UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT WAYS TO FORMAT ZONING REGULATIONS
There are several ways to format the zoning regulations that implement a city’s comprehensive plan:
They can be based on use, where different kinds of activities (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) are kept separate, primarily for health and safety reasons, but also to preserve quality of life. Relying solely on use has obvious pluses, but the very real minus of increasing traffic because residents must drive to other areas of the city to meet their day-to-day needs.
They can be based on form, where the emphasis is on the appearance of a building rather than what goes on inside. This approach focuses on making sure the buildings in a neighborhood are compatible with their surroundings and relies on design requirements to preserve neighborhood character. Relying solely on form has the upside of preserving character - keeping a 10-story office building apart from a two-story home, for instance - but the downside of not addressing conflicting uses.
They can be based on performance, where both the site and the activity are regulated to prevent adverse impacts on neighboring properties. Care is usually given to matters like noise, glare, heat, smoke and odors, with a primary objective of protecting natural resources. In performance-based zoning, regulations typically include criteria such as maximum impervious surface area (to regulate stormwater), density (to keep intensity at a tolerable level) and open space. But the more open space that’s required, the more expensive remaining land becomes; the stricter the stormwater requirements, the costlier development becomes; and the lower the intensity allowed, the less profitable the project becomes.
They can be based on incentives, where developers are allowed to gain extra floor area or building height, for example, by voluntarily contributing to infrastructure investments in growing neighborhoods and providing public benefits such as open space or affordable housing.
Balance is the key to good zoning and the new development code will likely include all of these approaches. The best zoning codes are flexible and strike a healthy balance between preserving quality of life and permitting the widest possible range of uses and forms.