This month’s topic, zoning! What is it and why do we need it?
Zoning is a way to plan out an area with the end goal being developments end up in a location suitable for their use. Town, cities, and counties are each responsible for their own zoning. Residential and commercial properties have several different zones with some encompassing both. Zones designate what can and cannot be built on any given parcel of land.
All land (including areas already developed) has a current zone. Zones help keep like with like or intentionally intermingle different uses. Zones can be used to help maintain a certain look or character and can dictate parameters like heights of buildings and density. Zones can be changed but it most cases, it goes before a planning commission, then it must be approved by the town’s elected officials. During this process, there is usually notification within a certain distance from the property that this is asking for the change. Both meetings are open to the public to make comments, either for or against.
Reasons for a request to change a zone can vary. Some might be considered an improvement on the current zoning and its use. For instance, an area zoned commercial near the edge of housing could get a request to rezone to residential. Residents typically do not object to this.
Other reasons might be a developer asks to build housing that is denser than what is currently zoned. There could be a great demand for this type of property, like a single-family home but with little to no yard size which translates to little to no yardwork for commuters. Builders build what is needed in a community, both residential and commercial, even if the community does not always see that need.
Do you live near a property that has a proposed zone change and don’t think it is a good change? Speak up! Many times, there is great compromise between a developer and residents where both sides end up satisfied with the compromise. They truly want input and often will hold community meetings to encourage discussions.
What I have covered here are generalities, no matter where you live. However, I would like to address one specific issue happening in the Town of Monument. Those who follow planning might have noticed zoning change requests when commercial property is looking to be developed. Zoning designations do get updated from time to time and that is what is happening to land still designated with obsolete zones in Monument. When properties under these zones start the development process, they are typically rezoned to a current zone (usually Planned Development) and not beforehand.
Zoning can be very difficult to understand, so I wanted to point you to the Town of Monument’s website, TownofMonument.org. In the search box, type “Planning 101.” You will be taken to a PowerPoint presentation that will give you a great start to understanding how development works. This is brand new, only released a couple of weeks ago. Although it is specific to Monument, the general process is very similar in other municipalities.
Zoning helps protect against homes or businesses being built where they are not zoned for, i.e., not a good fit. At least not without going through the process described above to determine if a change is best. Zoning also is there to protect landowners. If a property is zoned commercial but locals do not want commercial there, the landowner can still develop with the kind of commercial property the current zoning allows.
A little trivia? The City of Houston is the only place in the United States who has no zoning regulations AT ALL. You can build whatever you want, wherever you want, making for some very eclectic, confusing and I am sure frustrating neighborhoods. Locally, we certainly do not want that so be grateful for the zoning we do have and be open minded when changes are asked for. They might just be better for the overall community.
Next month, we will delve into the roles the Planning Commission, Board of Adjustments and elected officials play in development and what guides their decisions.
Terri Hayes is President & CEO of the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation and Visitor Center. Contact her at Terri@trilakeschamber.com.