The Relaxed Zoning Overlay

Zoning Practice — September 2011

By Stephen Pantalone, Justin Hollander, FAICP


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The relaxed zoning overlay (RZO) is a planning tool for municipalities anticipating declining populations, either communitywide or within individual neighborhoods. Significant population decline may lead to an excess supply of residential, commercial, or industrial structures, and evidence has shown that even a small concentration of vacant property brings a host of economic and social problems.

The purpose of the RZO is to mitigate these impacts by anticipating decline and adapting the property supply in a given community. Currently, the inflexibility of zoning restricts the ability of communities to quickly react to decline by expanding the legally allowable uses of property.

This issue of Zoning Practice introduces the Relaxed Zoning Overlay as a potential new tool for weak-market neighborhoods with high levels of property vacancy and includes a suggested ordinance framework for this new type of overlay.


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 1, 2011
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Stephen Pantalone

Justin Hollander, FAICP
Justin Hollander, PhD, FAICP, is a professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. His research and teaching is in the areas of physical planning, Big Data, shrinking cities, and the intersection between cognitive science and the design of cities. He co-edited the book Urban Experience and Design: Contemporary Perspectives on Improving the Public Realm (Routledge, 2020) and is the author of seven other books on urban planning and design, including Cognitive Architecture Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment (with Ann Sussman) and Urban Social Listening: Potential and Pitfalls for Using Microblogging Data in Studying Cities. He hosts the Apple podcast "Cognitive Urbanism."