The Zoning Reform Tracker is meant to serve as a hub for documenting zoning reform efforts across the United States. In the first version of the Zoning Reform Tracker, we focus specifically on municipal zoning reform efforts, though we plan to expand this work to account for state reforms within successive updates. It is our belief that anti-density zoning ordinances play a powerful role not only in propagating race- and class-based exclusion, but in shaping life outcomes for children in communities, and therefore, in furthering patterns of negative intergenerational stratification. Restrictive zoning is a powerful mechanism for hoarding resources, with great implications for racial residential segregation, and the former will not fundamentally change without reforming or overriding zoning regulations at the municipal level.
There are two components to the Zoning Reform Tracker: the database, and the webmap. The database is a sortable list of municipalities which each have had some character of a zoning reform initiative, and inclusive therein are columns that describe various components of a given reform initiative. The database is then our most detailed collection or representation of zoning reform efforts across the United States. The webmap, on the other hand, is an interactive national map that marks the points of each reform initiative, and allows the user to explore the question of location, in terms of zoning reform initiatives occurring at the municipal level across the United States. The table below includes the full range of variables captured within the database, while the webmap displays a more focused set of information, which points the user towards the more extensive information contained in the Database. Comprehensively, we believe that this is an important tracker that can not only inform the public, but can also provide support for advocacy efforts across the United States.
The purpose of this page: “Zoning Typology - Reform Phase” is to provide a Reform Phase Typology, a classification scheme that describes the current status of a zoning reform effort. The nature of this page is to allow the viewer to understand the categories we use for the time markers of zoning reforms efforts that are captured in our tracker; as well as the definition of our reform phase typology, its subclass specifications, and how we deploy them in our Zoning Reform Tracker. The Reform Phase Typology is meant to describe the when of a zoning reform effort, and/or where a given zoning reform effort is on its policy timeline. The subclasses in the typology can be seen below:
- Approved: Policy Mechanism Approved, Passed, Adopted or In-Effect
- Early Process: Research, Public Input, Visioning, and Early Draft Writing Process
- Late Process: Final Amendments, Draft Writing Completed, and Nearing Final Vote
- Denied/Rejected: Failed, Denied, Reversed or Tabled Reforms
Justification for Reform Phase Typology
This section is meant to provide a justification, or otherwise an explanation, of our particular reform phase subclasses. In this section, we justify our classification, and describe it fully so that viewers can understand it when interacting with the Zoning Reform Tracker. In the first version of the Zoning Reform Tracker, we focus specifically on municipal zoning reform efforts, which is another way of saying that we focus predominantly on city-based reforms; this focus is a consequence of cities primarily bearing control over land-use, zoning and planning decisions for the land within their jurisdiction. At the same time, and on the other hand, counties are another form of municipal reform governance, because they control land-use for unincorporated areas which are not formally located within the jurisdiction of any incorporated city.1 For the purposes of understanding the first publication of municipal zoning reform efforts in our database and webmap, the majority of reforms are carried out by a city council, with a smaller segment of reforms enacted by a board of supervisors, a board of alders, or a city commission.
Concerning our definition of reforms, there is a dual-criteria that efforts must meet in order to become incorporated into our tracker: the first item is substantiality, and the second item is distinction. The former item of the criterion is fulfilled if an action institutes substantial change to land-use provisions or the exclusionary basis of single-family zoning, which will ultimately have effects at the municipal level. The latter item of our criterion is fulfilled if a given measure, bill, ordinance, or initiative is marked by either time-based distinction (wherein reforms efforts are separated by months or years), subject-based distinction (wherein reform efforts are distinguished by their reform mechanism or reform type), or by a combination of both.2 On a related note, we have also made separate definitions for reform efforts at both the municipal and state levels of governance, which guide our work. We define a municipal reform as a substantial change in the zoning code or a substantial change in what is known as the general/comprehensive plan of a municipality; with this specific change having implications for reducing the exclusionary basis which has been constitutive of single-family zoning, or general land-use provisions, historically. On the other hand, we define state reform as a substantial change in state policy which has implications for outcomes at the municipal level, and likewise, has specific implications for reducing the exclusionary basis of land-use and single-family zoning.3
In turning towards our Reform Phase Typology, we will describe several items: the definition of our reform phase typology, its subclass specifications, and how we deploy them in our work. The reform phase typology described herein and used in our Zoning Reform Tracker is transferable both to municipal reforms and to state reforms. The central distinction between the two is that the timeline may be more expedient (but not necessarily more likely) with state legislatures because of the quick legislative cycle, and more elongated for municipalities due to the often years-long process required to complete two kinds of zoning reforms that we focus on in the tracker: general plan updates and intensive zoning code efforts. Furthermore, municipalities are less insulated from community opposition to zoning change, which may or may not affect the timeline or even the generation or start of a reform effort.
