If you’re like most people, the idea of learning about city laws and regulations makes your eyelids heavy. Though it may seem to be rather dry reading material, there are several surprisingly interesting benefits and consequences of zoning law that directly impact your life in several ways. 

What is zoning law? 

In summary, zoning regulations allow or restrict certain activities or structures in specific subsections of a city. Zoning regulations are ideally created to bring order to the lay of a community based on the area’s intended use. 

What does a zoning map represent? 

A zoning map of a city may look like the world’s most garbled mosaic to the untrained eye, but reading one is quite simple. A zoning map color-codes the different districts of a city by category. These categories are as follows: 

  • Residential: These sections contain neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and other places intended for housing. 
  • Commercial: These districts are reserved for businesses, office buildings, hotels, administrative buildings, and for other such uses. 
  • Industrial: Industrial districts are zoned for refineries, warehouses, factories, large-scale equipment storage, and the like. 
  • Institutional: Institutional district are intended for organizational development related to health, education, and recreation—such as schools, universities, clinics, and hospitals. 
  • Open space: Open space zoning rules protect areas for parks as well as wildlife conversation and the like. 

Mixed Uses and Overlays

Not every district is categorized with a single designation. Some areas have mixed-use, such as a commercial area that may also allow for an industrial warehouse or a residential apartment building that contains commercial restaurants and shops on its first floor. Other maps may display the use intensity of a particular district.  

Regulations or Ordinance Listing

A zoning map is intended to comply with a regulations listing, also known as an ordinance listing. The specifics of zoning law are laid out in this document. These include structure requirements, uses, and an array of specific regulations. Some development requirements may consist of listing building setbacks from streets and other structures, minimum lot size, the dimensions, and a variety of other items. Regulations known as “impact standards” are also included to regulate signage, historic preservation, urban design, parking, and many other aspects of a district. 

The Benefits of Zoning

Though a tad stale at first, understanding zoning can help you better understand any city and even discover the intent of early civic developers. Here are a few benefits of zoning regulations. 

City Use Consistency & Flow

Perhaps the most significant advantage to a well-zoned city is the organization of space. Imagine a city with refineries directly butted up against preschools, with parks intersected with shopping malls, or neighborhoods surrounded by warehouses. Zoning has allowed for tidy and orderly organization of spaces for the benefit of inhabitants and commerce alike. 

The Negative Aspects of Zoning

It’s assumed that anytime a governing body can instruct property owners how they can and cannot use their land, there are bound to be problems. For just as many advantages, zoning also comes with its disadvantages.

Class Distribution

Though the days of outright racist zoning laws are behind us, some of the powers that be that prefer to separate sections based on socioeconomic class have found ways to do so legally. One such example is with expanded lot size. When only large building plots are allowed in residential areas, typically only the wealthiest of the community can afford such parcels of residential land—thus creating socioeconomic divides included in zoning laws.

Commuter Strain

Another major downside to poor city zoning are instances of excess separations between commercial and residential zones. When zoning laws force workers to live immense distances from commercial or industrial areas, this creates long and expensive commutes they are forced to endure. 

Recipes for Thriving Communities

The right mix in the zoning regulations can immensely help citizens and economies as well. Allowing for commercial businesses to operate close to residential areas as well as suitable zoning laws for industrial zones can make for happy workers and thriving industries. For those concerned with zoning disparities in their communities, there are avenues they can navigate to speak with elected officials to help change their community’s zoning regulations for the better.