Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Land Zoning: How Pig Farms and Schools Co-exist

It's not a very exciting topic at first glance, but the way your lot was zoned at one time does not necessarily mean it will never be changed. Farms become single family communities, which in turn can become apartment dwellings, which can in turn be converted over to industrial space. It just depends on the needs of a community and what's happening with the land at the time those needs arise.

Today's elementary school could have been yesterday's pig farm, depending on the zoning regulations at the time. Gray Elementary School in Delta, British Columbia, Canada, was once such a farm. The kids now walk through the halls of the school where at one time, their bologna was raised. Kind of a stop-in-your-tracks thought, but one that sheds some light on how a city develops as its population grows.

When you're looking at a house with thick woods behind it, one of the first thoughts in your mind should be: "How is that zoned?" The zoning will determine the development allowed -- what kind of buildings (and businesses), the number of houses on an acre, the square footage of the lot and building, the height of a building, the use of the land -- working, playing or living, etc.

Your first search should be with the county or city planners office to nab a look at the master plan -- which can be redesigned as often as every five years or on the outside, every 25 years. It mostly depends on the speed of growth in your community.

Zone assignments can get pretty comprehensive and a zoning definition in one county doesn't necessarily carry over to the next county -- for instance, what is "M?" One could think it means "manufacturing" right? Not so fast. One person's manufacturing could be another person's mixed use. It just depends on how the city planners, in a particular area, decided to define its zoning definitions.

For instance, I counted 46 zone designations inside of roughly 29 districts covering land use for all sorts of reasons, at the Los Angeles City of Department of Planning. Residential (R zones) and commercial (C zones) are two of the most commonly known and understood, but have you heard of a zone for oil drilling (O zones), equine keeping (K zones) or submerged land -- such as fishing and shipping (SL zones).

If you're buying a home with an O zone rating -- you may want to look for another lot. Even though the plush, lush forest looks good today, later, you could wake up to large earth-moving equipment and oil drilling machinery.

Knowing your zones, is the key to unmolested landownership. While the labels for zones change locality to locality, here are some commonly used alphabetic symbols used in city planning:

A -- Agriculture -- this isn't just farms but could include some open spaces, such as ball fields, recreational areas and parks

B -- Business district -- many times this is the downtown area, but can relate to a particular area designated by the city planners

C -- Commercial -- can include retail space, manufacturing, office parks, etc.

H -- Historic or health care zones

I -- Industrial

L -- Low density or limited zone -- this is really open to interpretation town by town

M -- Manufacturing can be for light manufacturing to heavy and include textiles to automobiles

O -- Oil zone or Open Space

P -- Public facilities -- fire/safety, police, libraries, etc.

R -- Residential -- an R rating can mean plenty of things: single family, multi-family, large lots, small lots, acreage, condos, etc.

T -- Transit mixed use -- an area where planning is developed to take advantage of the public transit system of a community

U -- University/college zones

To seek out specific zoning in your area, search for "[Your Town] zoning" which should drill down the rules and regulations in your jurisdiction.

Published: April 29, 2005

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