Urban Planning in Romania
Published in International Law Office (ILO), 2008
Romania’s sustained economic growth over the last few years has generated a steady interest among real estate investors in the development of real estate projects of all types: residential, office, industrial and retail, in line with economic trends in the Central and South Eastern Europe economies.
Romanian authorities have tried to respond either by enacting amendments to legislation applicable in the field of urban planning regulations, or by approving the amendments to existing urban planning regulations at a certain point in time in order to allow various types of projects to be developed.
Under these circumstances, this article intends to give an overview of the regulations applicable in Romania to Construction Projects1 from an urban planning perspective, namely on: (i) urban planning documentations and regulations, and (ii) the legal possibility for a potential investor to initiate amendments to the existing urban planning specifications in order to allow development of a certain type of real estate project.
I. Pre-requisites for Construction Projects in Romania
As a rule, any Construction Project should observe the urban planning coordinates and specific category of use of the area where it is to be developed. The legal possibility to erect constructions on a specific land area (whether owned or long-term leased by the relevant investor) is conditional upon the respective land area falling under the category of buildable2 land, i.e., being a plot of land located within the city limits – intra muros land.
It should be noted that land located outside the city limits (i.e., extra muros land), consisting of agricultural land, forests, permanently sub-merged land and land with special destination), as well as agricultural land located within the city limits is not buildable land and the owner of such land would not be allowed to legally erect buildings thereon except for the case when they are removed from the agricultural circuit.
Therefore, should the contemplated Construction Project be developed on a land area currently qualified as agricultural land, irrespective of whether such land is located inside or outside the city limits, the land must be removed from agricultural use following a specific procedure.
The removal of extra muros land from agricultural use is regulated under the Land Law and subsequent regulations3 and is subject to the payment of a specific fee. In addition, in case one is interested in a preliminary stage to obtain information with respect to the legal, economical or technical regime of the real estate properties, as well as the conditions required for the performance of investments, real estate transactions or other real estate related operations an urban certificate can be obtained in this respect. The issuance of an urban certificate for information purposes can be requested by any interested person.
II. Urban planning documentation in Romania and its function
1. General Overview
The urban planning aspects are generally regulated and governed in Romania by the provision of the Law regarding the Urbanism and Territorial Facilities, Construction Law, the General Norms4 of Urbanism and the Local Norms of Urbanism5. Due to the highly technical aspects of this field, the legal background presented above is is supplemented by technical regulations (methodological guides drafted for each type of territory planning documentation).
The following types of urban planning documentation are available in Romania:
- The General Urban Plan and the related Local Norms of Urbanism (“PUG”)
- The Zonal Urban Plan and the related Local Norms of Urbanism (“PUZ”)
- The Detailed Urban Plan (“PUD”)
(i) The PUG
All administrative units in Romania must have their own General Urban Plan duly approved. The PUG represents the legal ground for any development action proposed.
The PUG includes rules with respect to urban planning matters such as:
· on a short term basis:
(a) delimitation of the intra-muros areas of the town;
(b) manner of using the intra-muros land plots;
(c) delimitation of the area affected by public encumbrances;
(d) establishment of the protected zones and historical areas of the town;
· on a medium and long term basis
(a) future development of the town;
(b) the natural risk areas, the manner in which such areas can be used and development of Construction Projects in these areas;
(c) establishment and delimitation of the areas currently being under temporary of definitive interdiction of construction;
(d) the list of the main proposed developments and restructuring projects;
(e) the delimitation of the areas where urban regeneration projects are intended to be performed;
One of the most important aspects regulated under the PUG relates to the identification of the areas which cannot be modified following approvals of a PUZ or PUD and for which no derogations are allowed in terms of urban planning requirements. The new amendments of 2008 to the urban regulations in Romania are ascribing a higher relevance to the PUGs. Since 2008 in order to ensure an efficient and consistent utilization of the buildable area located within a certain administrative unit, the land plots having land use ratio (CUT6) higher than 4 can be established only through the PUG.
(ii) The PUZ
The PUZ has the character of a more specific/detailed urban planning documentation and ensures the correlation of a complex urban planning development with the provisions of the PUG at the level of a delimited area within the territory of a locality.
The PUZ provides for the technical and legal rules regarding the location of the developments, irrespective of their nature and/or beneficiary.
According to new amendments brought in 2008 to the Law regarding the Urbanism and Territorial Facilities, the Urban Zonal Plans promoting a particular investment project are prohibited by law from being approved. Although unclearly stipulated, this provision appears to have as main purpose the achievement of a more balanced and uniform character of the areas having construction potential. However, since this is a very new provision, no practice grounded on it has been developed yet. The PUZ is the urban documentation generally required and applicable to the areas of the administrative unit which have a more dynamic and complex character from a construction point of view.
The PUZ must be drafted and approved by the relevant authorities in the following cases: (i) for the central areas of cities, (ii) for protected areas of monuments, compounds for recreation and leisure, industrial parks and parcel operations; as well as (iii) for other area determined by the local public authorities. As a matter of principle, the areas for which a PUZ must be approved as a condition to any developments being authorized to be implemented in the respective area are expressly established under the PUG.
The PUZ issued for protected zones cannot be modified by a new PUZ, but only through a PUD which shall observe the general characteristics of the respective area.
The PUZ regulates the following aspects, without being limited thereto:
(a) organization of the street networks;
(b) urban planning/architectural organization depending on the characteristics of the urban structure;
(c) the manner of utilization of land;
(d) development of city infrastructure;
(e) legal status and circulation of lands;
(f) protection of historic monuments and easements within the protection zones of such.
