Zoning is a device of land-use planning used by local governments in most developed countries. The word is derived from the practice of designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one set of land uses from another. Zoning may be use-based (regulating the uses to which land may be put), or it may regulate building height, lot coverage, and similar characteristics, or some combination of these. Similar urban planning methods have dictated the use of various areas for particular purposes in many cities from ancient times.
Theoretically, the primary purpose of zoning is to segregate uses that are thought to be incompatible. In practice, zoning is used to prevent new development from interfering with existing residents or businesses and to preserve the "character" of a community. Zoning is commonly controlled by local governments such as counties or municipalities, though the nature of the zoning regime may be determined or limited by state or national planning authorities or through enabling legislation. In Australia, land under the control of the Commonwealth (federal) government is not subject to state planning controls. The United States and other federal countries are similar. Zoning and urban planning in France and Germany are regulated by national or federal codes. In the case of Germany this code includes contents of zoning plans as well as the legal procedure.
Zoning may include regulation of the kinds of activities which will be acceptable on particular lots (such as open space, residential, agricultural, commercial or industrial), the densities at which those activities can be performed (from low-density housing such as single family homes to high-density such as high-rise apartment buildings), the height of buildings, the amount of space structures may occupy, the location of a building on the lot (setbacks), the proportions of the types of space on a lot, such as how much landscaped space, impervious surface, traffic lanes, and whether or not parking is provided. In Germany, zoning usually includes building design, very specific greenspace and compensation regulations. The details of how individual planning systems incorporate zoning into their regulatory regimes varies though the intention is always similar. For example, in the state of Victoria, Australia, land use zones are combined with a system of planning scheme overlays to account for the multiplicity of factors that impact on desirable urban outcomes in any location.
Basically, urban zones fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial and special (e. g. power plants, sports complexes, airports, shopping malls etc.). Each category can have a number of sub-categories, for example, within the commercial category there may be separate zones for small-retail, large retail, office use, lodging and others, while industrial may be subdivided into heavy manufacturing, light assembly and warehouse uses. In Germany, each category has a designated limit for noise emissions (not part of the building code, but federal emissions code). In the United States or Canada, for example, residential zones can have the following sub-categories:
- Residential occupancies containing sleeping units where the occupants are primarily transient in nature, including: boarding houses, hotels, motels
- Residential occupancies containing sleeping units or more than two dwelling units where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature, including: apartment houses, boarding houses, convents, dormitories.
- Residential occupancies where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature and not classified as Group R-1, R-2, R-4 or I, including: buildings that do not contain more than two dwelling units, adult care facilities for five or fewer persons for less than 24 hours.
- Residential occupancies where the buildings are arranged for occupancy as residential care/assisted living facilities including more than five but not more than 16 occupants.
Conditional zoning allows for increased flexibility and permits municipalities to respond to the unique features of a particular land use application. Uses which might be disallowed under current zoning, such as a school or a community center can be permitted via conditional use zoning.
Economic Explanation of Population Density Regulations
Rothwell and Massey suggests homeowners and business interests are the two key players in density regulations that emerge out of a political economy. They propose that in older states where rural jurisdictions are primary composed of homeowners, it is the narrow interests of homeowner to block development because tax rates are lower in rural areas, and taxation is more likely to fall on the median homeowner. Business interests are unable to counteract the homeowners interests in rural areas because business interests are weaker and business ownership is rarely controlled by people living outside the community. This translates into rural communities that have a tendency to resist development by using density regulations to make business opportunities less attractive. On the other hand, in areas that are primarily metropolitan, taxation is unlikely to affected by new development because of economies of scale. In these areas, infrastructure costs have largely already been accounted for. Business interests benefit from the increased demand for services and also help to share the burden of taxation which makes increased population density less detrimental to current residents.
Under the police power rights, state governments may exercise over private real property. With this power, special laws and regulations have long been made restricting the places where particular types of business can be carried on. In 1916, New York City adopted the first zoning regulations to apply city-wide as a reaction to The Equitable Building which towered over the neighboring residences, diminishing the availability of sunshine. These laws set the pattern for zoning in the rest of the country. New York City went on to develop ever more complex regulations, including floor-area ratio regulations, air rights and others for specific neighborhoods.
