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Thread: The basics of zoning or Zoning 101

  1. #1
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    The basics of zoning or Zoning 101

    As mentioned in another thread, I'm preparing a handout to provide a general understanding of basic zoning concepts. Remember, this is a non-planner group.

    What do you think so far? Comments? Additions? Deletions?

    Have at it and thanks for your critique.

    Basics of Zoning

    Definition – Zoning: The division of city or county property into districts for the purpose of defining, directing, regulating, and limiting the development and use of land.

    Purpose and Administration

    • To implement the goals, objectives, and policies of the Comprehensive Plan.
    • Safeguard public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly development of land and land uses.
    • Identify responsibilities and procedures for administration of the zoning ordinance.
    • Provides for relief from the zoning ordinance where literal application would cause practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship to property owners.
    • Establish procedures for amendments to the zoning ordinance.

    How Zoning Works

    • A zoning ordinance consists of two parts: a map and text.
    • The map illustrates how a jurisdiction is divided into different use districts or zones. The most common zone districts include residential, commercial, industrial, and agriculture.
    • Residential districts are often broken down into zones for single-family and multi-family dwelling use types. Similar sub-zones are created for commercial and industrial zones based on intensity of use such as neighborhood commercial and more intense general commercial.
    • The zoning map shows the precise boundaries of the various zone districts. The district boundaries typically correspond to property lines, streets, or natural physical boundaries (i.e., streams, bayous, lakes, etc.).
    • The zoning district must be consistent with and implement the Comprehensive Plan land use map category.

    • The zoning text serves several functions. It lists the land uses permitted as a matter-of-right, conditional uses, and prohibited uses in each zone district.
    • Establishes bulk regulations for each district (maximum allowed building height, mini-mum required building setbacks from property lines, maximum allowed site coverage, and minimum required off-street parking).
    • The text establishes development standards for special uses such as home occupations, mobile home parks, and recreational vehicle parks.
    • The text contains sign regulations to promote uniform standards for location and to promote aesthetics.
    • The text also contains environmental standards to provide for the protection and conservation of significant natural resources.
    • To promote orderly and efficient patterns of new development, the zoning text also establishes the minimum standards for the subdivision of land including on-site improvements, stormwater control, utilities, and plat recordation.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Commie!

    It sounds good although lay people may not know what a comp plan is. Can you simplify it even more, maybe throw something about protecting property values (people love that!)

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Looks good so far, but if this is be persons invovled in enforcement of zoning then I think you need to accompany it with a "Zoning Practice and Implementation 101" course.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  4. #4
    Definition – Zoning: The division of city or county property into districts for the purpose of defining, directing, regulating, and limiting the development and use of land.
    I know what you mean, but this sentence makes it sound like zoning only applies to municipal properties. Perhaps "the division of property within a city or county" would work better.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Is it worth injecting a sentence that explains WHY municipalities zone? Something about separating uses for the protection of the people's health safety and welfare?

    I think this is important because the rationale serves as the underpinning for determining what zoning goes where and also in reviewing applications. For a lay audience, it may help to know the reason behind zoning so it doesn't just seem like the municipalities are butting their heads into peoples' business without cause.

    Otherwise - nice and succinct! Well done.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    I think you should emphasize that zoning is only one legal tool in the planners 'tool kit". We also have subdivision regulations, form based codes, design guidelines, building codes, etc., etc. that help us create community form.

    And how about some history? Legal under the police power? Why is zoning important to know about?

    And how might you be allowed to vary from the zoning ordinance?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I thought the synopsis looked pretty good, too, but like someone else said most non-planners may not understand what is meant by Comp Plan ... also, I thought it was still a little on the "technical" side in terms of some of the language used.

    Is this something for other city staff that work with planners but aren't planners, or is it something for lay-people who have zero experience with zoning?

    If the latter, you might need to look for ways to take some of the technical language out, and (boy I hate using this phrase) - "dumb it down" just a hair more.

    (Maybe call it "Zoning for Dummies" if the latter ... JOKING!)

  8. #8
    One very minor suggestion: zoning is not used to just limit development, but also to encourage development (such as when a city zones for industry in an effort to bring in jobs - this may not be something your community does though)

  9. #9
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Thanks for all your great suggestions. I appreciate the feedback. The Man commented that it was good stuff...for one unit of first semester, undergrad planning student.

