Best planning and implementation toolbox

Zoning Code:

Purpose of Tool:
Zoning is a tool used by local governments to regulate the development of land. Zoning may regulate the uses of the land, or it may regulate the physical development placed upon the land, such as building height and lot coverage, or a combination of these types of physical requirements. There are four types of zoning codes: euclidean, form-based, incentive, and performance. Euclidean zoning is the most common and traditional type of zoning which regulates through land use classification and dimensional standards. Form-based codes regulate development to achieve a specific urban form by addressing the relationship between buildings, building facades, and the public realm; the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another; and the scale and types of streets and blocks. Incentive zoning offers a reward to a developer who provides something extra that is in the community’s interest, such as additional greenspace. Performance zoning regulates the effect or impact of land uses through specific performance standards.

Benefits of Using Tool:
The following are examples of the benefits of zoning:
  • Protection/maintenance of property values
  • Promotion of public health and safety
  • Protection of the environment
  • Management of traffic
  • Management of development density
  • Encouragement of housing mix and variety
  • Management of aesthetics
  • Attraction of business and industry

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    The following are basic elements of zoning:
  • Land use categories: identification and separation of different land uses;
  • Development standards: regulations for building setbacks, height limitations, percentage of the property that can be covered by buildings, number of seats in a restaurant, and required parking;
  • Nonconformity: existing uses, structures or lots that were legally established prior to a change in zoning and which do not comply with the current zoning ordinances;
  • Permit evaluation criteria: criteria for evaluating permit applications;
  • Definitions: terms defined that are used in the zoning ordinance; and
  • Zoning Map: visual representation of the zoning classifications.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    Local jurisdictions are allowed to create their own zoning ordinances through state legislation, with the majority of states having adopted legislation providing zoning authority to the local jurisdictions. Zoning ordinances vary greatly across jurisdictions based on the approach of each locality, varying from simply regulating land use to more restrictive ordinances, such as regulating exterior paint colors.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    Zoning codes should be developed based on the visions, goals, and policies found within a community adopted plan, such as a comprehensive plan, which serves as guidance for the type of zoning code. If a community plan has not been adopted, consensus should be obtained from the public on the zoning ordinances. An evaluation of current land use conditions is also necessary in preparing zoning codes. Typical methods for determining land use include windshield surveys and walking surveys. Surveys can also be supplemented by aerial photo interpretation, assessment records and/or field checks. After completing the inventory, a land classification system is determined that corresponds to the written code. The land uses are mapped which provide visualization of the zoning text to classify land use categories for the written code. The zoning map helps visualize the zoning text.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
  • New York, New York: New York is one of the first cities in the country to implement zoning ordinances. New York City uses incentive zoning which rewards developers for promoting public interest or attainment of a public goal.

    New York City Department of City Planning
    22 Reade Street
    New York, New York 10007

  • Denver, Colorado: Denver has recently adapted form-base code that addresses the relationship between building facades and the public realm. Form-based codes dictate the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, as well as the scale and types of streets and blocks

    Denver Community Planning and Development
    201 W. Colfax Ave.
    Denver, CO 80202

  • Bucks County, Pennsylvania: This County uses performance zoning with the primary purpose of protecting the environment and the secondary purpose of encouraging flexibility in subdivision design.

    Bucks County Planning Commission
    1260 Almshouse Road
    Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    Bucks County, Pennsylvania was the first jurisdiction in the country to successfully use performance zoning. Performance zoning uses a “points-based” system where a property owner or developer can apply credits toward meeting established zoning goals through selecting from a menu of compliance options. Some examples of compliance options include mitigation of environmental impacts, providing public amenities, or building affordable housing. Bucks County’s ordinance contains typical zoning districts but provides cluster and performance standard development provisions, with the goal of preserving natural resources.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
  • Form-Based Codes Institute
  • Form-Based Code Handbook. 2008. Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
  • Performance Zoning Model Ordinance: Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
  • Zoning Matters. Official Site of the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission.
  • New York City. Department of Zoning.
  • Denver Zoning Code.

    This figure shows a process for adopting or amending a city ordinance.