Insight

What Are Zoning Laws Meant To Do?

Zoning laws are important to the safety and protection of communities.

Hand holding pan writing on map
BS

Bartek Szymanski

July 7, 2022 10:00 AM

In the United States, most large cities have zoning laws that determine where construction projects are allowed to build. They regulate what can be built in the city and their dimensions. There are some cities that are exceptions to this, such as Houston, which does not have this type of law. In contrast, New York City has some of the strictest zoning laws in the country. Understanding what zoning means is vital if you want to influence the process of urban development in your community. Much of what is being built in your neighborhood is bound by zoning laws.

Zoning laws exist, among other reasons, to protect the health and safety of residents in a community. If done correctly, zoning can encourage inclusion, create opportunity, protect against overcrowding, help maintain park spaces, and prevent truly incompatible land uses from sharing the same space.

Zoning regulates two main elements: the use of the land and the size and shape of what is built on the land. Land use in zoning traditionally includes three groups: commercial, residential, and industrial areas.

  • Commercial areas include businesses, spaces for offices, shops and restaurants.
  • Residential areas include housing and “community buildings” that benefit residents. This includes schools, hospitals and laundries.
  • The industrial zones are dedicated to the service of the industry and include structures like automotive factories, garment factories, and warehouses.
    • Zoning does not usually allow the construction of residential housing or commercial buildings within industrial zones. However, this has recently changed in cities where there is a growing demand for housing and the potential for profit from the construction of luxury housing.

Zoning also regulates the size and shape of buildings. The main measure used to determine the density of a building is called Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The FAR is measured by calculating the Total Area of ​​the floor and dividing it by the Lot Area. Zoning also regulates how high a building can be, how much space should exist between buildings, and how far it should be located from the street. Additionally, in relation to land use and density, cities often have "special zoning districts," which exist to preserve the characteristics of a certain neighborhood or promote certain types of construction in the community.

Builders must abide by existing zoning laws in the neighborhood. If they want an exception from the existing laws, they can apply for something called a “variance.” A variance can be easily granted if the local planning commission is controlled by the builders and their interests, or if the commission believes the project will benefit the community.

A change in neighborhood zoning laws is called a “rezoning.” It may also be called a “plan amendment” or a “zone change”. A rezoning can be proposed by the community, the city, or a builder. Upzoning increases the density of construction in the neighborhood. It is often a way in which a city promotes urban development in the neighborhood. Some people believe that this is a way to create additional housing options and reduce housing costs. However, it can also increase the number of construction accidents if not supervised correctly. Unfortunately, workers are often the victims of expedient and negligent city planning.

New York State has a variety of laws on the books designed to protect construction workers, and builders need to be familiar with these laws along with the local zoning laws. Perhaps the most well-known of these worker protection laws is Labor Law Section 240, known as the “Scaffold Law.” This law requires all workers performing certain tasks related to elevation to be provided with adequate safety devices. New York also has Labor Law Section 241(6), which requires builders to comply with the Industrial Code.

Downzoning is the opposite. It can be a way to restrict the urban development process and can lead to neighborhood gentrification because the amount of housing in the neighborhood decreases. Rezoning may also change the land use that is permitted in the neighborhood. This is a way to bring more housing projects that are needed in the neighborhoods, but it can also lead to the loss of manufacturing jobs for community.

Zoning was established to create a balance between neighborhood communities and construction endeavors. It is almost impractical for zoning laws not to be controversial, but the ultimate goal should always be a symbiosis between residents and builders.

Headline Image: Best Lawyers

Related Articles

It’s Official: Options for Challenging “Official Marks” in Canada


by Jamie-Lynn Kraft and Philip Lapin

“Official marks” are a strangely obscure corner of Canadian intellectual-property law. What are they, what explains their strength and what can a business owner in search of a trademark do to challenge them?

Two griffins on royal crest

Growing Canadian Business Abroad


by Didier Culat

Canadian entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses beyond the geographic confines of their home dominion must consider a vast range of questions to ensure they’re fit to branch out. Here’s a quick primer.

Green arrows rising with Canada in backdrop

Latinflation


by Alejandra Daroch, Domingo Russi and Jaime Carey Astaburuaga

Long a beacon of economic stability in South America, Chile has been buffeted lately by the global rise in inflation. Can a key element of its monetary policy help it weather the storm?

