Zoning Practice — February 2012

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Donald L. Elliott, FAICP, author of the February 2012 Zoning Practice article "Consolidating Zoning Districts."

Question from Nicole Cromwell, Billings, Montana:

Is there a minimum number of zoning districts in any single jurisdiction? E.g., is four too few districts? Or is it more size/maturity of jurisdiction driven?

Answer from author Donald Elliott, FAICP:

There is generally no minimum number of zone districts — unless your state enabling act requires that your zoning code includes certain types of districts. The "right" number is generally driven by the size and maturity of the city or county involved. Many codes start simple, with only a few districts, and rural property owners are often less threatened by a few fairly flexible districts than by a larger number of more finely tailored districts, because they fear that the latter will be more restrictive.

You might look at zoning codes for cities or counties of similar size, and in a similar area of the country, to get an idea of how many districts have been needed in similar circumstances.

Question from Steve Langworthy, Dublin, Ohio:

Is it possible to have too few districts? Could having too few push a community to overuse planned developments?

Answer from author Donald Elliott, FAICP:

Yes. That can clearly happen, and in some communities we have recommended that they increase the number of zoning districts when there are clearly some common development and platting patterns that the existing districts cannot handle without special approvals. As you note, one sign that things are wrong is that you are approving a lot of PUDs.

The solution could be to add new districts designed to accommodate the most common types of PUDs. But another alternative is to revise the existing zone districts so that they can accommodate a broader range of similar development types. Defining districts too narrowly and rigidly almost invites proliferation of districts, while defining them more broadly and flexibly avoids that result.