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Thread: Short and effective zoning ordinances?

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Short and effective zoning ordinances?

    Does anyone have any examples of short and effective Zoning Ordinances? I recently reviewed an RFP for a community that feels that their regular ZO does not have enough “Teeth” to be effective. It is several hundred pages, has way too many zoning districts, and is broken into too many sections. It even includes setback regulations for dog houses.
    I have seen some great examples out there of simple where a single page lists quite a bit of information for a particular district, but they have 20 districts and the book is still several hundred pages.

    I am looking for examples that have undergone a less is more approach, have uniform regulations for many things across multiple districts, and is short enough that the average guy on the street can read it from cover to cover in an afternoon before he designs a garage or a deck. If the regulations are short, simple and the book is set up to address the needs of the community without being over regulatory, wouldn't that result in better development and a simpler process for everyone?

    Edit*** I am looking for something other than a form based code example.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    If the regulations are short, simple and the book is set up to address the needs of the community without being over regulatory, wouldn't that result in better development and a simpler process for everyone?
    Isn't "better development" a result of several contributing factors, many of which are outside of and unrelated to the influence of a community's zoning ordinance?

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    If you're looking for a way to simply cut down on the bulky size of the ordinance, I'd start with reformatting as much as you can into tables. This is a big reason the form-based codes appear shorter while still getting a lot of information in--putting it in a better format and keeping lawyers away from the legalistic writing process.

    Also, are you just talking about a pure zoning ordinance, or does it include development standards, site design, architectural stuff, signs, etc. as well? Are they trying to create a flexible ordinance, but unwilling to yield administrative discretion to staff in order to do so (generally speaking, more administrative discretion = shorter ordinance, but your ZBOA may get busier with appeals of administrative decisions)? All of that influences the bulk and formatting of an ordinance. Procedural requirements in zoning ordinances are also notorious for chewing up pages, but in many respects are unavoidable. My city has a unified development code that appears a bit long, but it replaces a ton of other ordinances.

    I wouldn't focus as much on length as I would on content--it can be long provided it is understandable. I've seen short ordinances that are just as convoluted as what you describe, but I've also seen long ordinances that are worded in a way that make the document far more approachable for a layperson and less intimidating. And of course the opposite holds true.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    What Suburb Repairman said. Also, you can write a legally defensible code with no legalese. (I've done it!) If the plain English term means the same thing as the term of legal art, it has the same standing in court. Example: "up to 30 feet", "30 feet or less", or even "≤30'" rather than "shall absolutely in no case be greater than thirty (30) feet".

    A lot of zoning ordinances hard-code submittal requirements, internal review procedures, forms, and other administrative tasks that can otherwise be guided by policies that are separate from the code.

    Reduce the number of different uses to the bare minimum necessary.

    Often zoning districts are exactly the same, but one exists just for a very limited, unique condition; for example, a normal R-1, and a R-1L that accounts for steep slopes along a lakefront and permits detached garages closer to the road. In that case, I'd consolidate the districts, and include the steep slope provisions of the R-1L district in the remaining district.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I was reminded of this thread when I happened upon the Development Guidelines for Victoria, Texas, one of the few remaining cities in the US that's part of the No Zoning Club. Printed out, it would probably be about four or five pages long. It establishes bulk/setback and residential density standards, but doesn't regulate use.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian
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    Recife, Brazil claims to have the world's simplest zoning code.

    The legal code only has two provisions in it:
    1) 2 floor height limit
    2) a maximum lot size of 150 m2

    Variances from this are permitted through covenants between a buyer and seller of land, and subject to a public safety and welfare consent from the city, which, effectively means that the city functions like some jurisdictions in Texas, but with the one basic zoned typology, which basically amounts to a 2 story row- or shop-house, as a basis. There are absolutely no use regulations.

    This being said, the Recife comp plan is a couple hundred pages long, as de jure authority, and contains lots of "health and safety" requirements that amount to land-use controls, although there is no use differentiation.. just along list of things that you can't do, apparently anywhere in the city.

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I was reminded of this thread when I happened upon the Development Guidelines for Victoria, Texas, one of the few remaining cities in the US that's part of the No Zoning Club. Printed out, it would probably be about four or five pages long. It establishes bulk/setback and residential density standards, but doesn't regulate use.
    The funniest thing about Victoria is that it actually does have a comprehensive plan, Victoria 2025. It just doesn't have the legal authority to guide development toward compliance with the intentions of that plan or its development guidelines with respect to use. since it not only lacks a zoning ordinance, I believe its charter prohibits land-use regulation of any type, or at least it used to. I'm not even sure if those guidelines can be legally binding if they're tested, even though they don't touch on use.

    As for the most "effective" short zoning code, the surprisingly modern but 450 year old Law of the Indies is still the standard, I would assume, since it continues to underlay land-use control and regulation throughout Latin and South America. It has 148 provisions - each one or two sentences long, specifying use, parcelization, parcel dimensioning, envelope, utility/infrastructure, egress/right of way, and, for the central plaza only, urban design, controls. It also specifies processes, required review, and discretionary authorities.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 01 Feb 2013 at 11:26 AM.

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