What Is the Purpose of Zoning?

What is it intended for? What goal does it serve? Experts say that zoning is essential, but it can also be confusing for most people.

So, we asked experts to discuss the purpose of zoning and why it exists:

Curtis Jackson

Curtis Jackson

Licensed Attorney | Head of Regulatory and Permitting, SnapADU

It promotes local control of how a city is developed

The primary reason for zoning is to promote local control of how a city is developed to reflect regional differences and preferences. For instance, towns next to the beach have different desires than cities in the desert or mountains.

Because of this, local governments control many zoning decisions, with some standards set forth by state governments.

A local city council or board of supervisors can implement zoning that is reflective of what residents desire. More often than not, this leads to more single-family residential zoning and open space and parks located away from industrial or commercial uses.

Additionally, city councils must look at how implemented zoning will impact traffic, views, noise, and the overall character of the community.

However, cities must still comply with state laws and therefore must provide for higher density housing and other various uses that local residents may not have high on their wishlists.

It is up to the city council to approve a zoning ordinance that both satisfies state laws and the desires of their constituents while carrying out policies laid out in the city’s approved General Plan.

Origins of Zoning & Land Use Regulations

To understand zoning and why it exists, it is important to start at the origin of land use and land use regulations. Zoning laws in significant cities originated with Los Angeles in 1904 and New York City in 1916.

In 1922-1924, the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, which gave states a model to enact their own zoning enabling laws, was approved and printed by Congress, laying the basic foundation for zoning regulations.

After that, states began drafting and implementing zoning laws/standards based on the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act. Today, Houston, Texas, remains the last large American city without a zoning ordinance.

In California, for example, all land was initially under the jurisdiction of the State of California at inception. Counties were then created to manage local areas, which was the beginning of local control.

After that, each county’s land was managed and zoned by that local County jurisdiction. Whenever a county desires to become a city, it must petition the state to become an incorporated or chartered city.

Until a city is incorporated, they are subject to the zoning and general plan rules of the county in which they are located. Once incorporated, the cities can implement their own local general plan and zoning code.

Matthew Paxton

Matthew Paxton

Founder and Owner, Hypernia

It manages and develops the property under the local government’s jurisdiction

Zoning is how the local government manages and develops the property under its jurisdiction. It is divided into several categories to balance a city’s land use and provide value to citizens who own property.

Zoning also aids in the preservation of the local environment and the maintenance of property values.

It controls private land use for the common good

The purpose of zoning is to control private land use for the common good. It establishes that private property owners’ interests must be weighed against the public’s interests.

“Zoning is the true force behind planning,” writes R. Robert Linowes and Don T. Allensworth, “and it is zoning that lends teeth to planning goals and aims. Planning as such cannot demand that land be utilized in a particular manner, but zoning can.”

It must serve a legitimate public purpose

Zoning must serve a legitimate public purpose and comply with a comprehensive plan that has been approved. All districts with comparable zoning categories must follow the same rules.

Zoning cannot be discriminatory or inconsistent. It cannot result in the “taking” of a property (as detailed later in this chapter) or the violation of other laws or constitutional requirements.

It is a tool used by city planners to build and grow a town

At its most basic level, zoning is a tool used by city planners to build and grow a town or hamlet into a city. A good city planner will consider the community’s primary industry, population, growth rate, and industrial requirements.

The planner can efficiently and successfully establish a balanced city by developing a city plan based on the different zoning classifications created by the state or county.

This guide will explain the difference in each zoning category, how zoning is decided, concerns that may come from the zoning changes, and the primary purpose of zoning itself.

Matthew Carter

Matthew Carter

Attorney, Inc and Go

It helps cities and towns plan and organize themselves

Zoning is how your local government decides the uses for a parcel of land. For example, your city might determine that a given piece of land is appropriate for a single-family home (residential zoning), a factory (industrial zoning), or a convenience store (retail zoning).

Zoning helps cities and towns plan and organize themselves. Almost no one would want to buy a house next to the airport. Thus, the city will make sure that an airport can only be built in a place where there aren’t many houses.

Zoning laws help the city do that and make the best use of the land within its boundaries. Zoning rules aren’t set in stone, and particular parcels of property may change over time.

Sometimes, if a landowner wants to use their property for something it isn’t zoned for, they must apply to the city for non-conforming use. Often, neighboring property owners will get the chance to weigh in on this application.

Mixed-use zoning is possible. Especially in densely populated urban areas, you may see zoning rules that permit more than one kind of use in the same zone (like residential and retail).

Rinal Patel

Rinal Patel

Licensed Realtor | Co-Founder, We Buy Philly Home

It promotes stable property values and neighborhood compatibility

Zoning regulations are created to make sure that the areas of a municipality are used to benefit the entire community.

Zoning is the process of dividing a municipality into zones, each with specific regulations regarding permitted and prohibited land uses.

For example, one zone might be designated for residential use, while another might be set aside for commercial businesses. Municipalities can ensure that each part of the community is utilized efficiently by zoning different areas for different purposes.

The purpose of zoning is to segregate conflicting land uses, protect public health and safety, and provide for the orderly development of a municipality.

It also provides building type density consistency and promotes stable property values and neighborhood compatibility.