The constitutionality of zoning ordinances was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1926 case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co..
Early zoning practices were subtle and often debated. Some claim the practices started in the 1920s while others suggest the birth of zoning occurred in New York in 1916. Both of these examples for the start of zoning, however, were urban cases. Zoning becomes an increasing legal force as it continues to expand in its geographical range through its introduction in other urban centres and use in larger political and geographical boundaries. Regional zoning was the next step in increased geographical size of areas under zoning laws. A major difference between urban zoning and regional zoning was that "regional areas consequently seldom bear direct relationship to arbitrary political boundaries". This form of zoning also included rural areas which was counter-intuitive to the theory that zoning was a result of population density. Finally, zoning also expanded again but back to a political boundary again with state zoning.
Zoning types in the United States
Zoning codes have evolved over the years as urban planning theory has changed, legal constraints have fluctuated, and political priorities have shifted. The various approaches to zoning can be divided into four broad categories: Euclidean, Performance, Incentive, and form-based.
Named for the type of zoning code adopted in the town of Euclid, Ohio, and approved in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co. Euclidean zoning codes are the most prevalent in the United States. Euclidean zoning is characterized by the segregation of land uses into specified geographic districts and dimensional standards stipulating limitations on development activity within each type of district. Advantages include relative effectiveness, ease of implementation, long-established legal precedent, and familiarity. However, Euclidean zoning has received criticism for its lack of flexibility and institutionalization of now-outdated planning theory.
Also known as "effects-based planning", performance zoning uses performance-based or goal-oriented criteria to establish review parameters for proposed development projects. Performance zoning is intended to provide flexibility, rationality, transparency and accountability, avoiding the arbitrariness of the Euclidean approach and better accommodating market principles and private property rights with environmental protection. Difficulties included a requirement for a high level of discretionary activity on the part of the supervising authority. Performance zoning has not been widely adopted in the USA.
First implemented in Chicago and New York City, incentive zoning is intended to provide a reward-based system to encourage development that meets established urban development goals. Typically, the method establishes a base level of limitations and a reward scale to entice developers to incorporate the desired development criteria. Incentive zoning allows a high degree of flexibility, but can be complex to administer.
Form-based codes offer considerably more flexibility in building uses than do Euclidean codes. Form-based zoning regulates not the type of land use, but the form that land use may take. For instance, form-based zoning in a dense area may insist on low setbacks, high density, and pedestrian accessibility.
Criticism of zoning laws in the United States
Much criticism of zoning laws comes from those who see the restrictions as a violation of property rights. It has been argued that zoning boards and city councils can too easily strip property owners of their right to unencumbered use of their land.
Along with potential property right infringements, zoning has also been criticized as a means to promote social and economic segregation through exclusion. These exclusionary zoning measures artificially maintain high housing costs through various land-use regulations such as maximum density requirements. Thus, lower income groups deemed undesirable are effectively excluded from the given community. "Although markets allocate people to housing based on income and price, political decisions allocate housing of different prices to different neighbourhoods and thereby turn the market into a mechanism for class segregation."(Rothwell and Massey 2010, p. 1141)
Examples of class or income segregation in the United States can be seen by comparing poverty rates in the central city and the suburbs in the West, the South, the Northeast, and the Midwest. The Northeast and the Midwest have more restrictive anti-density regulations and thus have higher poverty in the city than the suburbs. On the other hand, the West and the South have more relaxed anti-density regulations and thus have higher poverty in the suburbs than the central city.
While the main goal of zoning is not racial segregation, there is a very strong case that zoning encourages racial segregation. A strong relationship exists between an areas allowance of building housing at higher density and racial integration between blacks and whites in the United States. The relationship between segregation and density is explained by Rothwell and Massey as the restrictive density zoning producing higher housing prices in white areas and limiting opportunities for people with modest incomes to leave segregated areas. Between 1980 to 2000, racial integration occurred faster in areas that did not have strict density regulations than those that did.
It has also been argued that zoning laws work against economic efficiency and hinder development in a free economy. Poor zoning restriction can, hinder the optimal efficient usage of a given area. Even without zoning restrictions, a landfill, for example, would likely gravitate to cheaper land and not a residential area. Also, strict zoning laws can get in the way of creative developments like mixed-use buildings and can even stop harmless activities like yard sales.
