Zoning laws have only been used in the United States since shortly before 1920. At the time many thought zoning laws were unconstitutional because they limit the use of a your property. However, zoning laws became quickly popular. The courts justified zoning laws as a reasonable exercise of government powers to further the public welfare. Generally, the states have enacted laws that allow the local units of government to regulate zoning in a community.
Whenever you are considering buying property you should check the zoning to make sure you can use the property as you want. You should also check the zoning to make sure the neighboring properties cannot be used in a way that interferes with the peace, enjoyment and value of your property. Your real estate professional usually has information on the zoning of the property you want to purchase. Your real estate agent will also have the contact information for the local government office where you can check out the zoning.
Zoning is controlled by local units of government. Because of this, there are many different terms possible. However, there are a few basic terms that you should know. Knowing these terms will help you check out the property you are interested in buying.
R-1 Property: Generally this designates a zoned area where only Single Family Residences are allowed.
R-2 Property: Generally this designates an area where single family and 2 family residences are allowed. An example would be a duplex.
R-3 Property: R-3 and higher generally provide for different levels of multi-family residences.
C-1 Property: Commercial Property where retail, office and other similar commercial uses are allowed.
C-2 Property: C-2 and higher designate varying degrees of commercial uses that provide for a more intense use of the land such as garages, motor vehicle repair facilities, gas stations and the like. You should read the local zoning ordinance carefully to determine the allowed uses.
I-1 Property: I-1 generally signifies a Light Industrial property. Often in a light industrial property you can have the allowed commercial uses along with light manufacturing. Light manufacturing allows plants that have a low impact on the surrounding area. Light industrial uses generally do not allow for loud disturbing noises or noticeable discharge of gases or fluids. Again, local ordinances should be checked carefully.
I-2 Property: I-2 and higher zoning classifications generally allow for more intense use of the property. These areas are reserved and promoted for manufacturing. These areas are necessary for jobs and productivity, but you don’t necessarily want to have your home next to one. Again, consult the local ordinance for the specific allowed uses.
A Property: Agricultural Property is a growing zoning classification. In an Agricultural area, zoning is now often used to try and preserve the farming character of the area. Agricultural zoning often requires very large lots for placement of a single home, for example, up to 25 acres or more. There is a growing trend to use zoning to preserver the undeveloped parts of our country.
PUD Property: This does not stand for any type of property in particular. PUD stands for Planned Unit Development. A PUD is a specially created zoning area to allow a development that does not fit into or comply with the requirements of the usual zoning classifications. For example, condominium complexes are often Planned Unit Developments. The condominium will have a greater density of housing than allowed by you normal Residential Classes. If the developer convinces the local board that administers the zoning ordinance that the development would benefit the community, then the developer would be allowed to build the planned unit development. It is possible to have a PUD for residential, commercial (such as a shopping mall) or industrial (such as an industrial park) properties. Be sure to check and see if any PUDs are in the area you are considering that might effect the value and enjoyment of your property.
Special Use Permit: Sometimes the local board will allow different uses to enter into an area zoned for another use. For example, a doctor’s office normally does not have high traffic, noise or other nuisance features. You may know of doctors offices allowed in an otherwise residential area. Having the office promotes the public good and does not harm the surrounding values. Or you may find a developer that wants to put an apartment complex into a commercial area. The zoning classifications (R-1, R-2, C-1, C-2, I-1, I-2 and A) will often have such allowed different uses spelled out in the ordinance. Usually they are allowed only if they enhance the area and do not harm the value and use of surrounding properties.
Zoning Variance: Sometimes a use is not contemplated by a zoning ordinance, but the use would be of such value to the community that the local board administering the zoning will allow the use as a variance. Such a use would be a power plant placed in an otherwise agricultural/residential area. The uses are not compatible, but the tax base would generate such large sums for the local government that the use is allowed for the common good. You can also have variances that are less imposing on an area, but were just not contemplated when the ordinance was adopted.
Your local zoning ordinance may use different terms than above, but the general property use classifications will probably be similar. Familiarize yourself with your local zoning ordinance. Before buying any property, make sure the use you want to make of it is allowed by the zoning ordinance. Also make sure that the zoning ordinance protects your surrounding area from uses that you would consider interfering with your use or lower the value.