    Quote Originally posted by Gatrgal93 View post
    ....Is this something for other city staff that work with planners but aren't planners, or is it something for lay-people who have zero experience with zoning?

    If the latter, you might need to look for ways to take some of the technical language out, and (boy I hate using this phrase) - "dumb it down" just a hair more....
    My presentation is for staff that work with us but are not planners. The Man came down to my office this afternoon and instructed me to "dumb it down" base on our audience of building inspectors and code compliance officers (sorry, building inspectors and code compliance officers).

    If you're interested, I'll post the final version later. Thanks again.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Deadline?

    How much time do we have to get you glaring photographic examples of why building inspectors need to check foundations and fire breaks, and why code enforcement tags encroachments and improper storage (just to pick a few)?

    In your accompanying discussion, I'd use the examples of traffic laws. Speed limits and traffic signals are there for good reasons, and rather than taking away people's freedoms, they enhance everyone's quality of life. Parking a boat in the front yard (one of my old code jobs) is not dangerous per se, but it affects neighbors and other residents.

    HTH

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Great elevatory introductory to what zoning is and it's importance. Contains the overall ideas and purposes without going into too much detail. Once completed please post, I'd like to use it to teach my director about zoning.

  12. #12
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Ya'll gave great suggestions but I couldn't use them all.

    Here's where we are at this point.

    Basics of Zoning

    Definition – Zoning: The division of property in a city or county into districts for the purpose of defining, directing, regulating, and limiting the development and use of land.

    Purpose and Administration

    • Safeguard public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly development of land and land uses.
    • Protecting property values by separating incompatible land uses.
    • Identify responsibilities and procedures for administration of the zoning ordinance.
    • Provides for relief from the zoning ordinance where literal application would cause practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship to property owners.
    • Establish procedures for amendments to the zoning ordinance.

    How Zoning Works

    • A zoning ordinance consists of two parts: a map and text.
    • The map illustrates how a jurisdiction is divided into different use districts or zones. The most common zone districts include residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.
    • Residential districts are often broken down into zones for single-family and multi-family dwelling use types. Similar sub-zones are created for commercial and industrial zones based on intensity of use such as neighborhood commercial (convenience stores, hair salons, dry cleaners, etc.), and more intense general commercial (wholesale trade, warehousing, large format retail buildings, etc.).
    • The zoning map shows the precise boundaries of the various zone districts. The district boundaries typically correspond to property lines, streets, or natural physical boundaries (i.e., streams, bayous, lakes, etc.).

    • The zoning text serves several functions. It lists the land uses permitted as a matter-of-right, conditional uses (uses that may be allowed based on certain conditions), and prohibited uses in each zone district.
    • Establishes bulk regulations for each zone district (maximum allowed building height, minimum required building setbacks from property lines, maximum allowed site coverage, and minimum required off-street parking).
    • The text establishes development standards for special uses such as home occupations, mobile home parks, and recreational vehicle parks.
    • The text contains sign regulations to promote uniform standards for location and to promote community aesthetics.
    • The text also contains environmental standards to provide for the protection and conservation of significant natural resources.
    • To promote orderly and efficient patterns of new development, the zoning text also establishes the minimum standards for the subdivision of land including on-site improvements, stormwater control, utilities, and plat recordation procedures.

    Identifying a Zoning Violation

    If you suspect a potential zoning violation, your initial focus should be on use. What use is occurring on the property? Is the use allowed by the zoning ordinance on this property? For example, has a single-family dwelling been converted to a duplex in a zone district that only allows single-family dwellings? In this example, that’s a change of use in violation of the zoning ordinance.

    Next, does the use exceed the bulk standards? Is the maximum site coverage exceeded? Is permitted work being constructed in accordance with approved plans so that the correct setback from property lines is provided and does not exceed the maximum allowed height? These also constitute zoning violations.

    Also important to note that notwithstanding the proposed use of a property, the bulk standards for the zone district where the property is located will apply. For instance, if a developer is constructing a Neighborhood Commercial use on a parcel that is in the General Commercial zone district, the development must comply with the bulk standards of the General Commercial district, not the less restrictive Neighborhood Commercial standards.