Waves crashing into lighthouse

The Antipodean Advantage


by Gordon Grieve and Tony Britten-Jones

As the pandemic recedes, Australia remains one of the best countries in which to invest. The commercial law experts at Piper Alderman review the country’s advantages when it comes to outside money looking for outsized returns.

Man pointing to cave wall

Hobbling the War Machine


by Shawn C.D. Neylan

Since late spring, the Canadian government has been actively sanctioning business and political entities, as well as numerous individuals, with alleged ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian military, including some in Belarus. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard—so here’s an overview.

Military tank with prohibited symbol

The Future of Trade is Digital


by Alan de Rochefort-Reynolds, Daniel Allman and Jo Feldman

Digital information increasingly drives bilateral and multilateral trade throughout the Indo-Pacific region. It behooves countries to devise agreements governing the use and exchange of the enormous amounts of vital data generated every day.

Neon colored boxes being traded

The Carbon Conundrum


by Martin Hamer and Natalie Kopplow

Companies that trade internationally might soon face a “carbon tariff” when importing certain goods into the European Union. Why is the EU doing this—and how will it affect world trade?

Power plant billowing smoke

Rental House of Cards


by Tyler D’Angelo

The pandemic devastated uncountable businesses worldwide. A recent court case involving some of Canada’s most venerable companies and pension funds sheds light on the stringency of the country’s commercial leases—and the judiciary’s reluctance to meddle in sophisticated commercial contracts amid a “black swan” event.

Toppling house of cards

Competitive Balance


by David Feldman and Peter Flynn

Major amendments to Canada’s Competition Act were rushed through Parliament this June with scarcely any debate. They will likely have enormous antitrust ramifications—and businesses had better be ready.

Blaring megaphone sounds the alarm

What Are Examinations for Discovery


by Salvatore Grillo

This article explores the importance of an examination for discovery in civil lawsuits.

Illuminated lightbulb in a maze

Getting Reorganized


by Sameer M. Alifarag and Seth H. Lieberman

Taking a second look at first day relief: an examination of recent bankruptcy trends through the lens of two important debtor motions and their impact on Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Desk lamp with yellow background

Accommodation Reigns


by J. Lott Warren and Kara E. Shea

A recent 6th Circuit Court decision could have big implications for employers who don’t follow reasonable-accommodation standards within disability and medical-leave law to the letter.

Blue lungs behind white clock

COVID-19 and a Cloud of Dust


by John J. Song and Theodore M. Becker

Think ERISA health plan litigation was convoluted before? The pandemic—and future pathogens such as the monkeypox virus currently causing consternation among health authorities worldwide—will further upend the legal landscape as new regulations and statutes take effect.

Masked man with airborne germs

The Great Debate: Do You Arbitrate Commercial Disputes?


by David K. Taylor

In a civil case, is it wiser for a business to try to persuade the counterparty to agree from the outset to arbitration—or potentially to place its very solvency in the unpredictable hands of a judge and jury?

Hand moving multicolor blocks

Before the Claim Hits


by George L. Lankford

General liability insurance is rarely as simple as it might seem—and if you wait to examine your policy specifics until your business has been sued, it’s too late.

Ship sinking surrounded by money

7 Things to Never Do After a Car Accident


by Daniel Petrov

Petrov Law Firm discusses things to never do after a car accident. Read on to learn more.

Nighttime street with two cars at intersection

Trending Articles

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees


by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023


by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees


by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some


by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers in Canada™


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 16th Edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™ and 1st Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers in Canada™

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests


by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

The Real Camille: An Interview with Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez


by Rebecca Blackwell

Camille Vasquez, a young lawyer at Brown Rudnick, sat down with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer to talk about her distinguished career, recently being named partner and what comes next for her.

Camille Vasquez in office

All Eyes to the Ones on the Rise


by Rebecca Blackwell

Our 2023 honorees recognized in Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch™ in America tell us more about how their path to law formed, what lead them to their practice areas and how they keep steadfast in their passion to serve others.

Person walking between glass walls towards window

Announcing the 2022 "Best Law Firms" Rankings


by Best Lawyers

The 2022 “Best Law Firms” publication includes all “Law Firm of the Year” recipients, national and metro Tier 1 ranked firms and editorial from thought leaders in the legal industry.

The 2022 Best Law Firms Awards

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers


by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers in South Africa™


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms.

Announcing 2022 Best Lawyers in South Africa

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Australia


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Australi