(iii) The PUD
The PUD is an urban planning documentation with even a more in-depth specific character than the PUZ. The PUD is prepared for the detailed regulation of the provisions prescribed in the PUG, PUZ or for the purpose of determining the construction conditions.
The PUD ensures the conditions for the location, placement, dimension and city supplies of one or more objectives over one or more adjacent parcels, on one or more locations, in correlation with the immediate neighboring properties. The PUD contains regulations regarding:
(a) provision of access and connection to the city networks;
(b) urban planning permissions and restrictions regarding the volumes that are build and facilities;
(c) functional and aesthetical relationship with the surrounding area;
(d) the compatibility of the functions and compliance of the constructions, facilities and plantations;
(e) the legal regime and transfer of lands and buildings.
The validity of the urban planning documentation presented above (PUG, PUZ, PUD) shall be established by the local public authorities having the competence to approve the respective documentation.
It should be noted that such urban planning documentations and regulations are periodically changed/improved or updated. However, the validity period of the urban planning documentation is automatically prolonged (by effect of the law) with respect to the developments started during its validity period.
III. Amending the urban planning requirements
In case the Construction Project proposed by an investor cannot be developed due to any of the following reasons: (i) the specific characteristics of the objective (function, accessibility, neighboring relationships etc.) are not compatible with the approved urban planning and/or territorial planning documentation, or (i) the particularities of the location (surface unsuitable for building purposes due to interdictions or encumbrances, protection zones for infrastructure facilities, land reserves for public interest investments etc.) do not allow the achievement of the investment, the investor may ask for an amendment of the provisions of the urban planning regulations in force for the respective area ( the procedure that the investor should follow is detailed below). However, please be advised that the new urban planning documentation containing the requested amendments can be approved by the authorities only after the expiration of a minimum period of 12 months as of the date the initial urban planning documentation was approved.
Therefore, in case an amendment of the urban planning documentations is requested through the urban certificate, the competent public authority is entitled to take one of the following actions:
(a) to reject such petition through a grounded response;
(b) to request the preparation of a PUZ only based on an opportunity study (as per provisions enacted in 2008) issued by a specialized commission headed by the chief architect and approved by the local council;
The mentioned opportunity study should provide an assessment with respect to the following aspects:
- the area which shall make the object of the PUZ;
- the category of use of the development and the potential encumbrances;
- mandatory regulations to be taken into consideration for the proposed
development or the necessary utilities infrastructure/equipments for public use;
The following amendments to the urban planning documentations can be instituted through a new PUZ: construction regime, the maximum permitted height, coefficient for land utilization – CUT, the maximum percentage of land occupation – POT7, the minimum and/or maximum surfaces of the parcels (for the case of parcelling projects).
Any amendments made by PUZ (drafted for an urban reference unit “UTR”8) to the PUG must ensure the coherence of both the UTR for which the new PUZ is to be approved and the neighbouring areas.
The new enacted amendments provide that, in case the proposed adjustment be related only to a specific UTR, the new approved CUT should not exceed the initial CUT with more than 20% per modification. The law appears to allow amendments brought to the CUT by a higher percentage only in case they are performed through different PUZs approved in this respect and provided that the term of minimum 12 months mentioned above is duly observed.
In exceptional cases due to justified technical grounds and to necessary urban reasons, the CUT may be amended with a higher percent through a new PUZ only at the initiative of the local public authority. The law does not expressly define the criteria (i.e. “technical grounds and necessary urban reasons”) grounding the authorisation of such CUT amendment and therefore one may construe that this decision is at the discretion of the competent public authorities. On the other hand, note should be made that the exceptional character of this provision is balanced with more flexible powers granted to the public authorities in charge with the coordination and corroboration of the urban specifics of the city.
(c) to request for the preparation of a PUD
The amendments allowed by a PUD refer only to the minimum and/or maximum dimensions and surfaces of the parcels (for the case of parcelling projects). Once approved, the PUG, PUZ or PUD, as the case may be, are enforceable and any investor that is dissatisfied with respect to the authorities’ responses contained in any urban certificate or approval of any building permit is entitled to go to court either to challenge such responses based on the approved and enforceable urban planning regulations or the implementation of the said urban planning regulations by the relevant authorities.
As a general comment, the new amendments of this year to the urbanism regulations are meant to ensure a more unitary development of the various areas located in the same city and provide coherence in relation to different real estate projects located in neighboring territories.
1 Any project initiated by an investor resulting from the process of developing (design and building) of a specific construction.
2 As a matter of principle, according to the Land Law and to the Constructions Law (i.e., Law no. 50/2001 regarding the urbanism and territorial facilities as subsequently amended and supplemented), all new constructions must be erected on intra-muros land; a construction may be permitted on extra-muros land only as an exception (such as constructions which may have an impact on the environment, or construction which by their nature, may not be located within the city limits).
3 Order no. 897/2005 issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development regarding the
removal of lands from agricultural circuit.
4 The General Norms of Urbanism approved by the Government Decision no. 525/1996 as subsequently
amended and supplemented;
5 The Local Norms of Urbanism, as referred hereinafter, shall mean the urbanistic norms issued by the
administrative units with respect to the territories falling under their administration.
6 Represents the ratio between the total spread-up area of all relevant buildings and the surface of the relevant land.
7 Represents the ratio between the ground level surface of the relevant building and the surface area of a particular land area (multiplied by 100 and therefore expressed in percentages).
8 Urban reference unit represents and urban area characterized by similar urban specifics; such UTR are specifically delimitated under the PUG of each city in Romania.