Land use planning Basics for reporters
U.S. planning in context • Some countries have very little or not planning. Others, like Canada for example, centralize planning at provincial levels. • Planning in the U.S. occupies a middle ground, decentralized to the local level, within a state framework. • State provides some general guidelines, local levels get more specific.
Purpose of U.S. land use planning • To guide growth and change in a municipality in an orderly way that promotes the public interest while protecting property rights. • Requires striking a balance between competing interests – public interest vs. property rights.
Competing interests • For example- The owner of a auto dealership may have a chance to expand his business by purchasing the restaurant next door.- The expansion would mean more night lighting and additional noise. This does not sit well with nearby home owners. • How should this dispute be resolved?
Approaches to planning • Most common – Euclidean zoning- Named after Euclid, Ohio- Supreme Court upheld Euclid’s zoning ordinance in 1926- Based on the idea of separation of incompatible land uses
Euclidean zoning I • Separates land uses by intensity. • Intensity – the amount of noise, traffic, pollution, etc. generated by the land use.- Highest intensity – heavy industry- Lowest intensity – single-family residential- Intermediate – multi-family, office service, commercial, light industrial
Euclidean zoning II • Buffers incompatible uses- With uses of intermediate intensityFor example: Office zones can separate residential from commercial areas.- With mitigation of impact – screening with walls, privacy fences, trees or other vegetation- Setbacks from property line- Lighting regulations – ex. light pollution
Criticism of Euclidean zoning • Separation of uses leads to:- Urban sprawl – inefficient delivery of services such as fire, water, sewer.- Dependence on automobiles – driving a mile for a loaf of bread; major arteries cutting up neighborhoods.- Urban crime – deterioration of central cities; cities empty out at 5 p.m.
Emerging approaches I • ‘New urbanism’- Mixed uses – commercial on lower floors, apartments above. Shop, work and recreate where you live.- Walkable neighborhoods – bike paths, grid streets to move traffic.
Emerging approaches II • Form-based zoning- Regulates buildings instead of uses – considers aesthetics, such as the building’s height, setbacks, materials- Relation of buildings to public space – green zones- Creation of designed public space – parking, streetscapes.
The planning team • Planning commission- Writes master plan, zoning ordinance- Acts on rezoning requests, site plans, etc. • City or village council- Can choose whether to be final authority • Zoning board of appeals- Settles requests for variances • Staff – the local experts • Consultants – the out-of-town experts
Master plan • One of the most important planning documents. • Sets overall direction for change in land uses in the community. • Can be used to support decisions that move toward community goals – non-motorized transportation. • Must respond to market forces. Planning something doesn’t make it happen.
Use it or … • Master plans are “use it or lose it” propositions. • “Failure to follow the plan may discredit any attempt to use the plan as a defense for actions which may be challenged by property owners or developments” – Michigan Municipal League.
Zoning ordinance • Establishes the rules for land use- Divides the community into zoning districts. Provides a precise definition.- Controls the type and intensity of development allowed in each district. For example – “neighborhood commercial” may include convenience stores and small retail shops but exclude gas stations, auto repair shops, supermarkets and malls.
Planning processes • Rezoning petition- Seeks to change zoning of a particular parcel.- If approved, allows any use on the rezoned parcel permitted in that zoning district. • Site plan- An engineered design for a specific use for a particular parcel.- Can have full or administrative review. • Variance – decided by zoning board of appeals
Useful concepts • Rezoning stays with property, not with the owner.- Owner may change mind- New owner can change use • Uses permitted by right • Conditional uses (special use permit)
Useful concepts II • Grandfathering- Zoning is not retroactive- Existing uses allowed to remain as “legal noncomformities.”- Should be brought into conformity over time - new use can only be one permitted in the zoning district; limits on remodeling, rebuilding, etc.
A new zoning tool • Historically, Michigan has not allowed “contract zoning” –agreements with property owners to restrict the use of a property if rezoning is granted. • Instead, planning commissions had to consider the wide range of uses permitted under a zoning district.
Conditional rezoning • A recent change to state law allowed “conditional rezoning.” • A property owner can voluntarily propose limiting the use of a piece of property. • If accepted, the agreement is legally binding on the property owner. • If the agreement is broken, the property reverts to the previous zoning.
Zoning board of appeals • Required in every community that has a zoning ordinance. • Council can act as the ZBA. • A ZBA can be appointed by the council. • Has final authority over requests for variances.
Variances • Variances are requests to be allowed to break the law. To violate the ordinance. • Most should be denied. • Two kinds- Use – permits a use not otherwise allowed in a zoning district.- Dimensional – permits encroachment in required setbacks, parking requirements, building height, etc.
Use variance • Petitioner is usually required to show- Compliance with the law would cause unnecessary hardship for the owner.- Due to circumstances unique to the property.- The problem shouldn’t be “self-created.”- The variance should do “substantial justice” both to the property owner and to others.
Dimensional variance • Petitioner is usually required to show- Compliance with the law would cause practical difficulties for the property owner.- Due to circumstances unique to the property.- The problem shouldn’t be “self-created.”- The variance should be the minimum action required to solve the problem.
Why ZBAs should say no • “Eventually, the offhand granting of variances harms the community’s ability to enforce the ordinance” - Michigan Municipal League. • Poorly supported decisions can, over time, “have the effect of destroying the credibility of the zoning ordinance.”
Brownfields • Former industrial areas where the land is contaminated by chemical substances, oil, old gas tanks, etc. • Can be tough to attract redevelopment, because of the contamination and government clean-up requirements for redevelopment. • Local governments, state and federal programs in place to encourage redevelopment.
Bottom line • We’re not making any more land, but population is increasing. Can lead to conflicts over existing and future land development. • New tools, techniques and ideas about land use and reuse are always emerging. • Land use discussion tends to bring out the NIMBY crowd in force. Also attracts those who may not follow government day-to-day but suddenly develop an interest due to their home or business location.