What is a Zoning Code?

Common Zoning Terms

Zoning Code:  Local regulations that assign all parcels in the community into districts. Each district has its own mix of rules for what uses are allowed and what can be built. In Wisconsin, changes to the zoning code, such as a map amendment to change the district designation for a parcel, must be consistent with a Comprehensive Plan. 

Zoning District: A category in the zoning code that defines the uses permitted and dimensional standards for structures and other property improvements. 

Codification:   A process for reviewing, consolidating, and preserving laws into an organized code of ordinances.

Comprehensive Plan: A long-range planning document that anticipates and plans for future changes throughout a community. In Wisconsin, there are 9 elements required for every Comprehensive Plan (Issues & Opportunities, Housing, Transportation, Utilities & Community Facilities, Agricultural/Natural/Cultural Resources, Economic Development, Intergovernmental Cooperation, and Land Use.

Non-Conforming: A land use, structure, or lot that was legal when it was established but does not conform to the current standards of the zoning code. 

Planned Unit Development (PUD): A zoning designation that does not conform to pre-defined zoning districts within the zoning code. PUD zoning is approved through a review and negotiation process in which the standards to be applied are modified to achieve development outcomes consistent with the Comprehensive Plan but not possible within the defined zoning districts in the ordinance. PUDs offer more flexibility and often better land use efficiency in development design, but can also signal too much rigidity in the zoning code. 

Variance:  A specific and narrow exception to the requirements of the ordinance granted on a case-by-case basis. A variance can provide relief for certain dimensional standards (dimensional variance) or enable land uses that are otherwise prohibited or undefined (use variance). Frequent approval of variances by a government can indicate a need for review and/or changes to a zoning ordinance.