Why zoning is needed, and how it works

Municipalities in Texas use zoning regulations to improve communities by separating residential and commercial areas, but the way the rules are applied often draws criticism. Local authorities can make changes to zoning regulations to encourage economic development or attract new residents, but they must abide by rules laid down by state and federal laws. The most common zoning classifications are industrial, commercial, agricultural, residential and educational.

The purpose of zoning

Zoning regulations were introduced to allow municipalities to develop communities according to a master plan. Restricting commercial and industrial activity to one part of a city or town ensures that residential neighborhoods remain quiet and undisturbed, which preserves property values. Zoning rules can also be used to protect the environment, conserve natural resources and limit the size of buildings to maintain a community’s character. For example, in Washington, D.C., no building can be taller than the Washington Monument.


Advocacy groups have claimed that zoning regulations are used to keep rich neighborhoods rich and poor neighborhoods poor. They say the rules ensure that loud or polluting activities are contained in low-income areas in order to keep affluent communities unspoiled. Using construction law in this way is often referred to by the acronym NIMBY, which stands for “not in my backyard”.

A necessary but flawed approach

Communities with no zoning rules would be chaotic and unpleasant to live or work in, but overly strict zoning regulations can do almost as much damage. When zoning policies and decisions stifle economic activity or benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor, things have gone too far. At the very least, residents and businesses should be able to challenge zoning decisions that they feel are capricious or unfair, and their appeals should be taken seriously.