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Land-Use Control


Zoning is the regulation and restriction of real property by a local government. It is the most common form of land-use regulation, as municipalities rely on it to control and direct the development of property within their borders, according to present and potential uses of the property. Zoning involves the division of territory based on the character of land and structures and their fitness for particular uses. Consideration is given to conserving the value of property and encouraging the most appropriate use of land throughout a particular locality.

A municipality's power to enact zoning regulations is derived from the state in an exercise of its police power. Police power is the inherent power of the government to act for the welfare of those within its jurisdiction. The power to impose zoning restrictions is conferred on a municipality by a state enabling statute.

Zoning laws are intended to promote the health, safety, welfare, convenience, morals, and prosperity of the community at large, and are meant to enhance the GENERAL WELFARE rather than to improve the economic interests of any particular property owner. They are designed to stabilize neighborhoods and preserve the character of the community by guiding its future growth.

The essential purpose of zoning is to segregate residential, commercial, and industrial districts from one another. Within these three main types of districts there may be additional restrictions as to population density and building height. The use of property within a particular district is for the most part uniform. For example, if a district is zoned for industrial use, residential buildings are not normally permitted there. However, if a residential building predates the zoning plan, it is permitted to remain. This exception is called a nonconforming use.

Municipalities exercise wide discretion in fixing the boundaries of commercial and industrial districts. A number of ordinances have been enacted to protect residential zones from encroachment by gasoline stations, public parking facilities, businesses selling intoxicating liquors, and factories that produce smoke or odors.

When enacting zoning ordinances, a municipality takes many factors into consideration. The most significant are the density of the population; the site and physical attributes of the land involved; traffic and transportation; the fitness of the land for the permitted use; the character of neighborhoods in the community; the existing uses and zoning of neighboring property; the effect of the permitted use on land in the surrounding area; any potential decrease in property values; the gain to the public at large weighed against economic hardships imposed on individual property owners; and the amount of time that the property has remained unimproved, reviewed in the context of land development in the area as a whole.

Exclusionary zoning is the practice of using the zoning power to develop the parochial interests of a particular municipality at the expense of surrounding regions. Its purpose is to advance economic and social SEGREGATION. Exclusionary zoning involves using zoning to take advantage of the benefits of regional development without being forced to bear the burdens of such development, as well as using zoning to maintain particular municipalities as enclaves of affluence or social homogeneity. Both practices have been strongly condemned in the courts, since they violate the principle that municipal zoning ordinances should advance the general welfare.

Exclusionary zoning takes various forms, such as requirements setting a minimum lot size or house size, the prohibition of multifamily housing, and the prohibition of mobile homes.

A municipality has a legitimate interest in ensuring that residential development proceeds in an orderly and planned manner and that the burdens on municipal services do not increase faster than the ability of services to expand. It must also preserve exceptional environmental and historical features. Increasingly, however, exclusionary techniques have come under fire as unfair ways of preventing the creation of economically, racially, and socially diverse communities.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Labor Department - Employment And Training Administration to Legislative PowerLand-Use Control - Private Land-use Restrictions, The Master Plan And Official Map, Planned Communities: Read The Fine Print