April 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 communities zone university campuses?

Our city is home to a major university, which is exempt from local land-use regulations under state law. We are looking to access information pertaining to zoning regulation by a local government of development by public institutions of higher education.

We Answered.

There are four basic approaches to zoning university-owned land: (1) special-purpose university zoning districts with extensive use permissions and development standards; (2) special-purpose university or general institutional or public use zoning districts with minimal use permissions and development standards; (3) planned development districts; and (4) explicit use permissions that sanction universities as a permitted use in one or more nonresidential districts.

Typically, communities use special-purpose university zoning districts with extensive use permissions and development standards for campuses (and campus areas) that are subject to local zoning authority. However, these types of districts are comparatively rare. In some instances, the locality may simply be incorporating concepts from existing university-adopted master plans as local standards (whether or not the locality actually has jurisdiction over the land).

As you might expect, communities often use special-purpose university zoning districts with minimal use permissions and development standards for campuses that are not subject to local zoning authority. Here, the zoning designation essentially acts as a placeholder. Theoretically, if the university sold the land for private development, it would also have the effect of preventing new development without a rezoning.

Alternately, many use a general "institutional" zoning district for university-owned land; this designation would also typically be applied to government offices and facilities, hospitals, or other public or nonprofit, institutional uses. While use permissions may vary considerably based on context, development standards may be minimal or extensive depending on whether or not the local zoning authority has jurisdiction over publicly owned lands.

Another common approach is to use a planned development district designation for university-owned lands. In communities with local zoning authority over these lands, the planned development review process allows the locality to review the institution's master plan and suggest modifications before approval. If the locality doesn't have zoning authority, the planned development review may essentially function as a courtesy.

Finally, some places simply list institutions of higher education as permitted uses or conditional uses in one or more nonresidential zoning districts.

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