As urban planners, one of our primary responsibilities is to advise the Planning Commission and the elected body on zoning and land use matters. Among these issues are situations where a zoning designation on a parcel or parcels is out of whack with changing conditions on the ground. This may result from a gradual transformation over many years or occur rapidly depending on community dynamics, growth patterns, economy, and other influences.
My guess is that none of us would have to travel very far to see a vacant and possibly dilapidated single-family dwelling or abandoned farmhouse set aside a busy corridor whose character has transformed from rural to suburban or possibly commercial. Few people would want to reside where they hear constant road noise and see headlights at all hours of the night. But, there is an equally good chance that this dwelling may be zoned in a classification that is wholly out of context with its surroundings. This could be a result of an oversight, a lack of interest or need, or perhaps some instances a half-hearted attempt to keep some last vestige of rural character in a community that long since moved on. Meanwhile, the forlorn dwelling is weathering away and falling to pieces. And instead of being a vibrant use of the land, it articulates blight to those passing by and could even portray a bad image for the greater community.
Similarly, it is not uncommon to see once vibrant highway commercial uses in various stages of deterioration as their heyday has long since passed them by. Here again, commercial zoning may have been appropriate on the site at one time, but does it remain relevant today? Are there other zoning classifications that are more appropriate now?
For clarification, this post is not advocating that every single vacant home or abandoned commercial building should be rezoned at he drop of the hat. What I am saying is that changing conditions in warrant a review of the zoning map for its continued relevance. A zoning map must be supposed to be a living, breathing document that should be reappraised for its accuracy on a regular basis. Likewise, the community’s future land use map should be reviewed on a regular basis to assure its relevancy.
An outdated or irrelevant zoning map invites future controversy, potential litigation, and the chance for snippets of blight to take hold. Like mold, once established, blight, much like rust is hard to remove and even harder to keep from spreading. There are many causes of blight, but as urban planners, we should try to avoid being one of them.