August 2015

You Asked. We Answered.

At the Inquiry Answer Service, we answer, on average, more than 300 questions for our subscribers each month. We consult a variety of sources to create a custom research packet — which may include APA publications, sample ordinances and plans, articles and literature from partner organizations, and the most current information available online — for each question.

Each month, we choose one question to feature here, so you can see what your peers around the country are asking and how we answered. When your organization subscribes to PAS, you and your colleagues will also have access to previous editions.

You Asked.

How do other communities prevent monotonous residential development?

We are looking for examples of zoning ordinances and design guidelines that assist in avoiding cookie cutter home developments and residential subdivisions.

We Answered.

There are a number of communities that have added specific provisions to their zoning codes aimed at preventing monotonous residential development, and others that use design guidelines to encourage compatible, but varied, designs.

In essence, these codes and guidelines require developers to vary the appearance of adjacent homes by altering floor plans, building orientations, roof lines, architectural features, or colors. Some communities have codified objective criteria for avoiding excessive similarity or monotony. Others list potential elements to vary but do not establish a bright-line test for monotonous development. Objective criteria provide certainty for developers and make administrative, rather than discretionary, design review processes possible.

While objective anti-monotony provisions are relatively common in a few select parts of the country, they haven't caught on nationally. Generally speaking, communities are more likely to adopt design standards or review criteria that encourage or require variation in building elevations or building materials without establishing bright-line tests for when a particular residential subdivision would be considered too monotonous.

As you can see from the examples below, the types of features that must be varied are pretty consistent from place to place, but the specific criteria are less consistent. You'll also notice that some communities afford more discretion to developers (and reviewers) than others.

Resource List

Related PAS Products

  • Kendig, Lane. 2004. Too Big, Boring, or Ugly: Planning and Design Tools to Combat Monotony, the Too-Big House, and Teardowns. PAS Report No. 528. Chicago: American Planning Association.   

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