Zoning ensures that all buildings meet minimum requirements like:

  • Access to roads
  • Availability of parking spaces

Zoning can limit adverse environmental effects on neighboring communities by restricting certain businesses from opening near homes or schools; it can also increase positive effects such as providing housing for people who live close to work, reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.

Stewart J. Guss

Stewart J. Guss

Attorney at Law | Owner, Stewart J Guss Injury Accident Lawyers

It makes a living in a region more convenient and safer

We don’t often think about zoning in our daily lives, but it explains a lot about how we live. In general, a city or town will be zoned for residential, commercial, and industrial.

However, there are other special categories like historic zoning for buildings of note and agricultural zoning if the region is more rural.

Establishing zoning laws helps ensure we don’t end up building a factory next to a nursing home or have a farm smack dab in the middle of a mall.

You may think these situations sound absurd, but cities can grow quickly, and developers always compete for space. Keeping homes, businesses, and other institutions zoned together makes a living in a region more convenient and safer.

Farhan Advani

Farhan Advani

Director Marketing, Buy Here Pay Here

It prevents land waste by dividing areas into specific uses

Zoning is necessary because it prevents land waste by dividing areas into specific uses. It also ensures that properties are used for their designated purposes and protects property values from increased development in a particular area, which can happen with uncontrolled construction.

Developments within zones have more significant restrictions on what can be constructed than developments outside them (e.g., no commercial use versus mixed-use).

As stated above, zoning is an integral part of planning that divides properties according to how they should be utilized through various regulations related to planning control documentation or design standards detailed in a document called “zonings.”

This process involves regulating where buildings may be built and defining acceptable heights and distances between structures so neighbors will not get disturbed by noise pollution while enjoying open spaces like parks or beaches nearby.

Cliff Auerswald

Cliff Auerswald

President, All Reverse Mortgage, Inc.

It helps maintain the local ecosystem

Zoning helps your local government regulate the land in your area. It may sound restrictive, but zoning is in the citizens’ best interest, as it means your next-door neighbors can’t build a megamall beside you without getting the city’s permission.

Consider not just the irritation that would bring, but the massive drop in your property’s value when you try to sell. Zoning also helps maintain the local ecosystem.

Though changing a property’s zone isn’t impossible, it creates an extra set of hoops property developers have to jump through before they can break ground.

This gives the local council time to consider the impact on the community for good or bad, and concerned citizens can bring their arguments for or against the council.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of zoning?

There are different types of zoning, including residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.

Residential zoning is used for housing and is usually divided into different density zones, such as low-density and high-density areas.

Commercial zoning is used for businesses and includes everything from retail stores to offices and hotels.

Industrial zoning is used for factories, warehouses, and other industrial uses.

Agricultural zoning is used for farming and other agricultural uses.

What are the most common challenges associated with zoning?

One of the main challenges associated with zoning is balancing the interests of different stakeholders.

For example, a zoning regulation that restricts development in a particular area may be supported by environmental groups but opposed by developers and property owners.

Another challenge is ensuring that zoning regulations are consistent with state and federal laws, such as fair housing laws and environmental regulations.

In addition, zoning can sometimes be subject to political pressures, as elected officials may be influenced by powerful interest groups or constituents.

How can communities get involved in the zoning process?

Community involvement is a critical component of the zoning process because it ensures that residents’ needs and concerns are considered.

There are several ways that communities can get involved in the zoning process, including:

• attending public meetings and hearings
• submitting public comments
• participating in community planning efforts

Attending public meetings and hearings is one of the most direct ways for community members to get involved in the zoning process. At these meetings, residents have the opportunity to learn about proposed changes and voice their opinions and concerns.

In addition, many cities and municipalities have established online portals where residents can submit public comments on proposed changes.

Another way for residents to get involved in the zoning process is through community planning efforts. These efforts can take many forms, including neighborhood associations, community development corporations, and advocacy groups.

By working together, residents can advocate for more inclusive and equitable zoning policies that reflect the needs and priorities of their communities.

How can technology be used to improve the zoning process?

Technology can play a significant role in improving the zoning process. For example, geographic information systems (GIS) can be used to map land use and development patterns, which can help policymakers and city planners make more informed decisions about zoning regulations.

In addition, online portals and interactive maps can make it easier for residents to access information about proposed changes and submit public comments.

Machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) can also be used to analyze public comments and feedback, providing policymakers with insights into community sentiment and concerns. This technology can help ensure that community feedback is taken into account when making zoning decisions.

Finally, blockchain technology can be used to increase transparency and accountability in the zoning process. By creating a public, decentralized ledger of zoning decisions and policies, blockchain can help ensure that decisions are made fairly and that residents have access to information about the zoning decision process.

As technology continues to advance, cities and municipalities must consider how they can incorporate these tools into the zoning process. By leveraging technology to improve transparency, community involvement, and decision-making, cities can create more equitable and sustainable communities for all residents.

What are some trends or changes happening in zoning today?

One trend in zoning today is the increasing use of form-based codes, which focus on the physical form and characteristics of a building or neighborhood rather than land use.

Form-based codes can help promote walkable and livable communities and increase flexibility in land use. There is also growing recognition of the need to address the impact of zoning on social and economic inequities, particularly in the areas of affordable housing and environmental justice.

Some cities are exploring new zoning models, such as community land trusts or inclusionary zoning, to promote greater equity in land use.

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