Sociology Index

Zoning Laws

Zoning is the development of a city or county plan that designates various geographic areas as restricted to particular uses and development, such as industrial, light industrial, commercial, light commercial, agricultural, single-family residential, multiunit residential, parks, schools and other purposes. Zoning is used by local governments as the chief planning tool. Zoning serves as a guide for a community's future development, to protect neighborhoods, concentrate retail business and industry, channel traffic and play a significant role in the urban and small-town's enhancement. In 1926, the U.S Supreme Court ruled zoning constitutional in Village of Euclid v Ambler Realty Co.

Zoning Laws are issued by local governments to regulate the size, type, structure, and use of land or building in designated areas. Zoning Laws divide the cities into district areas according to use. For instance, single-family homes, commercial establishments, and industrial plants. It is not clear that cities would look much different in the absence of zoning. Professor Siegan points out in his book Land Use Without Zoning that Houston has no zoning, yet the market has neatly segregated industrial and residential districts simply on the basis of the differing characteristics which attract each type of development.

"Zoning decisions, it must be said, are not unalterable. Zoning maps may be changed or variances granted. But it is never certain that zoning mistakes will be corrected through these mechanisms. Whether a zoning change is made or blocked usually does not depend upon abstract considerations of eff¹ciency, but rather on the ability of interested parties to pressure the decision makers. Moreover, these escape hatches from zoning have frequently been used by unscrupulous persons to gain windfalls. See Ellickson, "Alternatives to Zoning", 40 U. of Chicago Law Rev. 681, 701-05.

New Urbanist Zoning for Dummies
Michael Lewyn, Florida Coastal School of Law
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 183
Abstract: For most of the 20th century, American land use regulation sought to separate different types of land uses from each other and to reduce population density, while American parking and street design regulation sought to facilitate driving by mandating wide streets and forcing landlords and businesses to build parking lots for their tenants and customers. These policies have helped to create a pattern of land use often described as low-density, automobile-oriented development. Where offices and shops are in a different zone of a city from low-density housing, residents will often be unable to live within walking distances of such facilities. And where parking lots and wide streets surround those offices and shops, pedestrians must cross dangerously wide streets and then cross a sea of parking in order to reach those buildings. In recent decades, a group of architects generally known as the New Urbanist movement has sought to reform both conventional land use regulation and the sprawl that it generate. New Urbanists seek to build compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Because existing zoning is hostile to New Urbanism, New Urbanists have begun to develop alternative zoning codes codifying New Urbanist principles. For example, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), a leading New Urbanist architectural firm, has drafted a model code known as the SmartCode. The purpose of this article is to compare New Urbanist zoning to sprawl-oriented conventional zoning, using the SmartCode and two conventional zoning codes as case studies. The article concludes that the SmartCode is in many ways less restrictive than existing zoning, and shows how the SmartCode could be made even more libertarian yet at the same time even more pedestrian-friendly.

The rise and fall of discriminatory zoning in Hong Kong
Lawrence W C Lai, Marco K W Yu
Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 28(2) 295
Abstract. By using a modified Cheung model of price control, we show that discriminatory zoning is economically an inefficient protectionist alternative to nondiscriminatory zoning. The exclusionary zoning on the Peak of Hong Kong arose in order to give Europeans a housing area free from economic price competition with the Chinese. Documentary evidence is adduced to support this view of the law. Such zoning collapsed after the Second World War when European owners needed to realize their capital. Land-transaction records of certain sites on the Peak are analysed to support this interpretation. Without claiming to offer an exclusive explanation as to the formation of discriminatory law, we advance the case that discrimination is economically inefficient and will be abolished once the favoured group ceases to benefit from its continuation.

Zoning laws vs. home businesses
Fanselow, Julie
Publisher: U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Abstract: Most local governments try to discourage home-based businesses through restrictive zoning laws. People desiring to start home-based businesses should check on zoning laws. If there are restrictions, the person can either adapt to the restrictions, ask for a variance, or move.

On Castles and Commerce: Zoning Law and the Home-Business Dilemma
Nicole Stelle Garnett, Notre Dame Law School
William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 42, pp. 1191, 2001
Abstract: Most zoning laws severely restrict residents' ability to work from home. Some prohibit it outright. These regulations serve the ostensible purpose of protecting neighbors from externalities that might be generated by home businesses. But, home occupation restrictions also reflect in a particularly sharp way the central motivating ideology underlying all zoning laws - namely, that the good life requires the careful segregation of work and home. Today, home business regulations are being challenged by both planning theory and economic reality. At the same time that many in the academy and planning professions are calling into question zoning's pervasive segregation of land uses, increasing numbers of Americans are choosing to work from home. Homeowners, however, continue to worry about the introduction of commercial activity into residential neighborhoods. This article examines how local governments might respond to zoning law's home business dilemma.