Why do cities use zoning systems?

You buy a piece of property to start your own business. You hire a construction company to start the project. However, that whole project quickly grinds to a halt when you find out that your property is not zoned for the type of business you want to start.

Zoning may seem simple. You have residential zones for houses and commercial zones for businesses. It gets more complex, though. Certain commercial areas may only be zoned for specific types of businesses — light industry, for instance, or food service. An area may be zoned for mixed-use buildings that can be used for multiple purposes.

Why do cities use these systems? Why won’t they just allow you to build whatever you want on property that you own?

The reason is that zones help keep the property values up. This helps those who already own that property, and it keeps values high for tax purposes. Both are things that the city wants.

For example, imagine that someone goes into an area filled with homes and buys a beautiful house. It’s expensive, but it’s a desirable area, and the value should only go up. However, over the next few years, developers start buying the other homes in the area. They tear those houses down and build gas stations and pawn shops and bars. Suddenly, families do not want to live in the area and the value of that house plummets.

This is what zones are designed to prevent. Properties should support each other, and new construction projects should add to the value of the area. It is important to understand what laws govern your construction project even before it begins.