In France, zoning by income instead of with mixed occupation is called "zonage à l'américaine."
Development control or planning control is the element of the United Kingdom's system of town and country planning through which local government regulates land use and new building. It relies on the "plan-led system" whereby development plans are formed and the public consulted. Subsequent development requires planning permission, which will be granted or refused with reference to the development plan as a material consideration.
There are 421 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in the United Kingdom. Generally they are the local borough or district council or a unitary authority. Development involving mining, minerals or waste disposal matters is dealt with by county councils in non-metropolitan areas. Within national parks, it is the national park authority that determines planning applications.
The legal framework for land use zoning in Australia is established by States and Territories, hence each State or Territory has different zoning rules. Land use zones are generally defined at local government level, and most often called Planning Schemes. In reality, however in all cases the state governments have an absolute ability to overrule the local decision-making. There are administrative appeal processes such as VCAT to challenge decisions.
|State / Territory||Planning Framework||Land Use regulation|
|ACT||Territory Plan 2008||Land Use Policy|
|NT||Planning Act||Planning Scheme|
|NSW||Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979||Local Environmental Plans (LEP)|
|QLD||Sustainable Planning Act 2009||Planning Schemes|
|SA||Development Act 1993||Development Plan|
|TAS||Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993||Planning Schemes|
|VIC||Planning and Environment Act 1987||Planning Schemes|
|WA||Planning and Development Act 2005||Planning Schemes|
Statutory planning otherwise known as town planning, development control or development management, refers to the part of the planning process that is concerned with the regulation and management of changes to land use and development. Planning and zoning have a great political dimension, with governments often criticized for favouring developers; also nimbyism is very prevalent.
New Zealand's planning system is grounded in effects-based Performance Zoning under the Resource Management Act.
The framework for governing land uses in Singapore is administered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) through the Master Plan. The Master Plan is a statutory document divided into two sections: the plans and the Written Statement. The plans show the land use zoning allowed across Singapore, while the Written Statement provides a written explanation of the zones available and their allowed uses.
- E.g., Lefcoe, George, "The Regulation of Superstores: The Legality of Zoning Ordinances Emerging from the Skirmishes between Wal-Mart and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union" (April 2005). USC Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-12; and USC Law and Economics Research Paper No. 05-12. Available at SSRN or [10.2139/ssrn.10.2139/ssrn.712801 DOI]
- Town and Country Planning Act 1990
- E.g., Maryland Code Article 66B, § 2.01(b) grants zoning powers to the City of Baltimore, while § 2.01(c) limits the grant of powers. By contrast, the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law grants uniform zoning powers (with uniform limitations) to all municipalities in that state.
- Rothwell, Jonathan T. and Massey, Douglas S. (2009) "The Effect of Density Zoning on Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas" Urban Affairs Review. Volume 4, Number 6, pp. 779-806
- Houston Chronicle, 12-10, 2007
- Rothwell, Jonathan T. and Massey, Douglas S. (2010) "Density Zoning and Class Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas" Social Science Quarterly. Volume 91, Issue 5, pp.1123-1141
- Natoli, Salvatore J. (1971) "Zoning and the Development of Urban Land Use Patterns" Economic Geography. Volume 47, Number 2, pp. 171-184
- Whitnall, Gordon (1931) "History of Zoning" Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Volume 155, Part 2, pp.1-14
- 272 U.S. 365, 71 L.Ed. 303, 47 S.Ct. 114 (1926).
- In Search of Lost Paris, Luc Sante, New York Review of Books, December 23, 2010
- Gleeson B. and Low N., Australian Urban Planning: New Challenges, New Agendas, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 2000.
- URA Master Plan 2008 website
- Bassett, E.M. The master plan, with a discussion of the theory of community land planning legislation. New York: Russell Sage foundation, 1938.
- Bassett, E. M. Zoning. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1940
- Crenex – Zoning Maps – Links to zoning maps and planning commissions of 50 most populous cities in the US.
- New York City Department of City Planning – Zoning History
- Schindler's Land Use Page (Michigan State University Extension Land Use Team)
- Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University
- Zoning: A Reply To The Critics