What is Zoning?

what is zoning

Zoning dictates how property gets used. There are different categories that deal with everything from family neighborhoods to commercial zoning in industrial areas.

Zoning can do a number of different things. There are classifications that can affect a property owner, or zoning can restrict a construction company from building in certain areas.  It can even ban some types of property from being used for business.

It all started with a supreme court decision in 1926. The Village of Euclid versus Ambler Realty Co. established justification for zoning. This blog will fill you in on everything you need to know as zoning pertains to commercial zones and family areas.

Zoning, a Quick Overview

In a nutshell, zoning is a way to describe land use. It’s all about urban planning. It’s the way the governments dictate how parcels get developed.

Zoning districts are designed so new developments don’t interfere with districts already in use. Zoning restrictions can limit commercial and industrial development. They can also restrict affordable housing in some instances.



Common Zoning Terms

  • Zoning regulations: Zoning regulations are specific about things like lot size and floor area ratio ( FAR) for buildings. These are important for building in urban areas. These also include maximum height requirements.
  • Zoning laws: These laws are specifically designed to divide parcels into zones. Basically, these laws dictate what type of buildings can exist in a municipality or city.
  • Ordinances: These are a legal framework comprised of maps that show different zoning districts. The text that comes with them details the uses they have and the type of structures that are in each of the districts.
  • Zoning classifications: Important for residential development and generally for land use. These can include residential uses, light industrial, agricultural, and a zoning classification for hotel/hospitality uses.
  • Zoning districts and overlays: These two terms work together. They can be used for planning scheme overlays for residential areas. Overlay zoning creates special districts.
  • Municipalities: This is the term for one area of government that divides up lands into zones. Like residential neighborhoods.

Different Types of Zoning Codes

Zoning codes are the rules for how a piece of property gets used. Like single-family residential zones and others for different types of development. The following are a few for specific neighborhoods, industrial, commercial and agricultural development.


There are usually different types of houses in any housing development. There are different residential districts in each. These can be made up of a mix of single-family homes and other zones in any city. The rules are different for a higher density development like an apartment building.


A commercial zone is under this heading. In this kind of zone, you’ll find buildings like office buildings, restaurants, and shopping centers too.

Industrial Zones.

Allowed uses here include ones for heavy, medium, and light industries. An industrial zone keeps warehouses and factories away from single-family homes in a zone. Warehouses and wholesale real estate properties can be included in industrial zones.

Zoning For Mixed Uses

The land uses here can combine several options into one space. This kind of development plan can provide more affordable housing.

The Purpose of Zoning Laws

The most important purpose of zoning is to allow land and property to be used and allocated by local, federal, and city authorities. These planning schemes create separate zones and prevent conflicting land uses. These are detailed and comprehensive.

Zoning laws are useful for city planning as it pertains to the private sector. They work in the public arena too. The type of zoning allowed dictates where structures and buildings can be located. Another primary purpose is a particular zone can dictate property values.

Who Controls Zoning Ordinances?

Local authorities control the ordinances. A local government or municipality can influence how an open space or neighborhood gets used.

How Zoning Laws Work

Here’s how these laws work. A zoning ordinance starts out with a master plan, which lay out the rules for land use.

  • A comprehensive plan comes next, with zoning maps.
  • A zoning ordinance is a next part. These are the details of how something like a residential neighborhood gets created.

These ordinances allow different zones to co-exist. But they are usually very specific. For example, some communities ban mobile homes on private land. So, make sure to always check before you proceed with any land use plans.

Zoning Law Restrictions and Your Business

Zoning rules can affect your business, but you can apply for a variance to suit your enterprise. Keep in mind that a zoning ordinance can change over time. These can vary depending on when a business changes hands. If you’re going to start on the ground floor, you need a building permit.

Keeping up to date on other regulations and bylaws is important. Check to make sure you are up to date on changes too. Additionally, there are issues you need to look at. Whether you’re moving your business within a city or making a move on the national level. You might want to look for mixed-use zoning laws. That way a business and house can fill in open spaces.

For a business, there are also commercial use requirements. These include mandates for parking, the size of the building, and more.

How to Check Your Local Zoning Regulations

Local governments will fill you in. Here are a few steps to take.

  • Start with city zoning laws and see which ones might apply.
  • Then look for city, county, or municipal ordinances as they apply to land use.
  • Once you have some information call a municipal planning or a local building department.
  • You can also research other ordinances as they pertain to previous land use.

The Best Ways to Amend Zoning Regulations

Governments understand that many zoning designation laws can become dated. Generally, a small business or individual needs to apply for a rezoning.

The first step is to talk to somebody from a planning department.  They will tell you how to prepare. After that, an application can be filed for a zoning map amendment.

Image: Envato Elements

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Rob Starr Rob Starr is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. Rob is a freelance journalist and content strategist/manager with three decades of experience in both print and online writing. He currently works in New York City as a copywriter and all across North America for a variety of editing and writing enterprises.

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