What is zoning, and what is a "rezoning"?
Most communities have adopted zoning
policies and maps that help to guide development and growth by
indicating the types of land uses that are allowed in different parts
of town. Zoning policies may identify areas intended for residential
development, commercial use, manufacturing and industrial purposes,
parks and recreation, or some combination of these and other land use
categories. In residential zones, these ordinances also specify
allowable densities (how many homes may be developed per acre) and
whether attached and multifamily
homes may be built.
Despite the recent housing downturn, in
some high-growth communities it may still be difficult to meet the demand for housing within
the land area currently zoned for residential use. When the market is
not able to respond to demand by producing more housing, prices
typically rise, making housing less affordable for working families and
others. In other areas, the housing types allowed by existing zoning regulations may have made sense when initially adopted, but no longer meet the needs of the community. This may be the case, for example, in neighborhoods with large numbers of foreclosures where demand for single-family or higher-cost homes has waned. Amending zoning policies to allow for higher-density development, including the conversion of single-family homes to multi-unit rentals, can help to ensure that available opportunities respond to local needs. To meet these challenges, some communities have rezoned
commercial or manufacturing areas for residential use, allowing supply
to better respond to demand. Other communities have increased allowable
densities within existing residential areas to similarly increase
What problems are solved by rezoning?
While requests to rezone individual lots  or issue a variance
may be successful in allowing individual projects to move forward,
securing these approvals can be a lengthy process that often involves a
great deal of uncertainty and adds substantially to total development
costs. Large-scale rezoning can allow new homes to be built in
appropriate areas not currently available for residential development
or can increase densities in existing residential areas and may enable
sufficient increases in the overall supply of homes to accommodate
demand and either moderate home price pressure or create opportunities at appropriate price points. Some communities also choose
to build in an inclusionary zoning
requirement or other affordability policy to ensure that working
families can benefit from the new homes made available as a result of
the zoning changes.
Where is rezoning most applicable?
some communities are required to revisit their zoning maps on a regular basis, others
have not conducted a comprehensive review of their zoning policies in
many years. Without regular updates, these policies can quickly become
outdated, reflecting land use needs and priorities from an earlier
period rather than addressing current conditions and anticipating
future growth. As a result, a surplus of land may be reserved for
manufacturing and industrial uses that have since been relocated, or
residential areas that have the infrastructure to absorb higher-density
development may remain zoned at low densities.
|Solutions in Action|
|Photo courtesy of ULI Development Case Studies|
Elm Brook Homes
is a 12-unit suburban infill project located in historic Concord,
Massachusetts. While the land had previously been rezoned to allow for
residential development, the developer also obtained a zoning amendment
allowing increased density and other allowances not permitted by the
underlying zoning code.
Visit the Gallery to learn more about Elm Brook Homes.
when zoning maps are not outdated per se, they still may not allocate
land as effectively as needed to accommodate growth and shifting demand. They may function as a
constraint on the availability of land for residential development and
contribute to high home costs or unnecessary vacancies. Communities that
have not recently revisited their zoning policy or that receive a
large volume of requests for variances and individual exceptions to
existing land use regulations, may be able to substantially increase
the land available for new homes through rezoning.
Rezoning an individual lot to allow an otherwise prohibited land use is
a practice that is sometimes called "spot zoning." Spot zoning has been
found illegal in some courts, on the basis that the new use is
incompatible with existing zoning regulations and land use plans for
the area. For more details view the article Understanding Spot Zoning. Winter 1994. By Richard C. Widner. Planning Commissioners Journal 13.
|Learn more about rezoning to expand the supply of homes|
Go back to learn about other policies that expand development opportunities