To continue, our Reform Phase Typology is a variable whose purpose is describing the current status of a zoning reform initiative; it is meant to describe the when, and/or the standing of a given zoning reform effort on its policy timeline. In looking at this variable, the viewer should be able to answer the following set of questions: “What happened with this particular reform effort? Did it succeed? Did it fail? Is it still ongoing?” The typology itself has 4-categories which are reflective of the aforementioned set of questions on the status and time of a reform effort: 1) Approved, 2) Early Process, 3) Late Process, and 4) Denied/Rejected. Below we define and specify each subclass in greater detail:
The approved category denotes zoning reform efforts that meet the stage of being moved into law, usually within a municipal ordinance which updates the zoning code, and which then may codify a general plan. We also register as approved a general or comprehensive plan update which makes zoning reform, and particularly zoning reform focused on land-use or reducing the exclusionary basis of single-family zoning, a priority. At the state level, an approved reform effort simply looks like the enactment of a bill in a state’s bicameral or unicameral legislature, with implications for land-use and implications which may alter the exclusionary grounds of single-family zoning. While this stage doesn’t mark all of the evaluatory processes or implementation processes (eg. annual reports, policy implementation analyses, or ongoing evaluations, etc.) that jurisdictions might carry out after passing an ordinance or bill into law, it does track the most important binary of the final stage of the reform process. Lastly, approved outcomes are representative of positive reform efforts, whereby we use the word positive to describe that which is formative, expressive, and which creates the legislative grounds for the future, in terms of a successful zoning reform policy that meets our criteria. While approved and codified reforms are definitive of positive reforms, they are themselves not entirely free, determined or final. Particularly in jurisdictions where there is either political tension between the municipality and the state, or previous local community resentment over a zoning reform which impacts the election priorities of municipal incumbents, it may be that a given ordinance is reversed as a consequence of such tension.4
II. Early Process
The early process category denotes zoning reform efforts that include research, public input; the visioning process of constructing a new proposal, and the early process of writing the draft of the relevant policy document. At the municipal level, it may include the draft writing process of a general or comprehensive plan, the draft writing process of a zoning code rewrite, or the general introduction of a municipal ordinance into the local legislative cycle. At the state level, the early process category denotes the introduction of a bill related to zoning reform at the start of a legislative cycle, and as it begins its potential movement through the legislature. This movement may often follow the introduction of a bill, and the bill’s reference into different committees; whereby all referred committees have passed a bill, and the bill is approaching its latter readings on the floor of its originating house, then we might say that this early stage has neared its conclusion.5 The viewer may note that we have categories denoting an ‘Early’ and ‘Late’ process of zoning reform, but we do not specify a category that tracks the middle of a reform process; this is intentional. Although there is some ambiguity within periodization and phasing here, we believe that this natural ambiguity is surmountable, and that limiting the intermediary phase to two categories makes them and the entire typology simpler, and easier to understand. Lastly, while the assignment of a given reform effort to its specific phase subclass is made on a qualitative basis, we affirm that each category has its own qualitative or descriptive markers which guide their categorization. The markers for early process are the following: Research, Public Input, Visioning, and Early Draft Writing Process.
