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Field Guide to Zoning Laws & Ordinances

(Updated June 2014)

Zoning laws are found in virtually every municipality in the United States, affecting land use, lot size, building heights, density, setbacks, and other aspects of property use. This field guide features links to articles, books, and websites that will provide you with information on the concept of zoning, zoning's impacts on property values, and related topics. (F. Heller, Manager, Library & Archives)

Source: Zoning Restrictions, (Houston Association of REALTORS® Consumer Knowledge Series).

Q - ProQuest articles available for NAR members only. Password can be found on the ProQuest/Find Articles page.

Zoning Basics

How not to zone out on zoning, (Public Management, Jan./Feb. 2013). Q

Understanding zoning, licensing, and permits, (Dummies.com, 2012).

The value of zoning, (Illinois Real Estate Letter, Winter 1999).

What about Zoning Restrictions? Current and future zoning designations should be a prime consideration for land buyers, regardless of whether the land will be developed immediately or held as an investment, (Real Estate 101—realtor.com®).

Zoning, (Wikipedia).

Understanding zoning ordinances, (Public Management, Nov. 1999). Q

Impacts of Zoning

Housing costs, zoning, and access to high-scoring schools, (The Brookings Institution, Apr. 2012).

Balancing the ‘zoning budget’: Local governments need to consider the long-term effects of their land use decisions, (Regulation, Fall 2011). Q

Effects of zoning on housing option value, (Journal of Business & Economics Research, May 2011). Q

Unintentional redlining? Zoning ordinances and the living wage, (Real Estate Issues, Fall 2007). Q

Off limits: Zoning is one of the most powerful tools that municipalities wield to control where homes get built, (Builder, Jan. 2005). Q

Cost and benefit of land use regulations: A theoretical survey, (Journal of Real Estate Literature, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2003). Q

The price of zoning, (ORER Letter, Summer 1991).

The economic theory of zoning: A critical review, (Land Economics, Aug. 1990). Q

Zoning Boards & Legal Issues

How to cope with zoning boards, (SmartMoney).

Contemprorary zoning conflicts: An evolving landscape presents new challenges, (Commercial Investment Real Estate, Jan./Feb. 2012).

How to research local zoning laws, (eHow.com).

Buyer Beware: Today's distressed market puts a premium on due diligence, (CIRE Magazine, May-June 2009).

Overcoming zoning opposition, (Commercial Investment Real Estate Journal, Jan./Feb. 2002).

The appraiser's role in zoning litigation, (Appraisal Journal, July 1998). Q

The ABCs of zoning: Preparing for municipal planning and zoning commission hearings, (Commercial Investment Real Estate Journal, Summer 1995).

Zoning Reform

Zoning for prosperity: Streamlined regulations and urban design guidelines as an economic development strategy, (On Common Ground, Feb. 2013).

Better Zoning through Breaking Old Codes: Form-based codes have emerged as a powerful tool for city planners who want to stop the sprawl that’s resulted from bad zoning rules, (Governing Magazine, Mar. 2011).

Brave New Codes: Cities and towns across the country are abandoning conventional zoning codes in favor of a new urbanist alternative, the form-based code. Some architects have embraced the change, but others are wary, (Architect Magazine, July 2010).

A new kind of zoning: Communities of all sizes are adopting form-based codes, (On Common Ground, Winter 2010).

The evolution of zoning since the 1980s: The persistence of localism, (Dartmouth College Department of Economics, 2010).

Section 17: Form-based codes, (NAR Growth Management Fact Book, 2008).

Saving the world through zoning, (Planning, Jan. 2008). Q

Smart codes, smart places: What do you do when your development codes won't let you build or maintain the kind of town you want? You make new rules, (On Common Ground, Summer 2004) — Article begins on page 14.

Modernization of zoning: A means to reform, (Appraisal Journal, Apr. 2002). Q

Useful Websites

The Codes Project: An Anthology of Regulations That Have Shaped Urban Form — A searchable archive of zoning laws, land use development codes, building design codes, and other influential documents, ranging from 360 BC to modern times.

MuniCode.com Online Library, (Municipal Code Corporation) — Directory of zoning and other municipal ordinance codes for many U.S. towns, cities, and counties.

Form-Based Codes Institute

eBooks & Other Resources


The following eBooks and digital audiobooks are available to NAR members:

Community Planning: An Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan

A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities

The Complete Guide to Zoning: How Real Estate Owners and Developers Can Create and Preserve Property Value (Adobe eReader)

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through Information Central. Up to three books, tapes, CDs and/or DVDs can be borrowed for 30 days from the Library for a nominal fee of $10. Call Information Central at 800-874-6500 for assistance.

City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, by Emily Talen, (Island Press, 2012).

The complete guide to zoning: How real estate owners and developers can create and preserve property value, by Dwight H. Merriam, (McGraw-Hill, 2005).

City economics, by Brendan O’Flaherty, (Harvard University Press, 2005).

Zoning and the American dream: Promises still to keep, by Charles Haar & Jerold Kayden, (Planners Press, 1989).

The economics of zoning laws, by William Fischel, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

The zoning game revisited, by Richard F. Babcock & Charles L. Siemon, (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1985).

Field Guides & More

These field guides and other resources in the Virtual Library may also be of interest:

Field Guide to Downzoning

Field Guide to Inclusionary Zoning

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The inclusion of links on this field guide does not imply endorsement by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR makes no representations about whether the content of any external sites which may be linked in this field guide complies with state or federal laws or regulations or with applicable NAR policies. These links are provided for your convenience only and you rely on them at your own risk.