Pattern Zones and Pre-Reviewed Homes

Zoning Practice — January 2024

By Richard Murphy, AICP, Melissa Milton-Pung


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Communities around the country are facing a growing pressure to develop new housing options, both to grow inventories as well as to diversify the housing options available. Demographic trends, including declining family sizes and growing single senior populations, and economic mismatches of housing costs and household incomes demand new ideas for bringing housing to market. Historians and planners alike have noted that residential zoning practices have replaced redlining and residential steering to limit access to housing with standards that prevent construction of the amounts and types of housing that we need. Even in communities that recognize the need for new residential development, though, fears of rapid and radical change to the built landscape can block progress.

In several places, an emerging practice of local pattern-book-based development is sprouting, offering not only new housing options but a streamlined approval pathway for construction using the community's pre-reviewed plans. This practice poses a middle ground between strict preservation of existing neighborhood form and broad zoning changes, leveraging strong design to achieve local acceptance and clear and predictable approvals for builder buy-in. While still in its infancy, this practice includes nearly a dozen distinct programs nationally, offering an opportunity for learning and iteration on success.

This issue of Zoning Practice explores how a pattern approach to zoning may help communities expand housing choice and affordability. It begins with a brief examination of historical precedents before outlining the key components of a pattern zoning program and highlighting potentially complementary strategies.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2024
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Richard Murphy, AICP
Richard Murphy, AICP, is a Policy Research Labs program manager at the Michigan Municipal Leauge. He works with member communities and partner organizations on transportation and land use planning, placemaking, economic development, and technology issues. His work on the League's Pattern Book Homes project is an outgrowth of the League's involvement in MIchigan's Redevelopment Ready Communities program, CNU's Project for Code Reform, and APA Michigan's Zoning Reform for Housing toolkit. Prior to joining the League, Murph served as city planner in Ypsilanti, programs director for Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and on the board of directors of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. He holds degrees in computer engineering and urban planning from the University of Michigan.

Melissa Milton-Pung
Melissa Milton-Pung is a Project Manager for Washtenaw County Office of Community & Economic Development. She holds a BA in Public History from Western Michigan University and a Master of Historic Preservation from the University of Kentucky, where her research lead to the creation of the first historic property tax credit in Kentucky. She has led place-based economic development initiatives since 2005, including commercial property incentives, historic property rehab & heritage tourism. She is a Past President of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) and is a current board member for The Arts Alliance (Ann Arbor) and the Ann Arbor Historical Foundation.