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Types of Zoning

Zoning categories and symbols vary among communities. A C-1 zone in one city is not necessarily the same as a C-1 in another. Local governments use letters of the alphabet as codes to identify the use allowed in a physical geographic area — such as: 

  • R for residential buildings 
  • C for commercial 
  • I for industrial

These symbols are usually paired with a number. The number can specify the level of use, or it may indicate a certain amount of acreage or square footage for that particular property.

Residential Zoning

Residential zones can include:

  • Single Family Residences (SFR) 
  • Suburban Homesteads (SH)
  • Any number of other designations, including homes, apartments, duplexes, trailer parks, co-ops, and condominiums

Residential zoning can cover issues such as whether mobile homes can be placed on the property and the number of structures allowed on a certain property.

Zoning laws typically limit the type of animals allowed at a residence. Domestic pets such as dogs, birds, and cats are generally not regulated, but chickens, sheep, horses, llamas, pigs, and cows are subject to certain requirements. Many laws prohibit keeping these farm animals in residential neighborhoods. Others limit the number of animals based on the size of the property.

Residential Zoning and Home-Based Businesses

Zoning laws on home-based businesses can depend on:

  • The nature of the business
  • Whether there are employees or business invitees
  • The hours of operation
  • Signage
  • Parking and delivery concerns
  • Noise issues

Some zoning ordinances prohibit all in-home businesses in residential areas. Others limit the type of business and business hours. They may also require separate parking and entrance facilities. Rules regarding home-based businesses for condominiums are typically even more restrictive than private residences.

Commercial Zoning

Commercial zoning usually has several categories and depends on the business use of the property, and often the number of business patrons. Almost any kind of real estate (other than single-family home and single-family lots) can be considered commercial real estate. Examples of commercial zoning include: 

  • Office buildings 
  • Shopping centers
  • Nightclubs 
  • Hotels
  • Certain warehouses 
  • Some apartment complexes as well as vacant land that has the potential for development into these types of buildings 

The availability of parking may affect the type of commercial zoning that is allowed. Additionally, there can be rules regarding the proximity of certain types of businesses to others. Many zoning laws ban or limit adult entertainment establishments to a certain geographical area. Others bar such types of land uses within a certain distance of existing schools or churches.

Industrial Zoning

Like commercial zoning, industrial zoning can be specific to the type of business. Environmental factors, including noise concerns and industrial use, determine into which industrial zone a business falls. Manufacturing plants and many storage facilities have industrial zoning. Certain businesses like airports may have their own designation.

Industrial zoning often depends on the floor area ratio (which is the land area covered by all buildings on a lot) and building height. Additionally, set-back requirements are higher for industrial zoned properties.

Agricultural Zoning

Agricultural zoning is generally used by communities that are concerned about maintaining the economic viability of the agricultural industry. Agricultural zoning typically limits the density of development. It also restricts non-farm uses of the land. 

In many agricultural zoning ordinances, the density is controlled by setting a large minimum lot size for a residential dwelling unit. Densities may vary depending upon the type of agricultural operation. 

Agricultural zoning can protect farming communities from becoming fragmented by residential development. In many states, agricultural zoning is necessary for federal voluntary incentive programs, subsidy programs, and programs that provide for additional tax abatements.

Rural Zoning

The "rural" zoning district is often used for farms or ranches. In certain parts of the country, this class includes residences zoned to allow horses or cattle.

Combination Zoning

Any number of zoning designations have mixed-use. Therefore, they can be combined to form some sort of combination zone. Many combination zones are unique to the community adopting the particular class. 

Historic Zoning

Homes and buildings over fifty years old are included in historic zones. There are zoning regulations that prevent changing structures from the original conditions. But there are allowances for repair and restoration in keeping with the historic plan. Generally, buildings in these areas can qualify for government tax incentives.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation.  The National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect historic and archeological resources. 

Properties listed in the Register include:

  • Districts 
  • Sites 
  • Buildings 
  • Structures 
  • Objects that are significant in U. S. history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.

The National Park Service administers the National Register, which is part of the U. S. Department of the Interior. The National Register accepts applications for buildings that meet certain specific historic requirements.

Property owners listed in the National Register may be eligible for a 20% investment tax credit for the certified rehabilitation of income-producing, certified historic structures. These include:

  • Commercial buildings
  • Industrial buildings
  • Rental residential buildings 

This credit can be combined with a straight-line depreciation period of 27.5 years for residential property (31.5 years for nonresidential property) for the depreciable basis of the rehabilitated building, reduced by the amount of the tax credit claimed.

Federal tax deductions are also available for charitable contributions to historically important land areas or structures.

Aesthetic Zoning

Increasingly popular in upscale communities, aesthetic zoning covers:

  • Color schemes 
  • Landscaping
  • Mailboxes
  • Fences
  • Solar panels 
  • Decks
  • Satellite dishes 
  • Material types 

Aesthetic zoning codes may require that building plans be submitted and approved by an architectural review committee. Wireless communication receiving devices can often be impacted by these types of zoning rules.

Permitted and Accessory Uses

Permitted and Accessory uses are built-in exceptions within a certain zoning category. For example, hotel property that is not zoned for a bar may be allowed to have a bar that is connected to the hotel as an accessory or permitted use.

Have More Questions About the Different Types of Zoning? Ask a Lawyer

Zoning issues can arise at any time and they can affect what you can do on your land and what your neighbors can do on theirs. In some circumstances, you can petition to enforce zoning or seek to have the zoning of property changed. For help sorting through your zoning questions and issues, it's a good idea to reach out to an experienced land use and zoning attorney near you.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified real estate to help you navigate land use issues including zoning, easements and eminent domain.

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