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, thats 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.