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Zoning

Residential, Commercial, or Industrial?

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While European cities in the late 19th century developed the controls that would later evolve into what is known today as zoning, New York City developed the first zoning ordinance in 1916. New York's 1916 Zoning Resolution established height and setback controls on buildings and separated incompatible uses to stop the encroachment of industry into Manhattan's office and department store district.

As skyscrapers became popular at the beginning of the 20th century, New Yorkers complained about the negative impact of the buildings' ability to block sunlight. The zoning ordinance specified that buildings would be shaped like a wedding cake and taper toward the top in a stair-step style. Later zoning ordinances and building regulations changed the size and shape of buildings in the city over the following decades.

Many cities followed New York's lead in establishing zoning ordinances and excluding obnoxious or incompatible uses from residential areas, protecting property values and thus changing the value of land based upon the zoning qualifications. The town of Euclid, Ohio passed a zoning ordinance that resulted in devaluation of 68 acres of land owned by Ambler Realty Company. The company sued the town, claiming that their land was taken in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." In 1926 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case, Village of Euclid, Ohio, v. the Ambler Realty Company, and found that zoning is constitutional, provided that it is designed to protect the public health, welfare, and safety.

Traditional zoning has proven less than popular in many cities. Zoning typically segregates land uses into three main categories - residential, commercial, and industrial. Thus, if a section of a city is zoned residential, then no commercial uses are allowed in the area so a grocery store cannot be built within a housing area. While zoning has served to protect property values and has enhanced the use of the automobile, it has created less than appealing cities. Over the past few decades, the "planned use development" (or PUD) has come into favor. It allows cities to zone a new section of development with mixed uses and to allow single family homes near apartments and offices and grocery stores near residential areas so people can work and shop close to home. The New Urbanism further modifies zoning to result in livable communities.

The city of Houston, Texas is notable for its lack of zoning ordinances, yet some are pushing for zoning in this final holdout city.

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