Most people don’t understand zoning laws or even really grasp why they are so important. For many, it may seem daunting or too difficult to learn of the zoning laws around the area. However, these laws are set into place to make the lives of homeowners more comfortable. For any homeowner looking to add an addition to their existing house or make any changes, it’s important to think about building codes and zoning laws first thing before any project begins.
It is important to note that zoning is not always done. Zoning for the purpose of controlling land use is more predominate along the east and west coast and in larger cities. Most rural areas are not zoned and many small towns and cities have loose if any zoning. Houston, TX, the third largest city in the country has few if any zoning ordinances. This may sound crazy for a large city, but in fact has been a rousing success for Houston. Zoning is ultimately a balancing act between government oversite and property rights.
About Zoning Laws
The first zoning laws began in 1916 in New York City as a result of the construction of high-rises in the city. The new building would block windows of adjacent building and prevent both air flow and sunshine from reaching the street. As a response, a Zoning Resolution was created that restricted the sizes of building and height. The rest of the country followed suit in the next ten years with similar zoning regulations.
Purpose of Zoning
Zoning seeks to help create economically-viable and livable conditions for homeowners, recreation, businesses and agriculture alike. This is done by establishing and regulating land uses and development according to the zoning laws of your area. The end goal is to provide some level of lifestyle protection between the separate zones. As an example, keeping industry out of residential areas prevents mixing kids on bikes with heavy trucks. Also it limits noise and other industrial nuisances from effecting homes. The flip side is that keeping residences out of industrial areas prevents liability issues for business owners.
Understanding Zoning Ordinances
Zoning maps will show particular districts marked as residential, commercial or industrial. Sometimes there are even sub-districts listed too. These maps show how your town is developed and what each site’s use will be. Each area has specific rules set per that site. Development standards are also made that include floor area ratio, building height, setbacks, density, open space, scale and parking, just to name a few details.
Understanding Zoning Terms
- Setbacks mean that they have established minimum distances that certain structures should be set back from the lot line itself.
- Coverage means the amount of the lot that can be covered with structures (which is why finding this out is important if you’re adding an addition).
- Building height is the maximum vertical distance from ground level that the structure can be.
- Floor area ratio is the radio of the total building floor area to the area of the lot (another important factor for additions).
Understanding Local Zoning Laws
Zoning ordinances are determined by the local government and change regularities. Some towns provide updated zoning documents and tools on their website, while others only offer hard copies. Do a quick online search to see if you can access these things online or call your local zoning office directly. Learn what zone district you’re in and if there are any special overlay zones around. Also learn about the development standards that you’re required to abide by in your own. We covered these terms above. Be sure to ask about each of them specifically.
By understanding your specific zoning codes, you will find out all the specifics on what you can build, where it can be located and how big it can be. And this allows you to be one step closer to getting the project started with no stress!