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Low-Density Residential Zoning Definition

by Shawn M. Grimsley

All cities of any significant size have planning departments and zoning ordinances. In fact, zoning is an essential component of effective city planning. Design preferences change as cultural preferences and technology changes. For example, the rise of the automobile changed our urban landscapes from densely clusters of cities to modern suburbia creating urban sprawl.

Zoning Laws

Zoning is a type of land regulation imposed by municipalities through the power conferred upon them by state legislatures, dividing cities into zones with certain building restrictions. A simple zoning system may include residential zoning, where only residential dwellings can be built; commercial zoning, where retail and other commercial structures can be built; and industrial zoning, where factories and plants can be built. Zoning laws outline such issues as minimum lot size, setbacks from streets and property lines, and business use of property.

Low-Density Residential Zoning Ordinances

Low-density residential zoning ordinances are implemented to limit the density of dwellings per unit of property, such as an acre. There is no uniform low-density zoning ordinance because each municipality generally enacts its own ordinance based upon its needs and preferences. For example, Crystal City, Minnesota, permits fewer than five dwellings per acre in low-density residential zones, while Jefferson City County, Virginia, permits only one dwelling per acre. Check with your city for its specific zoning restrictions.

Other Restrictions Relating to Low-Density Zones

Low-density residential zoning often places more than just density limits on the property subject to it. You may not be able to run a home day care business in the zone or be limited in the number of children at the facility, for example. Building may be restricted to single-family detached housing with large setbacks from streets and between houses. Standards or restrictions related to garages, sheds, swimming pools and other structures can also be placed on a lot.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Low-Density Residential Zoning

Low-density residential zoning presents some advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include less congestion, neighborhood traffic, noise and a degree of privacy that isn't always available in densely populated urban areas. Low-density zoning also carries disadvantages, such as less efficient use of land and long commuting times due to urban sprawl. Larger lots and certain building restrictions may make low-density residential areas too costly for many people, leading to less diverse communities.

About the Author

Shawn M. Grimsley holds a bachelor's degree in political science, master's degree in public administration and a Juris Doctor. He practiced law for 10 years, focusing on general business law, securities law, real estate and civil litigation. Grimsley now serves as a teacher and writer.

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