Do you know the difference between land-use planning and zoning?

Article By:

Senior Associate | Landscape Technologist

We approach land-use planning and zoning side by side to make sensible use of the land. However, most people often get confused between the two methods.

Historically, zoning laws remained unexplored until 1916. However, the Equitable Building's erection in New York in 1913, which drew criticism from neighbors due to its colossal size and shape, helped advance legislation to regulate land planning and development laws in America.

Thus, knowing the differences between these two tools will help you enjoy your property and prevent unwanted interruption. Moreover, this guide will help you navigate land development as I dive deep into each one, discussing their effects on manufactured home communities' construction.

What Is Land-use Planning?

Land-use planning is the regulatory tool of the central (often governmental) authority to administer the use of land and guide future development. Earlier, land-use planning only dealt with the existing functions of land. Nowadays, the benefits of land are increasing, so land-use planning needs to be more strategic and comprehensive.

What Is Zoning?

A method of urban planning, zoning refers to dividing a municipality into different zones to regulate land use. Zoning is like a collective right of property, although it's not officially recognized as such.

It usually specifies various uses and functions of land to establish permitted land uses by zone. Zoning districts typically dictate restrictions on things such as size/height of buildings, density, setbacks and other considerations. These rules and restrictions allow urban development and growth.

Major Differences Between Land-Use Planning And Zoning

1. Categories

Uses of land are unlimited, and classifying each of them is nearly impossible. Thus, we organize land-use into six broad categories, including urban land, commercial land, agricultural land, forest land, transport land, and recreational land.

Similarly, zoning code categories typically include residential, business or commercial, industrial, agricultural, institutional, open space, mixed-use, planned unit development and historic districts.

2. Designations

Land use designations (LUDs) allow effective land management by emphasizing its resources, while zoning designations regulate property development and its use.

3. Aim

Land-use planning aims to use land, keeping in mind the satisfaction of its occupants and environmental protection. Zoning is what the government uses to dictate land-use planning by restricting the usage and development of a specific area.

Zoning and MH Community Planning

Manufactured housing (MH) is one of the most affordable forms of housing for low-income families. Thus, more than half of MH communities reside in rural areas.

Lack of by-right zoning and buildable land act as significant deterrents in MH community planning. However, the design standards prescribed by zoning laws can often be a critical barrier to cost-efficient housing communities.

Although community concerns regarding safety, appearance, and price appreciation of MH are typically unfounded, most of the opposition rises from NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome. Let’s take a look at each of these objections in detail.

1. Safety

Since the structural performance, repair, and maintenance of modern MH communities are similar to traditional housing, safety and quality standards have improved over the years. Recent MH communities are constructed according to the HUD code, making them a safe and reliable shelter.

2. Neighbouring Property Values

MH is assumed to harm the market value of neighboring properties. However, several studies have shown no relation between depreciation of property value and its distance from MH communities.

3. Appearance

We traditionally identify manufactured homes by their signature vinyl or steel exterior and a flat roof. But newer designs have improved the appearance of these structures with peaked roofs and more sophisticated finishes.

Additionally, few zoning ordinances can maintain uniformity among MH communities, rendering this objection baseless.

4. Demographic Characteristics

Most MH residents belong to lower-income groups, forming a considerable section of the housing market. Plus, more people of different cultures, including minority groups, are opting for these affordable homes.

Also, MH residents are assumed to move frequently and damage the neighborhood quality. However, studies have deemed this incorrect by showing the stable living conditions of MH communities, similar to occupants of traditional houses.

The National Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) passed the Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards (the “HUD Code”) to support the construction of MH communities and preempts state and local zoning restrictions that are not consistent with the National Code. However, a Statement issued by HUD in 1997 highlights the unequal treatment of zoning regulations between MH built according to federal standards and those built to state or local standards. Let’s understand the ways local zoning ordinance can affect the treatment of MH in detail.

1. Unequal Treatment

While zoning is a regulation that allows judicial review and land use, the process makes several assumptions about MH that are not practical today.

Most state and local ordinances differ from each other and can allow unequal zoning ordinances on MH communities. Often, governmental entities will apply zoning restrictions to MH communities, which they do not always apply to traditional housing developments.

2. Exclusion From Residential Zones

Many zoning ordinances exclude or partially exclude manufactured homes from residential districts, limiting the amount of land that a developer can use to build these affordable communities.  

3. Aesthetic Standards

Certain aesthetic standards, as discussed previously, can also be a significant deterrent for MH construction. A municipality can decide which zoning districts an MH community will reside in so it's visually compatible with traditional housing.

4. Approval As Conditional Use

Approval as a conditional use is essentially a "special" exception from the zoning ordinance.

When this is required, it indicates that the land use might be acceptable but requires additional review. Often MH communities are considered a conditional use within residential districts and can include more strict requirements for approval.  

Conclusion

Albeit an effective planning tool for land use, zoning regulations are a challenge for MH communities. The arguments against this type of housing stem from age-old assumptions and the negative stigma that no longer hold true. Unfortunately, the law upholds most of these zoning ordinances while providing limited remedial protection.

Zoning ordinances vary from municipality to municipality, and requirements will differ depending on the site's location. When planning an MH Community, it is vital to have a planner on your team that knows the regulations and how to navigate the zoning process for these affordable communities.

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