Are Land Use and Zoning the Same Thing?

Zoning and Land Use

Land use and development laws have evolved. Early planners were those people who set out to create roadways to connect towns to larger arteries throughout the new country. When small towns started to grow, city leaders would put more detail into these roadways and the buildings that could be constructed around them. While some features were uniform from city to city, such as banks and taverns, others would differ based on the primary function of those in the city. With the country’s growth and the need to control the type of buildings that could be constructed, the government began regulating property with more detail through land use and zoning designations.

Land Use Versus Zoning

Much has changed since the early days of land planning. The first city in the country to restrict what could be constructed was New York City, and this law was not enacted until 1916. The reason for the regulation was the construction of a skyscraper that many felt devalued the buildings around it. Thus, the city’s leaders established zoning regulations to restrict what builders could construct on a given land plot. Zoning and land use differ in one significant way: regulation. Land use is how planners and developers decide to improve property while zoning laws dictate what they can and cannot do.

Zoning Controls Future Developments

Large tracts of land are surveyed and studied before improvements are approved. The local government’s planning and zoning authority examines the studies performed regarding soil type, location, and developments in the surrounding area. They then divide the large tract of land into smaller sections with specified zoning designations. Some of the most common include:

  • Residential-single family
  • Residential-multi-family
  • Schools
  • Utility substation
  • Conservation
  • Commercial
  • Industrial

The zoning board may impose further regulations on each of these general districts. They can limit the number of homes and specify the type of commercial businesses constructed.

The Purpose of Land Use and Zoning

Aside from controlling an oversaturation of one development type in a city boundary, zoning performs many other purposes. Without zoning, developers might wipe out large areas of natural habitat critical for supporting at-risk or endangered species. Zoning ensures that complimentary designations are near each other and places restrictions on the size and type of buildings constructed. Zoning considers things such as parking spaces, boundaries, and where utility lines need to go. A developer looking to improve vacant land will need to consider the current zoning in place before plotting the land use. A real estate lawyer can help sort out the regulations in place and even apply for changes if the need arises.