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5 Things You Might Not Know About City Zoning

June 20, 2018
By: Vivian Nguyen

Nearly every builder and developer experiences project delays due to zoning issues. Confusion or misinformation related to city zoning inevitably leads to improper planning, massive frustration, and wasted time and money.

You can avoid zoning-related project roadblocks by learning the most common mistakes builders and developers make when researching city zoning. Be sure to read to the end for information on how you can easily access current, accurate data, and help keep your projects on track.

city zoning, zoning districts

Here are 5 things you might not know about city zoning:

1. The Office of the Assessor Doesn’t Collect the Info You Need

If you’re relying on data gathered by the city assessor’s office, you’re at risk for missing specific guidelines relating to outright and conditional uses of land.

Your city assessor’s office collects data for the purposes of recording and taxation, but they do not focus on collecting accurate city level zoning. There are a few exceptions to this, but city level zoning is typically only found on individual city websites because the county doesn’t collect zoning records for individual cities.

2. Land Use Code and City Zoning Are Not the Same Things

People commonly confuse the land-use code with city zoning, but the two are not the same. The land use code is identified by the assessor at the county level for taxation purposes and reflects existing improvements. City zoning, on the other hand, specifies what the dirt is zoned for as determined by the city for potential development and/or change of use.

3. There Could be Multiple Zoning Districts within a Category

Builders and developers must understand city zoning districts to ensure projects align with the city’s plans for urban growth and development. There’s more to city zoning than just “residential” and “non-residential.” There may actually be several different zoning districts within one category. For example, most cities have different levels of zoning to convey the intensity of development accepted there (i.e. R-1 for “low intensity” to R-3 for “moderate intensity”). Every city has its own letter/number combination. Once you’ve reviewed the map, you have to read the city’s codified zoning ordinance.

4. A Property Could Have More than One Zoning District

It’s important to note that one property could be impacted by more than one zoning district. City zoning can assign one or more “base” zoning districts. For example, if a property runs street-to-street, with one street being a busy thoroughfare and the other a quieter residential street, the city could assign a commercial type zoning to half of the property, and a residential type zoning to the other half.

Cities may ultimately add “overlay” zoning to control development. These additional layers of zoning, typically called “overlays zoning districts,” work in addition to the “base” zoning. This could have an impact on your project depending on the city and development being considered.

5. Changing Zoning is a Big Process

Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, zoning changes can be a major challenge. If current zoning is different from what a property owner or buyer wants to use the land for, a zoning change must be approved to allow for that. However, if the current zoning is close to the desired development but the site is a little tight for parking or meeting a setback, then the property owner or buyer could try for an exception or variance for their proposed development.

Builders and developers with more upfront information can better assess the pros and cons of one site over another.

Here’s How Builders Can Get Conveniently Packaged Zoning Data

A review of zoning data allows for easier planning and lowers the risk of wasting time and money on projects that may not be compliant. Digital Map Products partners with Zonability to make city zoning data readily available for LandVision users in select markets.

Quick access to multiple zoning layers – standardized to reflect the zoning district’s focus and with definitions – allows builders and developers to assess a property’s potential faster, helping them quickly identify roadblocks to development on or near the properties being considered.

Sign up for a demo to see how you can benefit from adding city zoning data to LandVision.

Interested in learning more about our different datasets? Read out our post on overlapping data sets.

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