Spotlight on Zoning Practice

Take Notice of Zoning Notifications

This may sound strange to nonplanners, but I love stopping to read posted zoning notices whenever I'm traveling on foot. When I'm visiting a new place, these signs show me areas poised for change and offer clues about how zoning has shaped the form of the built environment and the location of different activities. For places I know well, posted notices trigger memories of what used to be on a site, force me to pay attention to what's happening there now, and help me envision what might soon become.

As Jenny Baker notes in the May issue of Zoning Practice, "An Equitable Approach to Zoning Notifications," posted notices can be a good way to keep some community members apprised of proposed zoning-related changes, but like all traditional notification practices, there is often much room for improvement. According to APA's Equity in Zoning Policy Guide, just sticking to the letter of the law when it comes to zoning notifications is seldom sufficient to bring the voices and perspectives of groups that have long been excluded or underrepresented into land use decision-making processes.

Refreshing the Classics

While state laws often dictate minimum requirements for zoning-related notifications, Baker reminds us that local jurisdictions are typically free to go beyond these minimums. Posted notices are a good example. State laws seldom require them, but many cities, towns, and counties do. As Baker notes, planners can help boost the efficacy of these signs by including QR codes or URLs that allow passersby to get more information (including information in languages other than English).

State laws often mandate publishing notices in newspapers and mailing notification letters to neighboring property owners. But as Baker points out, fewer people than ever are reading printed local newspapers (or even have a local newspaper to read, whether in print or online). And mailed notices often fail to reach renters who will be directly affected by a land use decision.

According to Baker, the rise of online hyperlocal news sites and consolidated state-level notice websites (where available) offer the most promising supplements (or complements) to printed newspaper notices. These tools can help local jurisdictions better approximate the former reach of newspapers. As for mailed notices, the fix is obvious: Include all residents within the notification radius.

Embracing New Approaches

Beyond tweaks to well-established practices, planners can also explore other means of notification, whether or not these ever get written into procedural zoning standards. For example, Baker notes that neighborhood meetings can be an effective means of reaching residents who may be excluded by written notices.

Additionally, while many local planning departments have a page or section on their jurisdiction's website and operate their own social media accounts, relatively few routinely use these tools to give notice of site-level zoning-related decisions or actions. While these means still require recipients to be online, they are much more democratic than relying exclusively on the existence of external news platforms to post local notices. Similarly, opt-in email newsletters can help planners reach anyone who wants to stay up to date on proposals and opportunities for feedback.

Equitable Zoning for Manufactured Housing

Each issue of Zoning Practice provides practical guidance for planners and land-use attorneys engaged in drafting or administering local land-use and development regulations. An annual subscription to ZP includes access to the complete archive of previous issues.

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Top image: Dan Keck, Flickr

About the Author
David Morley, AICP, is a research programs manager with APA and editor of Zoning Practice.

May 13, 2024

By David Morley, AICP