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Understanding Euclidean Zoning And Its History

A Brief History And Breakdown Of Euclidean Zoning Regulations In The U.S.

Every city has its own unique municipal zoning regulations. These regulations serve to protect property use and property value by controlling how land in different locations may be used. These regulations offer a layer of predictability and relative stability in property values based on property use. For instance, an in-demand residential neighborhood could lose its value if a developer built a collection of commercial buildings in their midst. Who wants their house to be situated next door to a skyscraper, after all? Zoning regulations also establish distance between certain property use-types to prevent incompatible land use, such as a dispensary setting up shop next to an elementary school or a high-emissions factory being located next to a hospital. 

With this in mind, it makes sense that cities such as Denver would have strict zoning laws. While zoning laws, on the surface, might seem straightforward, they can quickly become quite complicated, especially in a city as large and as varied as Denver. There are many types of zoning regulation systems: the most common type of zoning used throughout the U.S. is called “Euclidean zoning.”

History Of Zoning In The U.S. 

Zoning regulations provide local and state governments with authority over land use. You can trace the very first zoning regulations back to the L.A. zoning ordinances of 1908. This was the start of an era where many cities began passing race-based zoning laws to enforce segregation among their populations. 

In 1916, New York City implemented citywide zoning regulations after the Equitable Building was built within a residential neighborhood, blocking many of its residents’ windows and sunlight. The city’s zoning laws included height and width restrictions for each area to ensure that such a situation would not occur again. However, the irony was that the zoning ordinances were supported by businessmen who had spent years displacing the mansions that lined Fifth Avenue with their retail stores. After these businessmen themselves began to be pushed out by manufacturers, they began to encourage the city to adopt zoning laws.

While the idea of zoning ordinances seemed effective at first, drawbacks began to appear almost immediately. First off, zoning laws were not very beneficial to renters, who were looked down upon in neighborhoods full of homeowners. Secondly, new zoning regulations being passed by local governments resulted in land being zoned according to how the land was first used (essentially, a twist on the first-come, first-serve principle). As a result, newer cities and suburbs were constructed with little in the way of urban planning. Thirdly, new zoning laws were not always favorable to landowners, as demonstrated by Euclid Vs. Amber. 

The Case Of Euclid Vs. Ambler

In 1922, the Ambler Realty Company filed a lawsuit against the Village of Euclid, OH. They believed that the local zoning regulations were directly diminishing their property values. The lawsuit occurred when Euclid’s village zoned part of the realty company’s land as a residential area. The Ambler Realty Company had planned to lease the land to industrial customers, which would have led to a greater profit than if they were to develop the land for residential use. As a result, the realty company alleged that their land was being taken from them unconstitutionally. 

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court upheld the zoning ordinances. The Supreme Court ended up ruling that zoning ordinances were constitutional because they fell under a local government’s police power (as long as the zoning ordinances that the local government passed related to the safety, welfare, health, or morals of the public). They also argued that zoning was required for effective municipal planning.

Zoning Ordinances On The Federal Level

Once NYC implemented zoning regulations, cities throughout the U.S. began adopting similar laws. These zoning laws were mostly allowed by state courts; however, it wasn’t until 1924 that the federal government had a say in the matter. Herbert Hoover, who was the Secretary of Commerce, oversaw the creation of the SZEA (Standardized State Zoning Enabling Act), which 19 states would adopt. 

What Are The Benefits Of Euclidean Zoning?

Euclidean zoning is the most common type of zoning in the U.S. It’s also known as single-use zoning but received the more familiar moniker of “Euclidean zoning” following the Case of Euclid vs. Ambler. At its heart, Euclidean zoning is a type of zoning that only allows one kind of land use per zone. Different types of zones can include residential zones, commercial zones, industrial zones, mixed residential-commercial zones, and more. These zones can also contain sub-categories. The following are some of the reasons why Euclidean zoning has been adopted throughout North America as the most common type of zoning law:

Prevent Incompatible Land Use

Euclidean zoning’s most apparent advantage is that it prevents incompatible land use, as detailed in some previous examples. Effective Euclidean zoning can prevent the city’s quality of life from diminishing due to commercial or industrial construction. For instance, you don’t want a factory that produces significant carbon emissions built next to a school or a hospital. Careful Euclidean zoning can prevent such situations. With Euclidean zoning, a city can prohibit certain types of buildings like factories from being constructed in residential areas.

Protect Property Values

Buyers and renters will be less likely to move into a neighborhood if a large factory is unexpectedly built at its center or newly-built skyscrapers surround the area’s single-family homes. If these situations were to happen, they could significantly decrease property value. Euclidean zoning can help prevent unnecessary financial uncertainty of homeownership by protecting property values and, as a result, attract more potential homebuyers, benefitting the local economy.

Protect Open Spaces

Euclidean zoning allows cities to preserve open spaces that can be turned into parks instead of high rises. This ability helps maintain a city’s aesthetic and residents’ quality of life, preventing open space from becoming overdeveloped, cramped, and overcrowded. 

Protect Historic Neighborhoods

Euclidean zoning can define historic neighborhoods and create specific rules and regulations for construction or renovations within them. Cities can eliminate the threat of developers coming in and destroying historic sites to make way for new construction. Preserving the history of a city is essential: Euclidean zoning is useful for protecting historic neighborhoods.

What Are The Drawbacks Of Euclidean Zoning?

While Euclidean zoning offers significant benefits – the most notable of which include preventing incompatible land use, protecting property values, and preserving historic neighborhoods – there are some severe drawbacks to Euclidean zoning. The most significant of these drawbacks include the following:

Urban Sprawl

Euclidean zoning is one of the primary factors responsible for residential urban sprawl, and it’s why many larger cities have massive metropolitan areas surrounding them. With limited developable land within city limits, many residential developers turn to land with development potential outside the city. However, urban sprawl damages residents’ quality of life (moving them further away from the city’s amenities along with a much longer commute to work) and impacts the environment. As urban sprawl continues, more natural resources are used up. Longer commutes also create more traffic, which in turn produces a larger carbon footprint.

Potential Segregation Issues

Although many cities in the early 20th city took advantage of Euclidean zoning to segregate populations, this practice was, and is, illegal. However, Euclidean zoning enables segregation to this day, even if the zoning regulations being implemented don’t appear to be outwardly racist. For instance, exclusionary zoning, such as density restrictions, separates the wealthy from the poor. Although this is more easily defined as economic segregation, a consequence of this is racial segregation.

Limited Housing Supply

Although nowhere near as severe as urban sprawl and segregation, Euclidean zoning laws affect the housing supply; fewer areas zoned for residential development means there will be fewer homes there will be available to buy. A limited housing supply causes a seller’s market, making it more difficult and more expensive for non-homeowners to become homeowners.

Zoning Regulations In Denver

Denver has traditionally used a Euclidean zoning system. The city’s CZC (conventional zoning code) was organized into 67 different zoning districts. These zoning districts consisted of 379 different land uses, such as use and density. However, in 2010, Denver adopted a form-based code to advance the sustainability of new development. Instead of zoning based on the separation of uses, a form-based code allows the city to regulate development based on physical form. For more information about Denver’s zoning ordinances, visit their community planning and development webpage online.

Using Zoning Consultants to Your Advantage

Most of the country still uses Euclidean zoning. If you’ve been involved with any property development projects outside of Denver, you’ll have dealt with the many challenges presented by such a system. However, because Denver has moved away from Euclidean zoning and has adopted a form-based code instead, you’ll want to make sure that you work with our zoning consultants to understand the details of Denver’s zoning regulations. Without the proper knowledge of zoning in Denver, successful property development becomes very challenging. Knowledgeable zoning consultants can help you identify land sites that meet your development needs and ensure that your project will abide by the zoning ordinances governing those sites.

An Understanding Of Zoning Laws In Denver Is Critical To Development

Our zoning consultants have a thorough understanding of Denver’s zoning laws. We have extensive experience and expertise in Denver’s form-based code and can provide the guidance you need to navigate the city’s zoning rules and regulations. Although Denver no longer uses the Euclidean zoning system maintained by the majority of the country, form-based code still offers its fair share of challenges. A zoning consultant can help you understand and use Denver’s zoning to your advantage.

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