Zoning and Planning

Today, we discuss zoning and planning. Zoning is a major part of the development of any city. Zoning will determine which areas can be used for commercial properties, as well as which areas can be purchased by developers building new subdivisions. The purpose of zoning is to ensure that a city can grow and function as efficiently as possible. 

Most cities have what we call a master land plan, which is a plan for the city's future growth. A master land plan shows the future development of the city, including whether certain areas will be zoned residential, commercial, agricultural, etc. Of course, cities do not necessarily always grow according to plan. For this reason, the need arises to put in a buffer zone. A buffer zone separates two incompatible areas, such as a wetlands area for wildlife and a residential subdivision. In this instance, a park could be put in as a buffer zone, shielding the two different land uses from each other. 

There are always exceptions to zoning laws. One exception is a nonconforming use. Nonconforming use occurs when a property is technically in violation of current zoning laws but is “grandfathered in” because the property owner was using the property in a certain way before the zoning change. The property owner would then be allowed to continue using the property in that way. If someone owns an ice cream shop where the zoning changed to residential, they do not have to move their business. They may continue operating the business just like they were before the zoning change. The opposite of nonconforming use is a variance. The main distinction between these two terms is that nonconforming use means “before zoning.” Variance means “after zoning.” A variance occurs when one wishes to change something after zoning is in place. If a property owner in an area zoned for residential use wishes to open up an ice cream shop on their property, they can apply for a variance. Typically, the zoning commission will look at several factors including what neighbors think, environmental impact, and substantiality, which refers to whether the variance would be too great of a disturbance to the current layout.

A subdivision will typically have what we call regulations and restrictions. Regulations are put in place by the government. When developing a new subdivision, a developer will be required to put in things like streets and sewers. Also, the developer would typically put deed restrictions in place. These private deed restrictions determine things like what types of roofs and fences can be put in. In the case of a conflict between government regulations and private deed restrictions, the more restrictive of the two will take priority. Many times, a developer will dedicate land to the government, such as land for a park or a school. This is called dedication.

Zoning is an important part of any city pursuing its master land plan. Like most laws and regulations, there are always exceptions to accommodate special circumstances. Hopefully, this gave you some insight on why zoning is a major factor in regards to the way in which a city will grow, and why it is so crucial in determining the layout and feel of a city. Now, let’s go knock out that exam!

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