Rebecca Pezzatto  /   09/15/2021

Understanding Zoning

We’ve all heard about zoning, but once you start to dive in, it can be a bit overwhelming–at first. In this post, we’ll give you a primer on what it is and how to figure out what your property is zoned. This way you can be one step closer to jumpstarting your next build. You may be asking, “Why does zoning matter?” The answer to this is because it directly impacts our lives, in more ways than most realize. Zoning is a set of codes that influence everything in a city, from signage to building heights. Understanding zoning codes is key to understanding how US cities work. In this article, we’re going to break the concept down, with everything you need to know about it.

What is zoning?

Zoning is a set of regulations that determine the use of land within a municipality. These rules divide a city into different districts or zones. They’re mostly separated from each other, which controls specific restrictions. Some include what can be built in certain areas, the purpose of the land, what type of uses of land are allowed, and how tall a building can be.

The zoning code consists of two basic parts: the map and the text. The map shows the location and type of the zoning districts. The text describes the different land use zones, what uses are allowed and aren’t allowed, density standards, development standards, and the administration of the process.

What are the zoning laws and how do they work?

Zoning laws are rules that define how property can be used in specific geographic zones. These regulate the details of whether specific geographic zones are acceptable for residential or commercial purposes and other types of zoning districts. Zoning laws can also regulate details of construction. Such as the limit of maximum height of buildings in an area. It can also regulate lot size, placement, and density of structures.

Zoning laws can impact and influence housing prices when purchasing a property. Based on how many limits are set, it can have a direct effect on the prices of real estate. For example, zoning will protect and promote property values. Such as in a developed area with defined rules and a growing and stable population. This happens because if the supply is stable, property values will be protected. If the demand increases, property prices will rise.

Understanding zoning codes/types of districts

The types of zoning codes can differ depending on the city. But generally, every city has the same basic types of districts:

Residential: A city usually will have multiple residential districts that can vary depending on the type of residence. Residential zoning can include Single Family Residences (SFR), Suburban Homesteads (SH), and any number of other designations. These can include homes, apartments, condominiums, trailer parks, etc.

Commercial: Commercial zoning has various categories that depend on the use of the property. It can include office buildings, restaurants, retail, hotels, nightclubs, etc. There can be rules regarding the proximity of certain types of businesses to others.

Industrial: Industrial zoning can also be specific to the type of business. The area where it can be located depends on environmental factors such as noise concerns and industrial use. It also depends on the floor area ratio and building height as well.

There can be more types of zoning in a city. Some are Agricultural (farming industries), Rural (farms and ranches), Historic (homes and buildings over 50 years old), Institutional (museums, libraries, schools, churches, public facilities), and Open Space (parks, playgrounds). These groups of districts can be used in multiple combinations.

How to find out what a property is zoned

Zoning laws and zoning maps are public records. To find out what a property is zoned as, contact a local zoning office, city hall. Other local planning boards and ask for a copy of the local ordinance can also help. In some communities, zoning maps and ordinances can be found online and in local libraries. In other places, information can be requested through email or phone when providing a legal description of the property in question. 

How to rezone a property

From time to time, a municipality’s needs can change. That means some areas of the town will need to be rezoned. How a property is rezoned will vary depending on the area. The proposed changes are usually considered by a planning commission that determines what’s the best choice for the city. 

The process of rezoning a property can vary from city to city. Rezoning allows for a different use than what it’s currently allowed. The best approach is to ask for the right steps from the local government.

Alternatively, if you are unable to officially rezone a parcel, you can look for a “variance”. These are given on a case-by-case basis. Variance allows the owner of the parcel to use the land in a way that would not be formally allowed by the zoning district it lies in. Contacting the county, town, or city in which your parcel is located will lead you down the path to obtaining a variance from that specific municipality.

Looking into buying property or is a recent landowner? Be sure to check out our Learn articles for more helpful tips.

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