Modern Family: Zoning and the Non-Nuclear Living Arrangement

Zoning Practice — May 2020

By Brian Connolly, David Brewster


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Many zoning codes define the term "family" — as used in the terms single-family or multifamily dwelling — as a group of people related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or up to a certain number who are unrelated. However, while aimed at establishing stable neighborhoods, historical definitions of "family" contained in zoning codes have regularly excluded a wide variety of groups. Unaffordable housing has pushed families to live with extended family members, groups of unrelated roommates to cohabitate, and home seekers to find smaller, more efficient forms of housing. At the same time, contemporary treatment methods for disabilities has resulted in increased demand for group living arrangements.

This edition of Zoning Practice examines the changing face of the modern American family, evaluates existing law as it pertains to regulation of household structure, and offers suggestions for how zoning might be tweaked to respond to many of the changing norms of American family and household life.


Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2020
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Brian Connolly
Brian J. Connolly is an Assistant Professor of Business Law at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His research and teaching centers in the areas of real estate, land use, and development law. His primary research interests include issues of public and private regulation of land use and their relationship to housing affordability and urban redevelopment. Professor Connolly has also written on First Amendment issues related to local government regulation – including signs and outdoor advertising and other free speech issues – as well as fair housing matters in local planning and zoning. Professor Connolly’s work on these topics has included filing multiple U.S. Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs and serving as an expert witness in cases involving these and other land use topics. Prior to entering academia, Professor Connolly spent over a decade in private law practice in Denver, Colorado, where he represented public- and private-sector clients in zoning, planning, development entitlements, and other complex regulatory matters. Before his legal career, Professor Connolly served as an urban planner in local government.

David Brewster