Institutional Master Plan process?

The institution and their planning consultant must hold a pre-application meeting with City Planning staff to discuss the Institutional Master Plan process and requirements specific to each project.


May institutions file for a zone change with the Institutional Master Plan?

Yes, this process should be run concurrently with the Institutional Master Plan. Please speak to a City Planning staff member about this application.


How do I make an application?

  • From the OneStopPGH online portal, select a Planning Applications and then Master Plan/Zone Change Petition.

  • Complete the form and upload a draft of the Institutional Master Plan.


How much is the fee?

The fee is one of the following:

  • $10,000 for a new Institutional Master Plan

  • $5,000 for an update to an existing Institutional Master Plan

  • $3,800 for a Zone Change Petition

Fees are non-refundable, including if the Institutional Master Plan is not approved.


What happens after an application has been filed?

First, scoping for the traffic analysis will be completed. The institution and its consultant will have a meeting with the Department of City Planning and the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) transportation staff to discuss what should be included in any transportation study. While the transportation analysis is being completed, the draft Institutional Master Plan goes through the City Planning staff review process. This includes reviews of accessibility, neighborhood compatibility, zoning and urban design. The design review is the only review with a formalized process.


What is the design review process?

The design review process is the review related to architecture and urban design. For Institutional Master Plans, this encompasses the urban design guidelines and the location, height and setbacks of the buildings within the ten-year development plan. For more information about design review, please visit design review.


What community outreach should the institution do?

Early and throughout the planning process, it is recommended that the applicant reach out to multiple community stakeholders, including neighborhood groups, adjacent residents, City Council representatives, other institutions, and other relevant stakeholders.

If the project is within the boundaries of a Registered Community Organization (RCO), a Development Activities Meeting with the community will be required. This Development Activities Meeting must occur at least 30 days before the first City public hearing. This process will be discussed at the pre-application meeting.

In addition, as required by the Zoning Code, City Planning will mail surrounding property owners and post around the institution notice of the Institutional Master Plan filing 21 days prior to the Planning Commission hearing. Please note that this requirement should be included in any time frame estimate for approvals.


What is the Planning Commission process?

City Planning staff work with the applicant throughout the review process. After staff has determined that all of the required topics are adequately addressed, the Institutional Master Plan is scheduled for Planning Commission review.

The Commission meets virtually bi-weekly on Tuesday afternoons with briefing starting around 1:00 p.m. and the public meeting starting at 2:00 p.m. A briefing to the Commission is the first step. This is an off-the-record presentation to introduce the project to members. It also provides the opportunity for the Commissioners to ask questions they want the applicant to further address.

Then the project returns usually one month later for on-the-record hearing and action. (Larger Institutional Master Plans may make multiple presentations before the Commission.)  A full presentation is made again and then public comment is taken. The Commission will generally vote at that meeting to approve or disapprove the plan. If the Commission disapproves the plan, then it still proceeds to City Council, where it needs an affirmative vote by at least seven members to be adopted.

At each hearing, City Planning staff will introduce the project and then a representative of the institution or their planning firm will make the presentation.


What happens after the Planning Commission Process?

City Planning staff prepare legislation to send to the Law Department for review and then to City Council.


What is involved in the City Council process?

The City Clerk’s office schedules the Institutional Master Plan for a City Council committee hearing. The applicant should work on this scheduling with the City Council member for the location of the institution. The applicant presents to the Council committee and public testimony is heard. If approved in committee, the plan is voted on during a full Council hearing.


How long does the Institutional Master Plan approval process take?

The entire process, from making an application to City Council approval, takes approximately six months. This varies depending on the complexity of the plan and on Planning Commission and City Council schedules.


When can an institution receive approval for the projects identified in the Institutional Master Plan?

For new buildings proposed in the plan, Planning Commission and/or Zoning Board of Adjustment approval may be required after the plan is approved. This approval will be specific to the building and require design review and zoning review. The Planning Commission procedure is similar to that for the plan, although City Council approval is not required. For information about the Zoning Board process, please visit the ZBA page.

For more information, please consult the Zoning Code, including sections 905.03.D and 922.12.