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12.18.2018

5.        Signs Simplified. There are few parts of a zoning code as much maligned as the sign code. I can think of one other – off-street parking. We will get to that further down the list. Sign codes across the land received renewed focus in recent years thanks to Reed, but beyond ridding them of content-based regulations, sign codes are becoming simpler. Greater and better visuals, clearer dimensional standards, and signage menus have become the norm in recent years. After all, how many types of signs are there really? I can think of seven types off the top of my head. Assign dimensions to them, add in some provisions about lighting, movement and sound, add some specifics on materials, and – wall-a – you have yourself a sign code. Look for more communities to demystify their sign codes in 2019 for ease of use and administration and better signage outcomes. 

4.       Mixed-Uses. Mixed-use development is nothing new. Watch people’s reaction when you remind them that we have been experimenting with single-use development for less than a century and for all time before we lived in mixed-use environments. An “aha” moment for sure. What has changed is the acceptance in communities large, small, urban, suburban and even rural, that mixed-use development makes for better development. Further, “mixed-use” has become a more tolerable term than “multi-family” in many places. Put some retail on the first floor of an apartment building and many communities will allow it as of right. We could go on and on about the psychology of this, but that is for another article. In the meantime, get used to hearing about mixed-use. It is here to stay. 

3.       Single-Family Zoning. Minneapolis furthered the conversation on single-family zoning in a big way late in 2018 with the unveiling of its plan to eliminate single-family zoning city-wide. The very root of Euclidean zoning is single-family zoning. Euclidean zoning has been evolving, if not being replaced, for over a decade now, but this is a relatively new wrinkle that could throw the entirety of zoning in American in major flux. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking single-family zoning will go the way of the do-do bird any time soon as it is still an untouchable bedrock of almost all zoning codes. Everyone will be waiting see what happens in Minneapolis before jumping on this bandwagon. Look for this to be a red hot topic of conversation among zoning pundits in 2019.

2.       Economic Sustainability. Over the past two decades, there has been a large emphasis on incorporating environmental sustainability in zoning. It remains an important part of land use, but a new type of sustainability is emerging – the role of zoning in a community’s economic sustainability. Single-use, single-purpose commercial zoning has left many places empty and unadaptable. Use variances and complex non-conforming use and abandonment regulations have sprung up over the decades in response to the economic reality of functional obsolescence. Many communities are moving away from the fictional notion that classifying something as a non-conformity will force change. This is rarely successful and more often than not results in fallow or demolished buildings. Instead, communities are relaxing or becoming more intentional about adapting and reinvigorating nonconformities to better allow the built environment to respond to economic realities. Communities are becoming more interested in giving places an opportunity to evolve with their economies. This is called economic sustainability. Look for a lot more discussion about it in 2019.

1.      This is one zoning relic that is indeed going the way of the do-do bird. And, not many people are crying over it. This one is pretty simple. Ask what you were/are trying to accomplish with off-street parking minimums and whether they have resulted in better or less desirable development outcomes. Few can point to anything other than resulting empty parking lots. So, what public interest is there in off-street parking minimums? If you can articulate one, then great. Take a fresh look at them, right-size them, and place more focus on the location of the parking. If you cannot, then eliminate them, focus on parking location, and let the property owner decide where to spend their money. I would bet they will provide the least amount of off-street parking necessary to meet their needs. After all, if they aren’t able to responsibly provide for off-street parking, then we can always bring back off-street parking minimums. This is all the incentive in the world for the private market to figure it out. Watch in 2019 as more and more communities join communities of all sizes and geographies that have already eliminated their off-street parking minimums.

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Sean S. Suder, Esq., LEED AP, is Lead Principal and Founder of Calfee Zoning, a consulting affiliate of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, a law firm with offices in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Washington, D.C., where Sean is a Partner. Sean is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Architecture and University of Virginia School of Law. Sean is a frequent author of posts and articles on retail real estate trends, zoning, and urban redevelopment. Sean can be reached at ssuder@calfee.com or (513) 693-4883. For more information visit www.calfeezoning.com.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the law firm of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, Calfee Strategic Solutions, LLC, Calfee Zoning, or its partners, employers, clients, or affiliates.

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Sean S. Suder, Lead Principal
513.693.4883
ssuder@calfeezoning.com

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