Communities have many options in addressing zoning needs

As a regulatory tool, zoning was designed to mitigate nuisances, preserve property values and provide some certainty of land use. However, since its inception, the tool now has many variations.

Zoning is the primary tool that communities develop to control the use of land in their respective jurisdictions. Historically, it was an effective way to regulate use, height and bulk. Many planners and urban designers today are very critical of the traditional Euclidian type of zoning as a restrictive land use control. Many planning professionals believe that Euclidian zoning limits the ability of communities to develop viable mixed-use places for their communities. However, the Euclidian zoning code was a prevalent zoning method in the early 1900s and is still a viable zoning technique used in many communities to this very day. Fortunately, for those communities that are seeking techniques better suited to their individual circumstances there are other types of codes that may be more appropriate.

Incentive zoning is a form of zoning that provides development bonuses to proposals that provided a desired public amenity or outcome. This type of zoning was used to incentivize open space, parks and affordable housing. In some instances, communities provided increased densities as a benefit to providing desired public benefits. Incentive zoning can be an effective way to achieve important community-defined development objectives.

Performance zoning is another effective way to provide more flexibility in the development process. This type of zoning can be seen as a precursor to form-based codes. Performance zoning established design criteria for the various districts in a community. If the developer could meet the standards of the design criteria, they would be given more flexibility on uses of land.

Form-based codes represent the latest evolution in code development. Similar to performance codes, form-based codes focus on the urban form primarily and less on land use. The goal is to connect all the different design elements into a cohesive, connected and well-functioning place.

Therefore, as planners and designers work to create more interesting and viable communities, they have a variety of zoning tools to use. The answer for a particular jurisdiction may be a blending of tools in a way that is unique to that specific community. Regardless of the tool or tools selected, the overall objective should be to create a desired community that is based on a well-thought out master plan with considerable stakeholder input. A Michigan State University Extension educator can help walk you through these decisions.

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