Types of Land Use Zoning

Types of Land Use Zoning

Source: Adapted from Cambridge Systematics.

In urban planning as well as transportation planning, land use is the object of zonal characterization. Each land use zone is subject to a series of regulations depicting what can be built in terms of criteria such as nature, function, and density, giving municipal governments tools to influence urban development. There are four major types of land use zoning:

  • Functional zoning. The most prevalent form of zoning where land use zones are defined according to their function, such as commercial, residential, or industrial. Each zone type is subject to specific rules and regulations concerning the type of activities built. The assumption is that urban functions should be allocated to specific areas to improve their efficiency and mitigate externalities associated with incompatible land uses.
  • Form-based zoning. Define zones according to their physical characteristics, mostly from an urban identity perspective, such as the downtown area. This form of zoning is usually easier to relate to the general population since it uses zonal definitions that are well known and help create an urban identity by underlining areas with unique characteristics.
  • Intensity zoning. Defines land use zones by the permitted intensity level, such as the number of residential units per unit of surface or allowed commercial surface. Such regulation enables a level of flexibility in urban development since it permits developers to select which development types take place as long as this development abides by density constraints. Density can also be set to minimum criteria to avoid a wasteful usage of real estate.
  • Incentive zoning. Often part of revitalization or development plans where developers are allowed to build residential, commercial, or industrial (manufacturing, warehousing) projects in specific areas by providing various incentives such as tax abatement or basic infrastructure (road, utilities, public transport services). Further, developers can be granted lower restrictions, namely density limits, if amenities are such as park areas and infrastructure are developed as well.

Commonly, more than one type of zoning will be applied to a city, which can lead to some conflicts and discrepancies between stakeholders. The issue is to try to establish a balance between the restrictions imposed by zoning regulations and the dynamic market forces of urban development.