Overlay District Ordinances:Purpose of Tool:
Overlay Districts provide a means to incorporate various development regulations across a specified area. These districts are special zones that lie on top of existing zoning categories to supplement or supersede existing regulations. They usually provide a higher level of regulation than that required by the existing zoning classification, but they can also permit exceptions or require a less-restrictive guideline. In cases where conflicting standards are given by an overlay district and the underlying zoning category, those of the overlay district take priority. The boundaries of an overlay district may or may not coincide with the boundaries of the underlying zone, and an overlay district may contain parts of more than one existing zone.
Overlay districts are used to accomplish a variety of development, transportation, and land use goals such as access management, protection of historic or natural resources, safety, standardization of a historic district, implementation of development guidelines, protection of the quality of surface water, and even special taxing or financing for an area. Overlay districts often complement a jurisdiction’s Comprehensive Plan.
Benefits of Using Tool:
Overlay districts are particularly useful to communities and municipalities because they allow existing zoning requirements to be superseded, when needed. Overlay districts can be implemented by passing a law that appends existing land use regulations, without having to go through the process of rewriting the underlying zoning requirements/regulations. Communities can also modify overlay districts without difficulty, should they decide to modify the requirements or coverage area.
Overlay Districts can accomplish the following elements:
Steps Involved to Use Tool:
To be implemented, an overlay district typically follows this process:
Special Requirements to Use Tool:
The primary requirement for using an overlay district is that there must be a zoning ordinance in place prior to implementation. Quite simply, if there is no zoning to be overlaid, an overlay district is not possible. Additionally, there must also be a clear and defensible purpose for implementing the overlay district such as stated goals and objectives from a local plan or study.
Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
Because of the review process necessary to implement and manage an overlay district, this tool is best suited for communities or agencies that have an adequate professional planning staff. Typically, interpretation of technical issues associated with the application and overlay ordinance requirements is required; therefore an experienced planner on staff would be beneficial.
Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
Many communities and agencies have successfully used this tool. Some examples are:
Bradford Townsend - Roswell Planning & Zoning Director
770-641-3774 38 Hill Street, Suite G-30
Roswell, GA 30075
Tracy Huggins - Executive Director
Denver Urban Renewal Authority
1437 Bannock St
Denver, CO 80202
Monica Lamboy - Executive Director
Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development
617-625-6600 ext. 2500
93 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02143
Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
Because there is such a wide variety of the types of overlay districts that can be implemented, the ways to measure their performance are also widespread. For example, for districts whose purpose is to regulate a particular “look and feel” for corridors or communities, set design standards, as well as oversight in the plan review process, are essential in ensuring that the objectives of the overlay district are met. Quantitative elements can also be monitored for success through implementation of the overlay ordinance, including the following examples: lot size, building height and area, parking, number of access points (or consolidation of access points), and types of land uses.
List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
Additional helpful information can be found here: