Zoning Ordinances – Explained

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Zoning Ordinances – Explained," in The Business Professor, updated January 8, 2015, last accessed April 2, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/zoning-ordinances-explained/.
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Zoning Ordinance
This video explains what is a zoning ordance and how it limits property ownership rights.

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What is “Zoning”?

Zoning refers to local (city or county) ordinances controlling how property within specific areas can be used. Zoning ordinances generally divide areas of counties or municipalities into districts designated for residential, commercial, or industrial use. The local government will charge anyone using her property in violation of the ordinance with an infraction.

  • Note: If the land is being used in a certain manner prior to the passage of an ordinance, the user may receive a “non-conforming use” exemption from the ordinance. Landowners who desire to use their land in a manner disallowed by the ordinance may seek an exemption or “variance”. This generally requires petitioning the local zoning board or council and submitting the proposal for public comment.

Discussion: How do you feel about allowing local governments to choose the manner in which land can be used? How should this power be weighed against the rights of the landowner?

Practice Question: Beth owns a home in a small neighborhood. She has the idea to begin printing t-shirts and selling them over the Internet. She researches all of the applicable requirements for starting a business. One of the requirements is to register for a business license. What will she have to know about zoning in order to apply for a license?

Proposed Answer

  • Zoning refers to municipal or local government laws that dictate how real property can and cannot be used in certain areas. Zoning laws can limit commercial use of land in order to prevent oil, manufacturing or other types of businesses from building in residential neighborhoods. Zoning outlines what types of developmental and operational use of land is allowed on a given tract. These laws can be modified or suspended if construction of the property will serve to help the community advance economically. An owner of a business can apply and request for a variance to allow the operations to continue. It is the responsibility of the land owner to visit the relevant office and understand the zoning regulations in their area before they can apply for a license. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/z/zoning.asp

Academic Research

Hirokawa, Keith H., Making Sense of a ‘Misunderstanding of the Planning Process’: Examining the Relationship Between Zoning and Rezoning Under the Change-or-Mistake Rule (August 22, 2011). 44 Urban Lawyer 295 (2012); Albany Law School Research Paper No. 18 of 2011-2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1914406 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1914406

Hines, N. William, Reforming Iowa Zoning Law by Adopting A ‘Practical Difficulties’ Standard for Area Variances (February 17, 2017). Iowa Law Review-Online, Forthcoming; U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-20. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2919697

Mandelker, Daniel R., Spot Zoning: New Ideas for an Old Problem (February 3, 2017). 48 The Urban Lawyer 737 (Fall 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2911069

Institute, The Urban, Expanding Housing Opportunities through Inclusionary Zoning: Lessons from Two Counties (December 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2217644 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2217644

Rinehart, Liz, Zoned for Injustice: Moving Beyond Zoning and Market-Based Land Preservation to Address Rural Poverty (May 9, 2014). 23 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law Policy 61 (2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2435276 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2435276

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