Standard State Zoning Enabling Act and Standard City Planning Enabling Act

The basic foundation for planning and zoning in the U.S. was laid by two standard state enabling acts published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in the 1920s. For many states, the Standard Acts, as they are known, still supply the institutional structure, although some procedural and substantive components may have changed.

A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA)

The first, A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), was developed by an advisory committee on zoning appointed by Secretary of Commerce (and later President) Herbert Hoover in 1921. After several revisions, the Government Printing Office published the first printed edition in May 1924, and a revised edition in 1926.

The SZEA had nine sections. It included a grant of power, a provision that the legislative body could divide the local government's territory into districts, a statement of purpose for the zoning regulations, and procedures for establishing and amending the zoning regulations. A legislative body was required to establish a zoning commission to advise it on the initial development of zoning regulations.

A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), 1926 (pdf)

A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA)

In March 1927, a preliminary edition of the second model, A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA), was released, and a final version was published in 1928. The SCPEA covered six subjects:

  1. the organization and power of the planning commission, which was directed to prepare and adopt a "master plan"
  2. the content of the master plan for the physical development of the territory
  3. provision for adoption of a master street plan by the governing body
  4. provision for approval of all public improvements by the planning commission
  5. control of private subdivision of land
  6. provision for the establishment of a regional planning commission and a regional plan

A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA), 1928 (pdf)

Some Background on the Standard Acts

"The Real Story Behind the Standard Planning and Zoning Enabling Acts of the 1920s," by Ruth Knack, AICP; Stuart Meck, FAICP; and Israel Stollman, FAICP, originally appeared as an article in the February 1996 issue of Land Use Law & Zoning Digest. It describes Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover's interest in planning and zoning and his decision to have the federal government develop and promulgate model laws. It also chronicles the drafting process by the advisory committee he appointed and key decisions on comprehensive planning consistency and the board of adjustment.

A History of Model Legislation, Federal and State Planning Studies

"Model Planning and Zoning Legislation: A Short History," by Stuart Meck, originally appeared in Modernizing State Planning Statutes: The Growing Smart Working Papers, Vol. 1, Planning Advisory Service Report No. 462/463 (1996). This working paper traces the development of model planning and zoning legislation and state studies of national significance from 1913 to 1996. It also digests federal studies that have proposed state statutory reforms.