Walk through a city and it’s easy to see that different neighborhoods feature certain components – office buildings line the streets, manufacturing plants are grouped together away from residential housing or adjacent buildings have the same height or architecture. These similarities are the result of zoning, a type of city planning which regulates how land can be developed and used.
What Is Zoning?
Zoning is a set of rules that establish how land and properties may be developed and used. It does this by specifying the areas in which commercial, industrial and residential activities may take place. For instance, if an area is zoned as residential, then a developer could construct new residential homes but not truck stops or manufacturing plants. Many governments break down the categories further, so a residential district might allow for single-family homes but not apartment complexes.
Zoning is the primary tool in a city planner’s arsenal for shaping a city and planning for its future development. If a city sees a need for higher-density housing, for example, it might zone a neighborhood for duplexes and apartment buildings. If it wants to become an entertainment hub, it might zone an area for cinemas, bowling alleys, clubs and amusement arcades.
Zoning also covers rules about lot sizes, building heights, delivery times and other standards. The idea is to protect residents from unnecessary noise and disruption and to preserve the character of the neighborhood.
Read More: Low-Density Residential Zoning Definition
Zoning Laws Can Change
The important thing to know about zoning is that it’s not permanent. Zoning laws can, and have been, relaxed to take account of a community’s evolving needs. It’s certainly not impossible for a vacant lot in a residential zone to be be reclassified as C-2 to enable the development of a hotel complex or student dormitories, for instance, if that's what the community needs.
What Do the Letters in a Zoning Code Mean?
Zoning is a city, county or municipal affair. This means that each community has its own rules and may adopt a different classification system to that of its nearest neighbor. Generally though, a jurisdiction uses a letter to designate the primary zoning of a particular area – C for commercial, R for residential and so on. Here are the most common zone classifications:
- R – Residential Zoning (housing)
- C – Commercial Zoning (offices, shops, hotels, restaurants, banks and similar establishments that require some interaction with the public)
- I – Industrial Zoning (manufacturing businesses, warehouses, even airports)
- A – Agricultural Zoning (farms)
Many communities also make provision for mixed development that typically blend multiple zoning uses, allowing for homes, workplaces and entertainment spaces to be constructed within a single building, community or neighborhood.
What Do the Numbers in a Zoning Code Mean?
The number in a zoning code breaks the primary use into sub-levels. So, for example, R1 might cover single family homes, R2 apartments and duplexes, and R3 might cover trailer parks. Commercial zoning usually has multiple categories covering everything from office buildings, retail stores and restaurants to shopping malls, hotels, nightclubs, museums, libraries, gas stations and drive-thru facilities. New York City has eight separate commercial (C) categories, and each category is quite prescriptive about the type of business that can be carried out in each zone.
Zoning symbols vary among communities. A C-2 zone in one community will not be the same as a C-2 in another community. Anyone looking at opening a commercial business should check the local zoning laws with the local planning agency to ensure that a C-2 designation in that community covers exactly what is needed.
Most communities use letters and numbers as abbreviations to designate what type of development is permitted in a certain area. C-2 zoning means Commercial, Level 2. It usually covers general commercial, office and retail usage, though there may be limits as to what kinds of businesses can be opened in the C-2 zone. Each community has its own guidance.