III. Late Process
The late process category denotes zoning reform initiatives that are in the final stage of development, which we would characterize as a policy undergoing final amendments, being close to nearing completion, and also nearing its final vote. At the municipal level, this may take the form of a draft writing process of a general or comprehensive plan, or of the draft writing process of a zoning code rewrite, already having concluded or now being near conclusion. Furthermore, it may take the form of a municipal ordinance being near to completion after being heard in council, and thereby coming close to the projected date whereby it would be voted on, finally. At the state level, the late process category denotes the latter stages of a bill related to zoning reform in the legislative cycle, and as it goes through the concluding stages of its movement through the legislature. This movement may take the form of a bill being refined through multiple hearings of the floor of its originating house, or by a bill passing its originating house in the legislature, and coming close to completion; lastly, it may also take the form of a bill which has been approved by the second-house, and now waits for the signature of the governor.6 This stage in the reform process then sees a more or less finalized document or outline of the proposed changes, and the politics of the matter rests not within formation as much as it rests within the passage of the reform, and their particularities as they move through final adjustments, amendments, and towards a final vote or signature. The viewer may note that we have categories denoting an ‘Early’ and ‘Late’ process of zoning reform, but we do not specify a category that tracks the middle of a reform process; this is intentional. Although there is some ambiguity within periodization and phasing here, we believe that this natural ambiguity is surmountable, and that limiting the intermediary phase to two categories makes them and the entire typology simpler, and easier to understand. Lastly, while the assignment of a given reform effort to its specific phase subclass is made on a qualitative basis, we affirm that each category has its own qualitative or descriptive markers which guide their categorization. The markers for late process are the following: Final Amendments, Draft Writing Completed, and Nearing Final Vote.
The denied/rejected category denotes zoning reform efforts that have been deferred, denied, reversed, tabled, failed or otherwise not brought to fruition.7 It is oftentimes that a zoning reform effort was denied without ever being passed, or codified into law, but if a law was passed that revoked the grounds of a prior reform, then our practice has been to track both the original reform and then to note the reversal which succeeded it. An example of this subclass would be an ordinance at the level of the municipality which, after going through public hearings and feedback from the community, was seen as too contentious to permit to law and therefore ended up being tabled by the council. We might see a particular example of this incident in Atlanta (GA), with Councilmember Farokhi’s proposed zoning reform ordinance. The ordinance, called Ordinance No. 21-O-0456, was a proposal for an ADU and Other reform, which would have permitted ADUs across a wider extent of the city, as well as increased their maximum allowed size; the ordinance would have also removed minimum parking requirements across the city––a substantial zoning reform being picked up by municipalities across the United States. The ordinance itself, due to resistance from the city’s Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), was filed in a council meeting; an effort that we call the ‘informal tabling’ of a reform effort.8 At the state level, an example of the denied/rejected category would be, perhaps, when a bill stalls within the committee of its originating house, or when it moves through one house and either fails to be approved by the second-house or, ultimately, fails to be approved by the governor.
In closing, the aforementioned sections detail the Reform Phase Typology which we have used to classify the timelines and outcomes of reform efforts recorded in our tracker. In tandem with this documentation, the viewer can look towards our Reform Mechanism Typology which we have used to track the how of zoning reform efforts across the United States. Similarly, the viewer might also look towards our Reform Type Typology which we have used to track the different types characteristic of zoning reform efforts. Furthermore, we have created a Database Metadata document, which shows information for all of the variables included in our tracker. A concluding note concerning the phase typology and our webmap: we have consolidated the in-process reforms in our interactive mapping platform and labeled them as ‘Ongoing,’ in order to simplify the presentation for the viewer.
If there are any questions associated with this work, or if you believe that we have missed significant or crucial reform efforts, then let us know through this Google Form, and we may add them to our database and webmap. Other inquiries can be directed to email@example.com
- 1 See the language used in LAO, “A.G. File No. 2021-016” (California Legislative Analyst’s Office, October 15, 2021), https://lao.ca.gov/BallotAnalysis/Initiative/2021-016; specifically one part of the “Background” section, which reads: “Cities are responsible for local needs, such as planning, to accommodate needed housing, police and fire protection, and local roads. Counties provide similar services in areas outside of cities—unincorporated areas.”
