What is a Zoning Code?

Common Zoning Terms

Zoning Code: Local legal regulations that separate land use into distinct district. They are a legal tool that local governments use to determine what can be built and where. The various pieces implement visions, goals, and actions from other plans such as comprehensive plans, specific area plans, and others. In Wisconsin, Zoning Codes must be consistent with a Comprehensive Plan.

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: This is a term used to refer to a land use, structure, or lot that was legal when it was established, but does not conform to the standards of the zoning code.

Planned Unit Development (PUD): This is a type of zoning designation that does not conform to pre-defined zoning districts within the zoning code . They are designed based on site-specific rules that are defined by a legal agreement between the developer and the municipality. PUDs provide more flexibility and efficiency in development design, but can also signal too much rigidity in the zoning code.

Variance: A specific and narrow exception to zoning laws granted on a case-by-case basis by a local government. A variance can provide relief of certain measurements (area variance) or 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.

Zoning District: This is a general land use category in the zoning code that defines the activities, uses, and other rules that apply to a defined area.