What Are Zoning Codes?
The zoning codes law regulates the use of land within a municipality. It controls the ways in which the land can be developed and what purposes the zoned land can serve.
Zoning codes is what keeps a residential district residential, a commercial district commercial, an industrial district industrial, and so on. Zoning dictates what types of properties can co-exist in a particular area within a municipality. For example, some areas are zoned strictly for single-family homes (possibly with exceptions for things like religious buildings or community centers), while certain mixed-used or transitional zoning districts may allow for select businesses and some single and multifamily homes to exist in the same area. On the other end of the spectrum, structures used for the heavy industry will be consigned to specifically zoned areas that are purposely kept far away from residential districts.
Historically, zoning has been viewed as a means to preserve the safety and health of a community. It’s intended to ensure, for example, that residents don’t have to live next door to a loud, polluting factory that could potentially harm their health and lower their property values. In the wrong hands, though, zoning has been linked to discrimination, with critics arguing that it has contributed to racial and economic segregation in many areas.
Zoning laws can also regulate more specific details of construction, such as maximum building height, minimum lot size or how far a house needs to be setback from the road.
Local Zoning Laws
Zoning laws vary from city to city, so if you want to know how zoning affects you, Suncoast Permits will help you check in with your local government.
Why is it important for homeowners to know their local zoning laws? Zoning laws can affect what you’re allowed to do with your property.
Plus, if you want to make any additions to your property, your local zoning ordinance can tell you what you are and aren’t allowed to do. For example, if you want to install a fence, your zoning ordinance may specify the maximum height your fence is allowed to be, or if you’ll need any permits or inspections to be able to lawfully complete the project.
Where can you find information regarding your local zoning codes laws? It can vary depending on your locality, but you can start by reaching out to your local government office. Your city may also make this information available online, so you can easily and quickly access things like zoning maps and your city’s zoning ordinance right on the municipality’s official website.
Types Of Zoning: Understanding Zoning Codes
Zoning classifications tell us what a particular tract of land can be used for. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used classifications:
- Residential: Since there are so many different types of dwellings that people call home, a municipality will typically have multiple residential districts that can vary quite a bit depending on the types of residences within them. The main differences often deal with whether the districts are made up of single-family or multifamily homes. Single-family homes are likely what you picture when you think of a house: a detached structure that is home to only one household. Multifamily homes are dwellings that house more than one family or household (think duplexes, townhomes, or apartments). The rules that govern these properties will differ depending on the specific type of residential district you’re in. For example, a single-family home in a more secluded subdivision will have different zoning requirements than an apartment building in the heart of a busy city.
- Business: Also referred to as commercial zoning, a city’s business districts are where you can find shopping centers, restaurants, office space and other places where people go to earn and spend their money. How close a business zone can be to other zones depends on the types of businesses in the zone and how much vehicle traffic those businesses typically draw. Business district buildings may have restrictions such as maximum building height, a setback minimum or a requirement to provide parking.
- Industrial: Spaces zoned for industrial uses includes businesses that deal in light, medium-scale, and heavy industry. This can range from smaller wholesalers and warehouses to large, heavy-duty manufacturing facilities. Typically, heavy industry will be kept far away from residential spaces.
- Institutional: Institutionally zoned areas typically include things like museums, libraries, schools, publicly owned recreational facilities (such as a city pool), or places of worship. What constitutes an institutional structure can vary depending on your locality.
- Open Space: Sometimes, a community’s zoning ordinance will include open space zoning to protects its undeveloped land. This can include things like parks, playgrounds, and vacant lots.
- Mixed-Use: Mixed-use zoning allows for multiple uses in a single district that has been deemed compatible with each other. The types of land use that are considered compatible will depend on what a municipality has decided is acceptable. You’ll see examples of mixed-use zoning in downtown areas where buildings will have residential units in the upper stories and retail on the ground floor.
- Planned Unit Development: This type of zoning designation allows for flexibility in a way that a municipality’s zoning ordinance didn’t plan for but benefits the community as a whole. This type of zoning allows a single development to utilize multiple types of land uses. A good example of this would be a ski resort, where you’ll find outdoor open spaces, hotels or short-term rental properties, restaurants, stores and other types of land uses all within a single development.
- Historic: In areas where there are lots of historic buildings or structures, a municipality’s zoning ordinance may take these neighborhoods into account and provide certain protections for those structures.
For each zoning classification, a city will likely have multiple subcategories to further identify what types of things a particular zone can be used for. For example, while some business zones may be able to exist adjacent to residential zones (depending on the type of businesses within the zones), others will have to be built farther away. Some residential subcategories may also provide more flexibility for the types of non-residential structures that can be constructed within or adjacent to those areas.
In addition to a zone’s primary, permitted uses, the zoning ordinance may also include the ability to apply for special use or conditional use permit that allows a property to be used in a way that it wasn’t originally zoned for but that is compatible with the current zone.
Since zoning laws can change over time, it’s also possible that a property that used to be in line with zoning regulations no longer meets current zoning standards but is allowed to remain as-is and is considered legally compliant. This is referred to as legal nonconforming use.