- 2 We must make a further point about the distinction criterion, particularly as it answers problems and questions related to the granularity of reform efforts included in our tracker. The problem might be framed as such: If a given municipality institutes multiple ordinances for the same type of zoning reform, within days of each other, then wouldn’t representing each granular municipal ordinance as a distinct reform effort serve to oversaturate the tracker for a particular jurisdiction? We address this problem with the distinction criterion. In short form: we include efforts into our tracker not only on the grounds of substantiality, but also on the grounds of distinction. We would then not specify two ordinances which were passed on the same day and over the same type of zoning reform, as two distinct reform initiatives; but we would and do include reforms for a given reform-type which are spread out by months or years, and define these as distinct reform efforts for the purposes of our tracker. It is sometimes the case that a given “reform” is enacted in two municipal ordinances, with one ordinance making most of the change, and the other ordinance instituting a more marginal change. Let us take Gainesville, FL for example. The City of Gainesville made an effort to remove single-family zoning in 2021, and it did so by passing two ordinances on the same day: Ordinance No. 211358, and Ordinance No. 211359. The first replaced single-family zoning with a Neighborhood Residential (NR) zoning category, and specified that up-to plex development would be permitted in this new district; the latter ordinance merely made marginal administrative and language changes to the Land Development Code. As these ordinances were approved on the same day, and were related to the same reform type, we believe that including them both in our tracker (both as rows in our database or as two distinct points on our webmap) would be over-representing Gainesville, which may have the effect of misleading the user, particularly if this same granularity wasn’t pursued in a uniform way across all other jurisdictions in the United States. This kind of oversaturation and granular irregularity would also have the prospective effect of adding error to future computational analyses done with our tracker data. In light of this, we specify the dual-criteria above. At the same time, the distinction criterion does not necessarily mean that we don’t track multiple rounds of reform efforts for a single policy which occur in a given municipality, or likewise, that we don’t track multiple types of reforms which are adopted within a short time-frame in a single municipality. To support this case, we direct the user towards our inclusion of Maplewood, NJ (two ADU reforms separated by a year), and Minneapolis, MN (a Plex reform and Other reform separated by a month). For information on Ordinance No. 211359, which we mentioned above and have not included in our tracker, see City of Gainesville, “File # : 211359” (n.d.), https://gainesville.legistar.com/Legislation Detail.aspx?ID=5711153&GUID=836A2CBB-72EA-4D78-B111-848C15847999&Options=&Search=
- 3 These definitions are in dialogue with our previous work on single-family zoning in California, the outline on zoning reform established by Karina French in “Decoding Zoning,” and lastly, with our experience researching municipal and state zoning reform efforts across the United States. See Karina French, “Decoding Zoning: Regulation and Reform in California” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, May 13, 2021), https://belonging.berkeley.edu/decoding-zoning
- 4 A definitive example of this dynamic can be seen, again, in the current status of Gainesville (FL), at the time of the formation of the first version of this page in late Winter 2023. The City of Gainesville passed an ordinance which eliminated single-family zoning throughout the city and allowed Plex development in prior single-family zoned areas. Following the adoption of the ordinance, the city received threats of looming legal challenges from the state of Florida, and principally the governor’s administered Department of Economic Opportunity. Another factor, which must be mentioned, was resistance from community-members. With the transition of leadership in the City Commision, the new Commissioners have begun a process of revoking the changes made by the ordinance, with the purpose of reinstating single-family zoning. See Javon L. Harris, “Gainesville commissioners eliminate single-family zoning citywide after split 4-3 vote” (The Gainesville Sun, October 17, 2022), https://www.gainesville .com/story/news/2022/10/17/exclusionary-zoning-gone-gainesville-after-city-commission-vote/10522673002/; as well as Andrew Caplan, “Under new leadership: Gainesville commission takes step to bring back single-family zoning” (The Gainesville Sun, January 7, 2023), https://www.gainesville.com/story/news/local/2023/01/06/ new-gainesville-commission-votes-to-bring-back-single-family-zoning/69781206007/
- 5 For more background on the legislative process, particularly in bicameral state legislatures, see California Legislative Information, “Overview of the Legislative Process” (n.d.), http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bil2lawx.html
- 6 For an alternative description of the general legislative process of a bicameral state legislature, see California State Senate, “Legislative Process” (n.d.), https://www.senate.ca.gov/legislativeprocess#:~:text=The%20Governor%20 has%2012%20days,of%20State%20to%20be%20chaptered
- 7 Within our tracker, the categories that are most represented are those which see an ordinance being tabled, and those that are denied more formally after moving through the legislative process. Concurrently, those cases are less represented wherein a jurisdiction rolls back a once-approved zoning reform initiative.
- 8 See the following City of Atlanta (GA) council meeting minutes where the timeline-outcome of this particular zoning reform effort has been depicted as “FILED BY COMMITTEE [5 TO 1]”: City of Atlanta, “Zoning Committee - Regular Committee Meeting Minutes” (November 29, 2021), https://atlantacityga.iqm2.com/Citizens/ FileOpen.aspx?Type=12&ID=3314&Inline=True; such an outcome qualifies as amounting to a denial not because the ordinance was marked formally as “FAILED” in the meeting minutes, but because the tactic of tabling a bill, of sending it to review, or of filing it, often has a similar outcome as the former category.