rezoning: overview » introduction » rezone non-residential

As the economy has shifted in recent years, many communities have lost manufacturing and industrial activity and jobs but have failed to make corresponding adjustments to their zoning policies. As a result, these municipalities may allocate what is now an excess amount of land to industrial or manufacturing uses, while the supply of land zoned for residential development has become inadequate to meet growing demand. [1] The same may be true of zoning for retail uses, which many communities provide in excess of demand.  The recent downturn in consumer spending may become a long-term trend of reduced consumption, lessening the need for retail development that can consume large amounts of land.  By examining their zoning and land use patterns, communities can begin the process of identifying and rezoning underutilized or vacant areas to allow increased residential development.

In many cases, rezoning can only be achieved through an amendment to a jurisdiction's comprehensive plan, preparation of which is required or strongly encouraged in many states. Comprehensive plans describe a community's goals for growth and development, and provide a legal basis for all land use regulations and decisions, including rezonings, which must be enacted "in accordance with" the vision articulated in the plan. [2] While specific administrative requirements vary by municipality, the process to amend the comprehensive plan may be lengthy and require extensive public hearings.

Photo courtesy of ULI Development Case Studies.

During this time, the land set for rezoning can be vulnerable to speculation, and communities may choose to establish a land bank or inclusionary zoning policy in the rezoned area to ensure new residential development will include affordable homes, even if the price of the land escalates. Click here to leave this section and learn more about inclusionary zoning.

Other considerations

Residential development vs. economic development -- Decisions to rezone non-residential areas should be balanced against the potential impact this change may have on existing businesses, as well as future economic development and job creation potential.

San Jose, California, for example, has rezoned large portions of industrial land for residential use -- facilitating the development of thousands of housing units -- but local officials are now considering regulations that would make rezoning much more difficult, in part as a result of concerns about the city's capacity for long-term job growth and sales tax revenue generation. [3] As suggested by the experience of San Jose, a balanced approach is needed to ensure that rezonings do not jeopardize viable businesses and jobs. [4]

Brownfield reclamation
-- Land that was once used for industrial or manufacturing purposes may be contaminated by hazardous waste or other
What about overlay zones?

To help promote a specific type of development in a discrete area, some communities carve out "overlay zones" within which the underlying zoning policies are modified by additional standards or criteria.

While the existing zoning regulations still apply, they may be modified within the overlay zone to provide special allowances that promote a designated public goal, such as higher-density development near public transit or protection of threatened natural habitats.

Click here to leave this site and view a brief memo [PDF] prepared by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California about how overlay zoning can be used to promote affordable housing.
pollutants as a result of former operations on the site. Proper clean-up of
brownfield sites can be costly but necessary before the land can be used for residential development. Visit the National Vacant Properties Campaign brownfield page to learn more about brownfield redevelopment. Click here to leave this section and learn more about facilitating the reuse of vacant properties.

Solutions in Action
After demolishing the buildings and runways at its former Stapleton airport, Denver, Colorado sold the roughly 2,900 developable acres to Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, Inc. for almost $80 million (over a 15-year period). Forest City is funding infrastructure improvements with aid from tax increment financing. When completed in the 2020s, the development is expected to have about 12,000 homes and apartments, 10 percent of which will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

This example is taken, with permission, from Our Communities, Our Homes, a new book by former HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp, and Kent Colton and Nicolas Retsinas.

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Rezone underutilized industrial or commercial land for residential development
Comprehensive review of a community's land use policies may reveal areas currently reserved for manufacturing or industrial uses that could be appropriate for residential development. Rezoning some of those areas for new homes could help communities meet the demand for housing.

Other pages in this section:

Rezone low-density residential areas to allow higher-density development
Many communities can identify land that is zoned for low-density residential use but could absorb higher-density development. "Upzoning" these areas allows more homes to be built per acre, helping to increase housing availability.

Click here to view other resources on rezoning.

[1] See, for example, The Cost of Good Intentions. 2002. By Michael Schill. Civic Bulletin No. 28. New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

[2] Tutorial II -- Comprehensive Planning. 1999. Prepared by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law. Land Use Learning Training Program for Local Government Officials. Administered by the New York Planning Federation with the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal.

[3] See "San Jose Wrestles with Rezoning of Industrial Land for Housing." September 9, 2007. By Joshua Molina. Mercury News; and "Zoning Fight Pits Housing Against Industry." March 21, 2007. By Christopher Heredia. San Francisco Chronicle.

[4] For a discussion of achieving balance between residential and nonresidential uses, see Increasing Housing Opportunity in New York City. [PDF] 2004. By Kalima Rose, Brad Lander, and Karoleen Feng. Oakland, CA and Brooklyn, NY: PolicyLink and Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, p. 19.