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Thread: Good, simple, easy-to-use land use regulations

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Good, simple, easy-to-use land use regulations

    I'm in the process of rewriting my town's zoning code, attempting to consolidate all land use regulations into one simple Plain English document. I'm incorporating plenty of illustrations and tables, and I'm testing one concept I've never seen elsewhere -- definitions for terms that are uses only in a particular section are in that section, not a specal "definitions" section. Pretty much, the code is set up like this ...

    The Development Code is intended to consolidate all the Town’s land use regulations into one plain English document that will be both comprehensive and easy to use. The Development Code is intended to answer all questions regarding development in the Town, including the following:

    Article 1 – Administration
    The big picture – how are these regulations administered and enforced?
    What process is used for a type of development activity?
    Who makes the decisions?
    How are the various boards and committees organized?
    How are violations resolved?
    What does being “grandfathered” mean? What rules apply to “grandfathered” uses and buildings?
    How is this code interpreted?

    Article 2 – Zoning and land use standards
    The big picture – what can I do on a property?
    What are the zoning districts? What is a PUD?
    What special standards apply in certain zoning districts?
    Where uses are permitted in a particular zoning district?
    What requirements apply to specific types of businesses or uses?
    What about externalities a use may cause, such as traffic, smoke, and noise?

    Article 3 – Site design standards
    The big picture – in what way should a specific site be developed?
    Where should buildings and other improvements be placed on a property?
    How much parking and loading is needed? How should it be configured?
    What site amenities are required?
    What should new structures look like?
    What landscaping is required? What is done about existing trees?
    What type of outdoor lighting is allowed?
    What type of signage is allowed?

    Article 4 – Subdivision standards
    The big picture – in what way should land be divided, and streets be laid out?
    How should lots be configured?
    How should streets be laid out?
    What is a preliminary plat? What is a final plat?
    How should lot drainage work?
    Are road improvements required?
    What is a construction improvement agreement?
    Where do easements and utility lines go?
    How are addresses and street names determined?

    Article 5 – Road design standards
    The big picture – how should individual streets be designed?
    How wide should streets be?
    How can streets be both safe and slow?
    How should streets be constructed?
    Where should sidewalks go?


    I'll have "Draft 0.1" complete for the next Planning Commission meeting, and I'm also going to give copies of the code to other area planning officials for a "smoke test," to find potential loopholes.

    There's hundreds of good zoning codes online, but I'm trying to seek out the rare code that is easy to understand amoung laypeople, written in Plain English (no legal jargon such as "said," "notwithstanding" and "aforementioned"), and relatively short. Ever see the "perfect zoning code" online?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2

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    The city of Detroit wrote a series of three interesting development manuals:

    http://www.ci.detroit.mi.us/plandevl/Default.htm

    Although they do not cover everything you want - it looks like they are intended as a guide to development in the city, they are worth a look.

  3. #3

    language

    That certainly seems like the big trend in ordinance crafting. And that is a good thing, but, you are not writing for people, you're writing for judges, and that is why legalesse is so stilted. It has to be completely unambiguous to careful and rigorous intellectual scrutiny, that and lawyers. I once had a section of ordinance ruled to be unconstitutionally broad and unenforceable, it was the general nuisance section, and while it was about 30-40 years old, it was the plainest and easiest to understand language in the whole book. A new section was written and passed muster by the same judge, you can see it in the Grant County ordinance linked below.

    I think the best regs I have seen are in the form of a very stripped down zoning ordinance, a big set of subdivision regs, and lots of development contracts. Lots and lots of contracts. In areas like Dan's I'd put the more colloquial language in the form of handouts and workbooks. Also, how you write forms for applications and form notice letters is big.

    I think that laws evolve regionally, in how lawyers write and judges read. You may want to stick close to other florida regs in their nomenclature and tone, but customize it to your towns own peculiarities.

    Try this site.
    http://grantcopz.com/index.htm

    Here is a one (web) page, single use, zoning ordinance for a small suburb of Cincinnati, I think.
    http://bellefonte.state.ky.us/planningzoning.htm

    By the way, does anyone think that is legal, limiting an entire municipality to a single land use, (residential)?

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Re: language

    Originally posted by Linden Smith
    I once had a section of ordinance ruled to be unconstitutionally broad and unenforceable, it was the general nuisance section, and while it was about 30-40 years old, it was the plainest and easiest to understand language in the whole book.
    I've heard the "precision" argument before, especially among lawyers and management types. Personally, I don't know why a sentence like ...

    All signs require permits, unless stated otherwise.

    is any less precise than ...

    No sign shall hereinafter be built, erected, constructed, put up, displayed, or exhibited unless a permit for the building, erection, construction, display, or exhibition of said sign is first obtained; notwithstanding, signs hereinafter designated as exempt from said permit requirements shall not require a permit for building, erection, construction, display, or exhibition of said sign.

    Here's my severability clause ...

    If any part of the Development Code is considered invalid, it will not affect the applicability of remaining provisions.

    Here's a typical severability clause I came across ...

    If any section, paragraph, sentence, clause, word or phrase of this Ordinance is for any reason whatsoever held to be invalid, unconstitutional, or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction, said decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining provisions of said Ordinance. The Council thus hereby and so declares that it would have passed said Ordinance and each section, paragraph, sentence, clause, word or phrase thereof irrespective of any provisions being declared unconstitutional or otherwise invalid.

    My personal goal to have everything -- charts, graphcs, photos, architectural and site design regulations, subdivision regs, street design regs, utility regs, indices, everything -- under 200 pages. Although my P&Z and Town Commission are intelligent folks, I don't want to burden them with a document that betrays the town's small size.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  5. #5
    I certainly agree with the objective, my problem with it is that your section of signs for example is not more precise, its all inclusive. Does that also mean real estate signs and banners towed by planes over a football game? Under that language, how are you going to tell a judge that you are not selectivly enforcing the ordinance with all those non-conformities in the community?

    How many people read the severability clause? Does this section need to speak to the layperson or to the readers who must interpret and implement those sections.

    Are you going to use photos to illustrate sections? That would go a long way to making things more open and apparent to a first time user of land use laws. It does bulk up the ordinance though.

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