Automatic zoning

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Shanghai land value map, 1926

Automatic zoning, in land use, is when the allowable use of land is set or altered based on some objective condition such as a street opening, land values, or local housing unaffordability level. Also called conditional zoning. 

 

Background in US zoning law 
 

"Automatic zoning:
Rezonings sometimes occur automatically...property may be downzoned or upzoned upon the happening of a future event. Reversionary zoning is sometimes used where the community wishes to assure itself that a developer engages only in the use granted by a rezoning. To do so, it may provide that if no one develops the property for a specific use within a set time or the if the newly allowed use ceases, the property's zoning classification will revert to its prior classification." 
"An ordinance might provide that happening of certain events will classify the property for a different use. For example...that a property zoned agricultural will be zoned residential upon the opening of a major street. This 'potential classification zone' has the advantage of giving property owners and others some indication of the plans of the city."       
   - [Juergensmeyer et al 2013]

 

Incentive zoning

Incentive zoning is similar in some respects to conditional zoning. In this approach, public benefits or amenities are obtained from a private developer in exchange for offering some incentive such as allowing greater height or number of housing units in a project. 

Typical amenities include public spaces ("Privately owned public spaces" - POPs), parking, transit access

California State Bonus Density Law is an example. San Francisco's Home-SF program is its implementation of that law. 

 

Performance zoning 

Another type of automatic zoning is performance zoning, where allowable land-use is determined by compliance with some specified outcome, often environmental or nuisance related. For example, a zoning ordinance might limit slopes beyond some percentage gradient from being developed or cleared.


Automatic upzones based on land value - Dan Keshet & Chris Bradford, 2017

Shane Phillips‏ @shanedphillips 10:21 AM - 8 Jan 2018
Replying to @DanKeshet @YIMBYwiki and 3 others
"Automatic upzones tied to land value! A boy can dream."

Dan Keshet 🚶‏ @DanKeshet 10:22 AM - 8 Jan 2018
Replying to @shanedphillips @YIMBYwiki and 3 others
"This was @ChrisBBradford and my proposal at YIMBYtown '17. We're still writing it up."

(see YIMBYtown_2017).

 

Adaptable zoning and building code - Dan Doctoroff / Sidewalk Labs

from [Corwin 2017]:

"Cities can become more flexible and adapt to the needs of their residents. "Let me give you an example of adaptability in zoning laws. Why do we have zoning laws? Because there are uses of buildings that are incompatible with other uses of buildings. We don’t typically put factories next to schools, and, for the most part, we don’t put residences next to commercial buildings. There is little transparency about what is going on inside these buildings, so we classify them crudely. We do the same thing with building codes: We over-engineer buildings because we can’t actually monitor them over time. "Now imagine the digital networked age where technologies such as sensors and social networks help us better understand what’s going on. Cities can say, “You can do whatever you want in that building as long as your decibel level doesn’t go above X, and we’ll be monitoring it.” The ability to change uses and space quickly becomes possible, enabling the emergence of a whole set of new industries around flexible buildings that can be monitored, lowering cost and creating economic growth."  

Austin Democratic Socialists of America proposal

from January 2018 "Austin DSA Housing Committee CodeNEXT Demands":

3.  Deploy an Automatic Affordability Trigger
Directly link zoning to affordability through an automatic affordability trigger: When any neighborhood exceeds certain thresholds of unaffordability, automatically upzone it subject to the affordable housing bonus program and city investment in public or social housing, such as land trusts, housing cooperatives, and nonprofit housing.

 

 

References