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What are the Different Types of Zones?

Photograph of a red pen drawing over a printed map of property zones

Property zoning is a critical aspect of urban planning, dictating how land can be used in different areas. It segments cities into districts or zones, each with its own set of rules regarding what structures can be built and what activities can take place. In this guide, we will explore the various types of property zones and their implications.

What are Zones?

Zoning laws constitute a set of detailed rules and regulations set by governments or municipalities, which categorize lands into distinct "zones." These laws, or zoning ordinances, precisely govern the permissible uses of real property within these zoning districts, ensuring organized and appropriate development. Essentially, zoning laws determine which types of properties can coexist in different areas of a given location.

Historically, zoning has served as a safeguard for community integrity. It enables communities to maintain serene living conditions by preventing exposure to excessive noise and traffic. Moreover, zoning helps in preserving vital natural and historical assets, ensuring that hazardous facilities are not located near residential areas. Additionally, zoning regulations can stipulate requirements for buildings to ensure sufficient natural light, air quality, and privacy for inhabitants.

What are the Different Types of Zones?

Before investing in property, understanding its zoning is crucial to ensure it aligns with your intended use. Every community adheres to distinct zoning regulations and rules. It's essential to ascertain the specific zoning category your property falls within. Here are the most common zoning categories and what they mean:

Residential Zoning

Residential zoning encompasses a variety of living spaces, including single-family homes, suburban estates, apartments, trailer parks, home-based businesses (in some cases), cooperatives, and condominiums. These zoning regulations address various issues, such as the permissibility of placing mobile homes on a property and the permissible number of structures on given parcels of land.

Furthermore, these laws regulate the types and quantities of animals allowed at a residence. While domestic pets typically face few restrictions, farm animals are generally prohibited in residential zones. Additionally, the allowed number of animals may vary, depending on the size of the property.

Commercial Zoning

Commercial zoning pertains to businesses. They are separate from agricultural, industrial, and residential zones, as far as land use is concerned. Commercial zoning encompasses several different categories depending on how the business uses its property, and the number of customers it brings in. Most real estate properties, other than single-family lots and homes, are considered types of commercial real estate properties. The types of units that often fall under commercial zoning laws include office buildings, shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, warehouses (in some cases), and vacant land with the potential for business development.

Although the types of businesses in a commercial zone will vary, the municipality will be able to set rules that include the proximity of certain business types to others, parking availability, the maximum building height, and the distance between schools and churches.

There are a few advantages of zoning for commercial businesses. The main benefit is the ability to locate near other businesses that have already established constant traffic. This way, a commercial business can coexist with other companies that are not direct competition to draw in more customers. It also guarantees the property will be configured in ways that support conducting the specific type of business.

Industrial Zoning

Industrial zones are areas dedicated to businesses operating in industrial capacities, typically housing large warehouses, manufacturing facilities, airports, and storage units. These zones are designated based on environmental considerations, like noise levels or air quality, ensuring they're situated away from residential areas to minimize impact. That being said, industrial zoning is critical for city planning, as it separates areas with heavier and potentially disruptive activities from residential neighborhoods.

Industrial zones are designated for activities related to the production, processing, cleaning, repair, storage, and distribution of goods and materials. This strategic placement helps maintain the balance between industrial activity and residential living standards, and each city tailors its industrial zoning laws to fit its economic needs and community goals without negatively impacting the quality of life for its residents.

Agricultural Zoning

Agricultural zoning is generally used by communities that are concerned about maintaining the economic viability of the agricultural and farming industries. Agricultural zoning generally restricts development density and limits the land's use to agricultural purposes. In numerous agricultural zoning regulations, density control is achieved by establishing a substantial minimum lot size for residential units. The allowable density may differ based on the type of agricultural activity.

Agricultural zoning laws safeguard farming communities from encroachment by residential developments, playing a crucial role in supporting incentive, subsidy, and tax abatement programs. Agricultural zoning helps to limit suburban sprawl, encourages the maintenance of farmland, and redirects urban development to more appropriate places. However, there are still various structures that can be built on land zoned for agriculture, such as farmhouses, poultry coops, barns, silos, storage sheds, and livestock shelters.

Rural Zoning

Rural land zoning laws serve to manage land use in a way that supports agriculture, conserves natural resources, and maintains the rural character of the landscape. This can include different classifications like residential, agricultural, or even special use zones that could cater to wind farms or recreational land.

When it comes to buying rural land, understanding the zoning laws is especially critical because it dictates not only the types of structures you can build on the property, but also the activities permitted on the land. Before purchasing land or beginning construction, property investors should consult the local zoning maps and ordinances. These documents provide valuable property information and are readily accessible online or through your local county clerk's office. Understanding your zone marks the commencement of harmonizing your goals for development on a given property with both the legal mandates and the communal norms specific to the area.

Historic Zoning

With older municipalities that have significant historical sections, a historic zone may be designated. The goal of this zoning strategy is usually to provide protection for these buildings. Part of a national program designed to identify, evaluate, and protect these historic structures, the National Register of Historic Places lists the cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation. Properties on this list include sites, districts, structures, buildings, statues, and other objects that are significant to U.S. history, culture, engineering, archeology, and architecture.

Aesthetic Zoning

Aesthetic zoning involves rules and standards established by local authorities to govern the design and visual aspects of buildings and landscapes in a defined region, ensuring they meet specific appearance criteria. It can be part of a comprehensive zoning ordinance or it can be a standalone law. Increasingly popular in upscale communities, aesthetic zoning covers things like color schemes, landscaping, mailboxes, fences, solar panels, decks, and construction material types.

How to Find Zoning Data

You can get accurate zoning data from your local zoning office, City Hall, or local planning board. Most of the time, this information can be found online as well. LandApp has nationwide zoning data for just $10 per month, along with additional property due diligence tools.


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