    Finally, when conducting an inspection or investigation, take a broad view of the property and avoid only focusing on the original purpose of your site visit. For example, are other activities occurring on the property that need permits such as grading or site clearing? These are also indicators of a zoning violation.
    I know the last four paragraphs are weak.

    I'd appreciate any feedback. Thanks.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Hey I'm late and off-topic a little but in these kinds of discussions we are often confronted with questions about why we exist at all (I am, anyway). Why does the government see a need to "do zoning" and "mess with my property rights". I've found that it's a quick analogy to the second amendment helps people get their heads around why zoning exists; "I have a right to bear arms, but that doesn't mean I get to just shoot people." That's graphic enough that almost everyone "gets it".

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by southsideamy View post
    I think you should emphasize that zoning is only one legal tool in the planners 'tool kit". We also have subdivision regulations, form based codes, design guidelines, building codes, etc., etc. that help us create community form.

    And how about some history? Legal under the police power? Why is zoning important to know about?

    And how might you be allowed to vary from the zoning ordinance?
    Great points. In fact, if a town does not currently have conventional zoning, it might be much better to simply develop a basic set of form based codes, rather than employ conventional zoning. But I digress. Here is how I would explain conventional zoning to people:

    *a set of tools that allows politically well connected developers to rezone your land for whatever use they want it for, thereby devaluing your property to virtually nothing
    *originating in pre-Nazi Germany as an outgrowth of the authoritarian movement in Europe
    *used by urban planners across America to break down Traditional Neighborhood Developments and Town Centers in order to create suburban sprawl
    *minimum parking requirements to ensure that otherwise useful buildings fall into non-conformance, thereby ensuring that they cannot be put to highest and best use, resulting in wholesale neglect of all of those shops and buildings on Main St.
    *guarantees that people working in industrial areas will have to drive half way across town at unsafe speeds in order to grab some fast food, scarfing it all down on the way back during their lunch "hour" (actually about 25 minutes)
    *ensures that every busy body with a "new idea" will be able to wreak unholy havoc on your small town, with no clear clues to residents as to what the actual cause of these problems are
    *maximizes the headaches that local business owners and homeowners will have to deal with when they try to open up a print shop or ebay store out of their existing business
    *minimizes that chances that buildings will be put to highest and best use
    *outlaws anything nice looking
    *destroys historic districts, making them illegal and non-conforming
    *eats up planning time that could be put to better use--like actual planning
    *helps to create a more complex and confusing "flow chart" that cannot be followed by outsiders--or even locals

    This might better help locals understand conventional zoning and what "benefits" it has to offer

  15. #15
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Thanks, edit, your comments are very helpful.
    I'm in a community that just got their heads around traditional zoning. Just because of the development of form based codes, you think Euclidean zoning is going away anytime soon?

    Close the thread, I don't need help like this. I'll do it my on damn dumb way.
    Last edited by mendelman; 11 Jan 2010 at 9:32 AM.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    I'm dead serious. Form Based Codes have been around since the dawn of civilization, in one from or another. They work much better, and I would not even consider implementing conventional zoning in a town that did not already have it--knowing the great number of problems that are caused (some intentional, like the creation of suburban sprawl, intended to get drivers to pass more businesses, getting them to shop more, etc) by Euclidean Zoning. If your residents are dead set on having any zoning policies, you should be speaking with them about the simpler, more sensible form based codes, not euclidean zoning.

    I am not getting in to the ideological arguments for or against zoning, but trying to provide some insight into the issues surrounding this.

    Honestly, I would liken conventional zoning to a five kiloton nuclear device. Instead of destroying your downtown area in an instant, conventional zoning does this kind of damage slowly over the course of decades. People who simply migrate through usually don't care about the long term damage being done, but the long time natives see all of the chain restaurants and big box stores coming in--and local businesses going under. They see the traffic and the cheap types of development that come in. How can people with degrees and seminars under their belt convince the locals that all of this is good when clearly it isn't.

