The Single-Family Zoning Analysis aims to identify issues within zoning regulations that can make constructing desired infill housing difficult or cost-ineffective.
The Single-Family Zoning Analysis was a project of the Northeast Ohio First Suburbs Consortium in partnership with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and facilitated by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. This analysis was the first phase of a larger initiative to address single-family infill development in the First Suburbs. This phase aimed to identify potential zoning challenges to single-family infill development within the First Suburbs.
For this project, infill housing is defined as new housing constructed on existing lots within largely developed communities. Infill lots tend to be those where a previous home was demolished, and the lot is vacant. As housing markets continue to improve and buyers seek homes in walkable communities with quick access to services and amenities, providing easy-to-use regulatory structures that produce desired infill housing is key to attracting new single-family infill development.
Zoning and Infill Housing
Zoning codes were typically written in different eras, when abundant undeveloped land could be subdivided into new lots easily and zoning was intended to disperse population. Zoning regulations can often stand in the way of single-family infill construction, as this type of construction occurs in existing neighborhoods on individual lots that can often be smaller and tighter than what zoning requires. Below is an example of this mismatch.
First Suburbs are often built-out communities with few large tracts of vacant land, thus infill construction on these lots becomes important to meet housing demand. In order to build on these lots, a builder either must request a variance or may be forced to combine multiple lots together. This often discourages development, and vacant lots are left unbuilt.
Infill housing can bring new investments and opportunities to communities while diversifying the local housing stock. However, many communities in the First Suburbs do not have zoning codes that are set up to achieve desired development results. The goal of this project was to take an in-depth look at First Suburb Communities' zoning codes to identify where certain regulations could potentially be a barrier to infill and to help communities compare their regulations to other similar communities.
The Single-Family Zoning Analysis was conducted from March to November of 2021. During this first phase, four important tasks were completed:
Task 1: Provided an overview of the state of single-family infill development in the First Suburbs including trends in demolitions, building permits, new construction
Task 2: Reviewed the 19 communities' single-family zoning districts and provided a streamlined format to directly compare regulations across communities
Task 3: Compared regulations — such as minimum lot width, lot size, lot coverage, building area, and front setbacks — to existing lots/structures
Task 4: Identified and mapped potential infill opportunities and listed available incentives among First Suburbs
Throughout this process, the 19 First Suburb communities were engaged through a survey, individual interviews, and presentations to gather the most accurate housing data and to better understand the experiences of these communities with single-family infill development.
The first phase is an important start to understanding the state of infill housing development in the First Suburb and its challenges and opportunities. The following takeaways are helpful in shaping what will be needed in future phases of this initiative.
Housing market conditions are improving with an increasing number of home sales and median sale price. Despite this improvement, First Suburbs are not experiencing significant new housing construction.
Only a small percentage of First Suburbs rated their single-family zoning as being very effective, and many communities described significant zoning hurdles to infill development.
Over half of First Suburbs cited front, rear, and side setbacks as the most common regulatory challenges to infill housing development.
Zoning codes vary widely in what they regulate, how they are structured, and when they were updated—some communities may require targeted changes, whereas others may need a larger overhaul.
Among existing single-family lots, 48% do not meet zoning requirements for minimum lot width and 41% do not meet minimum lot size requirements.
The majority of First Suburbs offer incentives for single-family infill development in the form of a tax abatement through a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) program.
First Suburbs Consortium Meetings
Consortium Meeting #3 (Virtual Meeting, December 1, 2021)
Download the presentation
Consortium Meeting #2 (Virtual Meeting, September 1, 2021)
Consortium Meeting #1 (Virtual Meeting, June 3, 2021)
Questions or comments about the Single-Family Zoning Analysis should be directed to:
Mr. Patrick Hewitt, AICP
Planning Manager, Strategy & Development, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission
Ms. Rachel Novak, AICP
Planner, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission
Top photo courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank