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Zoning Regulations Law in Cities Case Study

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

In cities and towns, there are enormous crowds of people who live, work, and move from street to street. To make their lives easier, better, and more comfortable, it is essential to divide towns into several parts. For example, zones with offices should be busy, quick, businesslike, with coffee shops and cafes, and tuning to productiveness. At the same time, all the living parts should be calm, relaxing, safe, with markets and playgrounds.

This is why such a law as the zoning ordinance is rather crucial and necessary for ensuring a comfortable life for citizens and creating a working or relaxing atmosphere. The purpose of this paper is to explain the necessity of the zoning ordinance law, the way it functions, and how it may influence people’s lives. After that, the power of this law will be demonstrated in the example of the UWS Luxury Tower case.

Definition of the Zoning Regulations Law

The zoning ordinance is a special written law and regulation that defines how property can be used in certain geographical areas. These rules indicate whether zones can be used for commercial or residential purposes, and usually also regulate lot placement, size, density, volume, and structures’ height. Zoning ordinances are lengthy documents that define the acceptable use for certain areas. Moreover, they describe the necessary procedures for resolving differences, processing violations, including any possible fines, and considering appeals. Zoning laws outline which types of operational and developmental land use are allowed in a particular area.

Municipalities usually divide neighborhoods and districts according to a master plan, and this may happen to reduce noise levels, control the traffic, reserve living space for the residents, and protect some special resources. There are some examples of zoning classifications like a commercial and light commercial, industrial and light industrial, multi-unit and single-family residential, agricultural, and schools.

The Essence and Purpose of Zoning

The essence of zoning lies in dividing specific regions of the land into regions or zones and determining the types of land use that are allowed or prohibited for each such zone. This is the task of municipal corporations or counties and usually occurs in certain urban areas. The primary purpose of zoning is to try to separate the use of residential real estate from the use of commercial one. Zoning rules give municipalities a special opportunity to adapt to the nature of their areas. The sections of the city, strictly zoned for residential use, not only create a free and safe space for citizens but can also limit noise, pollution, and heavy traffic in such parts of the city.

It is not rare that municipal authorities can establish very specific zoning rules to control the nature of a district. For example, zoning rules can be used to preserve the aesthetics of all buildings in the area or save important places from any changes. Also, if the municipality wishes to maintain the historical part of the city, zoning rules may restrict real estate there with buildings of comparable height and square meters, like historic buildings.

Consequences of Changes in Zoning Rules

Changes in zoning rules can create tensions with potential buyers and owners of land or a building. Especially often, this may happen in situations where new business is already planning to move to the city and suddenly discover that the zoning rules concerning the property they intended to occupy have changed. According to the zoning regulations, commercial real estate can suddenly become residential, and vice versa. In some cases, tenants, often businessmen, have to move out because the purpose of the premises they rent has changed. However, new and especially small businesses may apply for rejection and try to prove that their presence will not adversely affect the area. If the deviation is approved, the new tenant may enter and act independently of the zoning order.

Criticism of Zoning Regulations

Criticism of zoning laws argues that this practice expands the old and creates new inequalities in the level of life between different socio-economic groups. Moreover, according to Lamson, “the zoning ordinance is not presumptively lawful” (76). For instance, zoning laws may be in place in the village that restricts the development of heavy industry and trade in land adjacent to low-income areas. The effect of such a policy would allow the richer parts of the city to avoid the associated air and water pollution and noise.

Changes to zoning laws are rather possible even without the complete abolition of existing legislation. Fischer et al. claim that the zoning relief, “the process of exempting individual properties from land-use regulations,” is a rather important process (1). Also, the developer or owner of the property may apply for deviations that allow certain exceptions to the zoning rules. This would allow the property to be used in ways that are usually not allowed. For example, a home business owner may request a rejection to continue operations. Applicants for deviations are usually asked to explain the reasons for their request and how exactly the change will not result in significant damage or disruption to the community.

The UWS Luxury Tower Case

As was mentioned above, zoning laws are also able to regulate and control the construction details in certain neighborhoods. For instance, the maximum height of some buildings in a given area may be limited by zoning regardless of whether the type of this construction is allowed. Hence, all the high buildings, offices, and residences may be banned on particular parcels. The same happened to the UWS Luxury Tower as a New York Supreme Court judge has ruled that a number of this building’s floors have to be demolished. According to Chau and Yager, “New York City, like many cities, has broad powers to zone for the public welfare and is not confined to the specific powers delegated by state zoning enabling statutes” (1).

So, the judge “has ruled that the developers of a contested luxury condo building on the Upper West Side must remove an undetermined number of floors from the nearly-completed project” (Offenhartz). The judge’s order not only to stop the building process but also to demolish about twenty of already built fifty-five floors is a rather unusual step that has caused the developers’ dissatisfaction and anger.

The reason for such a decision is that this tower does not fit into the neighborhood. Moreover, the developer was warned beforehand that there are some violations in the construction but refused to stop it and make it right. This situation attracted the attention of people and caused their discontent, forcing them to take serious measures. Now the developers of the tower will have to demolish most of the almost completed building, lose a huge amount of money, and thereby pay for their mistakes. This situation brazenly demonstrates how the zones regulations law works and defends the interests of ordinary citizens.

Works Cited

Chau, Vicky, and Jessica Yager. . 2016. Web.

Fischer, Lauren Ames, et al. “Unequal Exceptions: Zoning Relief in New York City, 1998–2017.” Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol. 1, no. 14, 2018, pp. 1-14.

Lamson, Jordan. “Too Little Space: Does a Zoning Regulation Violate the Second Amendment?” Boston College Law Review, vol. 58, no. 6, 2017, pp. 76-90.

Offenhartz, Jake. “’Groundbreaking’ Ruling Will Force Developers to Demolish Floors of UWS Luxury Tower.” Gothamist. 2020. Web.

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