  17. #17
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by maxxoccupancy View post
    I'm dead serious. Form Based Codes have been around since the dawn of civilization, in one from or another. .....(sic)....
    Of course!! How could I have been so careless in my understanding of the history of form based codes. I believe The Code of Hammurabi addresses this issue; somewhere in the 220's, if I recall. It goes something like this:

    "If a builder construct for someone, and does not construct it properly, then that builder shall have his arms bound and cast into the water."

    There it is, form based code from the dawn of civilization.

    I regret starting this thread and I will not return.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Good luck, bud.

    For everyone else, formbasedcodes.org is a good starting point.

  19. #19
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    We'll leave the thread open for now, RJ, becuase it is generally useful, but max - tone it down. Your thread hijack is unnecessary and you should have created your own separate thread.

    Plus, your behavior is very one-trick pony-ish:

    2.11 Single issue posters / one-trick ponies
    The Forums are not intended to furnish people with a venue for single-mindedly promoting their personal agenda. Staff may ask users to limit or refrain from posting on a certain topic.


    If it becomes common from you, it can result in a one way ticket to the City of Banning.

    Please stay on topic and all will be well.
    Last edited by mendelman; 11 Jan 2010 at 5:38 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I know the last four paragraphs are weak. I'd appreciate any feedback. Thanks.
    Actually, RJ, I thought the last four paragraphs were fairly useful. I didn't get the impression you were trying to be all-inclusive of everything a code compliance officer would be looking for, but rather that you were setting up a general approach to visiting a site that (probably) has a complaint against it and reviewing it for a possible violation. You couldn't possibly list every little thing they could look for, and really it isn't necessary.

    Maybe this hand-out could be part of a one-hour lunch and learn type thing that you lead? After you discuss the items in the last four paragraphs, you could do Q&A with the audience - maybe they can give you some field scenarios they have experienced and then discuss the issues that were relevant with the property.

    The top part of the discussion worked fine I thought, too. The language seemed very understandable and pretty easy to follow both for planners and non-planners. Good job in my opinion.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    I've read and heard countless "implement conventional zoning and your town will look wonderful" arguments for years. Taking all of Main Street and painting it red on a zoning map does not produce the results that people think it will. Where is the warning label on the zoning primer. It's much like watching one of those 1950's promo vids about the "miracle of the atom," as though there is no potential downside.

    Bottom line, no primer on zoning should be produced without a healthy dose of warning labels. WARNING: Conventional zoning may lead to suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, high housing costs, and devaluation of commercial property.

    Can you imagine reading a article on nuclear power or nuclear weapons that did not include some warnings about radioactivity?

    Sorry if I sometimes go overboard with that.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 15 Jan 2010 at 8:33 AM. Reason: double reply

  22. #22
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I wasn't go to do this.

    maxxo, will you please go back and read the thread from the top. Hint: You eat the elephant one bite at a time. But I'm sure the good citizens of New Hampshire have unquestionably embraced your theory of the perfect set of development regulations.

    Spend some time in the trenches then talk to me.


    I'm really done this time.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Yes, the OP is developing a handout for the masses on the basics of zoning. I am attempting to maintain, in peoples' minds, the importance of understanding consequences. Some types of development are clearly bad, but conventional zoning doesn't stop the bad. If anything, the end result can be serious devaluation of commercial properties (those along busy roads), resulting in franchises, big box stores, apartment clusters, and chain stores because nothing else can develop in those areas.

    It's like bringing a bomb into a trouble spot somewhere in the world and saying, "Hey, here's this nuclear device. You can use it to help defend your country."

    Oops, maybe we should have warned them not to test that out in their town center, but oh well.

  24. #24
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    maxx - I will say this only once.

    If you want to continue enlightening us with your opinion about the horrors of conventional zoning - fine - but start a new thread and discuss it there.

    Quit hijacking this thread. If you continue the hijack, even one more post, I will give you a nice suspension from cyburbia (length to be determined).

    thank you
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Moderator note:
    maxx - I will say this only once.

    If you want to continue enlightening us with your opinion about the horrors of conventional zoning - fine - but start a new thread and discuss it there.

    Quit hijacking this thread. If you continue the hijack, even one more post, I will give you a nice suspension from cyburbia (length to be determined).

    thank you
    [stands up while golf-clapping]

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