Performance Zoning

Performance zoning is relatively new and not yet in widespread use, but its use is growing, and it holds much promise. Performance zoning codes stipulate what may or may not be done in terms of end results instead of giving detailed regulations on the exact form of development. It may be regarded as an attempt to achieve the same goals as conventional zoning but in a more flexible manner.

In Largo, Florida, a conventional, or Euclidean, system of 20 zoning districts has been replaced by a performance zoning system. Five residential categories differ only by the maximum density permitted. Intensity of use is controlled by limits on floor area ratio (FAR) and the percentage of the site that can be under impervious cover. There are no limitations on the type of housing, side-yard and rear-yard setback, and building height.

Four separate commercial zones have been created. The zones are distinguished by their FAR and impervious-cover requirements. For the downtown zone, a FAR of 0.90 and an impervious cover of 100 percent are permitted. On the other hand, for the flood-prone zone, the FAR is limited to 0.12 and impervious cover to 40 percent. There are no height limitations and no side- or rear-yard setback limitations. Gail Easley, the community's assistant director of planning, explained the decision to go to performance zoning in this way:

One particular problem [with conventional zoning] . . . is the proliferation of zoning districts. As the number of districts grows, it becomes harder to distinguish among them; as the distinctions become less clear, the purpose of any given district becomes blurred, and the formal distinctions become less defensible. An increase in the number of districts results in fewer uses being permitted in any single district. This decreases the likelihood that an available site will be properly zoned to meet a developer's needs. This, in turn, increases the probability that a zoning amendment will be sought.21

But not every municipality that has tried performance zoning has been equally pleased with it. Tallahassee, Florida adopted performance zoning in 1992 but went back to a modified conventional system in 1997. In their view, performance zoning was too cumbersome compared with traditional zoning.22

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