Place Zoning

Quick Links:
“Traditional” zoning reinforces an unhealthy development pattern
Building community life through proximity, association, and accessibility
Associated uses build communities
Separation of opposing uses still required under Place Zoning
Would Place Zoning protect single-family residential neighborhoods?
Are new state laws needed to implement a Place Zoning Ordinance?
Where do we go from here?


The Building Place team has reinvented zoning through Place ZoningTM. This is zoning without boundaries, a flexible tool for preserving rural areas, promoting a human-scale environment, and accommodating a healthy mix of neighborhood land uses.

“Traditional” zoning reinforces an unhealthy development pattern

A key objective of community planning is the building of healthy, vibrant, and distinctive neighborh

oods. Zoning is a widely accepted land use control, but it has proved to be a dysfunctional community-building tool. Traditional zoning threatens the future of our communities by promoting isolation of people and places.

The core principle underlying traditional zoning is that the solution to all land use problems is spatial; segregation of land uses into inflexible zoning districts with wide setbacks. The result is that compatible living, working, and leisure activities are too often widely separated, forcing people into cars and reinforcing an unhealthy development pattern.

Building community life through proximity, association, and accessibility

The nature of where we live and work affects our sense of self, how we interact with other people, and even our ability to function as citizens in a democracy. In A Pattern Language, author Christopher Alexander advocates for a comprehensive change in the nature of zoning, where:

  • Every home is within 20-30-minutes of many hundreds of workplaces,
  • Many workplaces are within walking distance of children and families,
  • Workers can go home casually for lunch, run errands, work half-time, and spend half the day at home,
  • Some workplaces are in homes; there are many opportunities for people to work from their homes or to take work home, and
  • Neighborhoods are protected from the traffic and noise generated by “noxious” workplaces.

Proximity, association, and accessibility between home, work, and leisure activities are essential factors in building places with a strong sense of community.

Associated uses build communities

Under Place ZoningTM, the web of zoning districts on most local zoning maps is untangled and replaced with a requirement that new uses be located near compatible “associated uses.” Associated uses are those activities that complement, support and provide benefits or services to other compatible uses in the community. For example, typical associated uses for a residence might include a school, park, grocery store, restaurant, fire or police station, and medical office.

To qualify, each associated use should be located within walking distance or a similar set distance (see illustration), and connected by more than one fixed means of transportation (such as by roads, plus a bus route or bicycle path). When combined and interconnected in close proximity, associated uses form the essential building blocks of community life.

Separation of opposing uses still required under Place ZoningTM

Zoning originally became popular as a means to segregate and control noxious and repugnant land uses, such as heavy industrial uses, junkyards, and adult businesses. Since World War II, zoning has evolved to embrace segregation of virtually all uses from one another, while many industrial processes and pollution controls have improved to the point that many “industrial” uses today are clean, quiet, and compatible with neighborhood residences and businesses.

Place ZoningTM defines as “opposing uses” those few land uses which cannot be placed in close proximity to neighborhoods due to health, safety or welfare concerns. These may include:

  • manufacturing operations (noise, odors, truck traffic),
  • trucking terminals (outdoor storage, truck traffic, noise, light pollution),
  • sexually-oriented businesses (crime, immoral behavior),
  • landfills (truck traffic, odors), and
  • intensive livestock operations (odor, insects, water pollution).

Under Place ZoningTM, such opposing uses are required to be set back a minimum safe distance from homes, churches, schools, and other activities that would be impacted by the opposing use.

Would Place ZoningTM protect single-family residential neighborhoods?

Protecting the sanctity of single-family neighborhoods has long been a key principle of traditional zoning. However, the concept of a residential neighborhood has radically changed over the past eighty years. In the 1920s, it often included accessory apartments, schools, churches and small shops. With the evolution into exclusively residential zoning districts, much of this traditional neighborhood character has been lost. Place ZoningTM permits a broader and healthier mix of neighborhood land uses to develop, while retaining the ability to place conditions or limitations on more intensive activities to ensure compatibility with the neighborhood.

Are new state laws needed to implement a Place ZoningTM Ordinance?

Before implementing Place ZoningTM, we recommend that applicable state laws be reviewed by legal counsel. However, Place ZoningTM should be compatible with most state zoning enabling laws that allow for planned unit developments, performance zoning, or similar zoning techniques.

Where do we go from here?

Place ZoningTM can be customized to the specific needs of rural, suburban, and urban communities. Contact Building Place Consultants today to bring Place ZoningTM to your community, or to arrange for a Place ZoningTM presentation.

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