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Everything you need to know about zoning code

Jan 21, 2020 2:34:54 PM

Admit it – it’s easy to forget some of the basics gained in early in your land development career because it’s so fundamental that it’s always implied. 

Zoning defines the place and size of our homes, the businesses around you, and even your pets. For some of you beginning a career in land development, this might have some new information – but even for the experienced land development professionals can forget the fundamentals that all of our knowledge is built upon. 

It’s less of a definition and more of a context for how we make our choices as homeowners and business members within our communities – and one that impacts so much about our daily lives. 

A basic definition of Zoning Codes

Originally known as land use planning, zoning is the division of land into categories for use like residential, agricultural and commercial to protect the public’s safety and welfare. These zones are continually revised and updated, and the county’s Planning & Development Services.  

San Diego’s zoning ordinances have 8 parts, and you can find every revision and updated zoning information on this site. Larger cities have more complicated zoning regulations, including San Diego. While it’s pretty basic at its core, it’s a little over-complicated. 

If you have a parcel of land, the zoning codes will also restrict the type and amount of animals on your property. A parcel of land zoned for agricultural use may allow cows, pigs and horses, while a parcel of land zoned within a residential area may only allow for cats and dogs.

What is overlay zoning? 

According to the Center for Land Use Education, overlay zoning is a regulatory tool that creates special zoning districts over existing base zones to identify special regulations on top of preexisting ones in the base zone. 

These overlay zoning areas typically share or cut across base zone boundaries and are implemented to protect a resource or guide developments within a certain area. Whether it’s to protect natural resources, guide developments or encourage land use, overlay zoning is often responsible for protecting certain pieces of land prone to negative environmental consequences or encouraging shared use of parking lots, etc. 

San Diego Specifically: 

Section 1006, Part A, states that the zoning ordinance “shall be applicable to all of the unincorporated areas of San Diego County.” The City of San Diego’s five zones – residential, agricultural, industrial and open space – determine the type of use allowed on the property. There’s also the base zone and overlay zone, expressed in letters, and development regulations and use restrictions, expressed in numbers.   

This means that the use and employment of all land and buildings/structures located on land, and the construction, reconstruction, alteration, expansion or relocation of any building/structure shall conform to all regulations applicable to the zone in which the land is located. No land, building, structure or premises shall be used for any purpose other than is permitted in the zone. If you had a piece of land registered for residential use, you can’t build a commercial property by the San Diego county zoning code.

Within San Diego, all development, use or improvement of new or existing County Parks (all public active or passive), county Libraries or other County facilities like fire stations or sheriff stations. While all property owners are responsible for complying with San Diego zoning ordinances, these county laws don’t apply to Indian Reservation lands within the county, federally-owned or state-owned public lands within the county or solid waste management projects. 

And just like other counties, San Diego zoning code is enforced by law and protects the land and people. There’s really not much different – other than the nuanced details between place and municipality – to be aware of. 

Residential + Historic Zones

Across the country, zoning codes all mean the same thing – a classification(s) of land for different uses. Residential zones include apartments, condominiums, mobile homes and single-family homes. Some also allow for home-based businesses, but regulations for these can depend on noise output, hours of operation, and parking needs. 

Zoning laws here generally limit the types of animals allowed within a parcel of land, and allow domestic animals like dogs, cats, birds, etc. However, farm animals aren’t typically allowed in these residential areas and are kept within agricultural zoning. 

Often, a building that has been around for longer than 50 years is categorized within the “historic zone” of an area. If your building is within a historic zone, there may be different rules about what you can (or can’t) do. Historic zones prevent alteration from the original conditions, excluding repairs and restorations of the existing building. 

Other types of zones

Zones that fall into this category include agricultural, commercial and industrial.  While commercial zones can be anything from office spaces and warehouses to hotels or bars, the industrial zone can also encompass commercial spaces like warehouses or manufacturers. Commercial zoning is impacted by parking availability and the proximity of certain types of businesses near each other. Many zoning laws restrict commercial establishments like bars within a certain distance from establishments such as churches or schools. 

Industrial zoning is decided by environmental factors (noise concerns) and typically contains manufacturing plans, storage facilities and airports. This type of zoning is usually determined by the amount of land area covered on the parcel of land and building height. 

Agricultural zoning is used for communities trying to maintain the economic viability of their agricultural industry and limits the development of the land from non-farm use. This also protects farming communities and protects the current industry and workers from becoming swallowed up by residential development. 

What to do now.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember to take everything one step at a time. This is the beginning of a project or land development idea that will depend entirely on the research you do now, so make sure you dedicate the right amount of time and energy into preparing!

As you’ve read, there are a lot of considerations and details to keep in mind while straightening out your parcel of land’s regulations and requirements. To use the right zoning codes for your parcel of land, start by looking at the category (residential, agricultural, etc) and then focus on the specific regulations for that zone. 

If you’re worried about missing code or zone data for land, it’s a good idea to automate or offload this process onto a software or solution that does the searching for you. There are different ways to manage this risk, and using technology to automate or check your work is the best way to reduce risk. 

So next time you’re researching regulations for a parcel of land, make sure you’re not missing any of the regulatory constraints that apply to your property. While it may seem straightforward enough, there’s always the possibility of missing information. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you trust the person researching for zoning codes, and they have a proven track record of success when researching. 

PermitDocs: The Perfect Property Information Management Tool

PermitDocs is your all-in-one source for land development information – we don’t just supply municipality codes at a click, we also provide all of the zoning and building codes relevant for your projects. 

And, PermitDocs allows you to share, communicate and collaborate over all of this land information – bringing the boots and the suits together so that your team can communicate in real-time, reduce risk while planning and building, and feel confident that you’re making well-informed decisions with reliable information. 


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