Ensure Zoning Policies Allow Housing Diversity

In addition to revising their zoning policies to allow certain types of housing, communities can use other land use tools to enhance the local capacity to deliver affordable homes. Even seemingly small revisions, such as reducing the number of parking spots required per residential unit, can make a big difference – especially where land costs are high and space is at a premium.

 

Click on the links below to learn more about ways that local jurisdictions can adapt their regulations to increase the availability of affordable homes.

Reduce parking requirements

Local zoning policies may result in an overgenerous supply of parking at the expense of additional affordable homes.

Encourage use of innovative zoning techniques

Communities can use several regulatory tools to encourage innovation and allow                                                                  flexibility in local design and land use.

 

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Consider other innovative land use regulations that facilitate delivery of lower-cost homes

Local officials can implement an array of land use tools to create a regulatory environment that is hospitable to the development of homes affordable to working families

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Revise zoning policies to allow development of a range of housing types “as of right”

Greater housing diversity and affordability may be achieved by revising zoning policies to eliminate both direct and “back door” prohibitions and explicitly allow a range of housing types, rather than requiring a                       special review process or disallowing certain types of structures

Click here to view other resources on zoning policies that allow housing diversity.

 

Reduce parking requirements

Many communities have zoning policies that specify a minimum number of off-street parking spaces that must be provided with each residential unit. The intent of these policies is generally to calm traffic congestion and guard against overfull street parking. However, because parking spaces take up additional land and can be costly to create, these requirements may also have the effect of increasing development costs (and thus home prices and rents) and/or reducing the overall number of units built.

In many communities, off-street parking requirements for new development range from one space per unit to one space per bedroom. Particularly for homes located in close proximity to public transit and other amenities or targeted on small households, the elderly and working families, local zoning policies may result in an overgenerous supply of parking at the expense of additional affordable homes.

To help ensure that parking requirements do not stand in the way of housing for working families, communities can revise parking standards for all new development or reduce or waive standards for certain types of housing (i.e. affordable or senior housing, or units located near public transit) on a discretionary basis.

Solutions in Action

In 2006, San Francisco California eliminated minimum parking requirements for downtown residential development, instead establishing a parking maximum that caps the number of parking spaces allowed at one per four dwelling units (or 0.25 spaces per unit). Developers who wish to include additional parking spaces above this cap may submit an application for a conditional use permit, which would allow creation of additional parking of up to 0.75 spaces for each one-bedroom or studio unit and up to one space for each unit with two or more bedrooms. Applications are subject to case-by-case review by the Planning Commission.
San Francisco has also prohibited downtown residential developers from requiring buyers to purchase a parking space. Spaces must instead be leased or sold separately from the housing unit, helping to reduce costs for homebuyers without cars.

Several other cities, including Coral Gables and Fort Myers, Florida; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle and Spokane, Washington have also abolished residential parking requirements for certain downtown neighborhoods.

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

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Encourage use of innovative zoning techniques

In addition to revising zoning policies to allow development of a greater range of housing types, communities can use several regulatory tools to encourage innovation and allow flexibility in local design and land use. These tools are generally applied to small subdivisions, and allow developers to override local zoning policies to accomplish higher densities, preservation of open space and mixed-use development.

Click on the links below to learn more about each policy tool:

Not all of these policies have housing affordability as their core objective, but by facilitating development that might not otherwise be able to occur (cluster zoning) or facilitating economies of scale, higher densities, and more predictable approval processes (planned unit developments), these techniques can help to expand the supply of housing and reduce upward price pressures.

 

Cluster zoning, also called open space zoning, is a land use tool most commonly used by rural and exurban communities to preserve natural areas as development encroaches. Under traditional Euclidean zoning policies a parcel of land in an undeveloped residential district would be entirely carved up into individual lots, each reserved for development of a new home.
Cluster zoning groups the same number of homes onto a smaller portion of the parcel, with the rest of the land remaining protected as open space through a covenant, conservation easement or other temporary or permanent preservation program. This zoning technique is often used to help maintain rural character and preserve open space; however, by allaying community concerns about the preservation of open space,

cluster zoning may also help facilitate the approval of new development, thereby helping the market keep pace with housing demand. The cost of infrastructure to serve this more compact development is also lower than it would be under traditional zoning, helping to further lower costs.

To learn more about cluster zoning view the article “Open Space” Zoning: What It Is & Why It Works. 1992. By Randall Arendt. Planning Commissioners Journal, Issue 5.

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A planned unit development (PUD) is a land use tool that allows communities to set aside large swaths of land (typically 100 to 2,500 contiguous acres) within which traditional zoning rules may be waived in order to promote innovation and coordinated development. Rather than approaching development on a lot-by-lot basis, as typically occurs under traditional zoning, the entire parcel is planned in a comprehensive and integrated fashion.

This flexibility does not mean PUDs are unregulated – applications to create a PUD are likely to be subject to a rigorous review and public hearing process to ensure the proposal is in compliance with the overall vision of the community. However, once the PUD is approved, developers enjoy a predictable approvals process that helps to reduce development time and costs.

After designating an area as a PUD, local officials adopt a unique set of zoning laws for that area which may be less rigid or encourage a greater mix of land uses than traditional zoning policies allow. Generally, these laws are targeted to achieve specific goals within the PUD, including higher-density development or creation of mixed-income residential subdivisions in a district previously designated for large-lot development. Communities may also choose to include housing affordability incentives or requirements, where appropriate, to ensure that homes for low- and moderate-income families are included in the new development.

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Transfer of development rights (TDR) is a market-based tool used to simultaneously promote protection of open space and sensitive natural areas and encourage development in areas that are underutilized or can accommodate higher densities.
TDR works by designating “sending areas,” where future development will be limited, and “receiving areas,” on which more intense land use will be targeted. For a negotiated price, landowners in sending areas shift the right to develop their land to owners in receiving areas, who are then entitled to build at greater densities.

While the mechanics of TDRs can be complicated, a clear and detailed TDR policy can help communities achieve local goals while allowing land use flexibility that would not otherwise be permissible under traditional zoning policies. TDRs do not increase overall density; rather they use the economic value of increased density to make funds available for the development or rehabilitation of affordable homes.

To learn more, view the TDR page in the state of Massachusetts’ Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit.

Solutions in Action

Under Seattle’s Transferable Development Rights (TDR) program, commercial developers who want more density than allowed under zoning rules can purchase unused density from owners of downtown properties with affordable housing, landmark buildings, or major open space. To enhance efficiency, nonprofits that need funds to repair and preserve their properties can sell the development rights to the city, which deposits them in a “TDR Bank” for later sale to office and hotel developers on an as-needed basis.
The program is a critical tool for preserving low-income housing in the downtown area. Between 1986 and 2005, developers paid owners of over 900 units of low-income rental housing about $7.8 million.

Click here to learn more about Seattle’s Transferable Development Rights (TDR) Program.

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

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