Entitlement Process

Dear Management Doctor:

Your reply to Waiving Fees sparked a question I've had for a long time about the roots of the term "entitlement process." The word "entitlement" often carries a negative connotation and politicians as of late have worked very hard to make "entitlement programs" a dirty word. Does the land development term "entitlement process" have roots related to land title? Or did the development community coin the phrase because they felt that local government had a sense of entitlement when it comes to the planning, zoning and permitting process and fees?

I generally have heard the term "entitlement process" used by developers and their representatives but have not heard the term used by planning departments. Do planning departments commonly use the term "entitlement process?" With the negative connotation of the word "entitlement" should we be trying to rebrand the process to a name that is more positive?

Benjamin Jordan
University of Wisconsin - Madison

College of Engineering

Dear Benjamin:

Many planning departments use the term “entitlement process.” I don’t know when this started but it is very common. Look up the word on Google and you will see what I mean. Below are a few comments I found on my search:

  • The definition of entitlement with regard to land development is the legal method of obtaining approvals for the right to develop property for a particular use. The entitlement process is complicated, time consuming and can be costly, but knowing what you can and can't do with a piece of property is vital to determining the real estate feasibility of your project.
  • An entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation. A "right" is itself an entitlement associated with a moral or social principle, such that an "entitlement" is a provision made in accordance with legal framework of a society. Typically, entitlements are laws based on concepts of principle ("rights") which are themselves based in concepts of social equality or enfranchisement.
  •  In land development, the entitlement process is the legal method of obtaining approvals for the right to develop property for a desired use (e.g. rezoning).
  • The act or process of entitling.The state of being entitled.A government program that guarantees and provides benefits to a particular group: "fights . . . to preserve victories won a generation ago, like the Medicaid entitlement for the poor" (Jason DeParle).

The Management Doctor


Reader Response

We have always used the term reluctantly since it connotes permanence. Zoning and other land use "entitlements" can, with due process, change over time.

Bruce Kistler
City of Lakeland, FL

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