The purpose of zoning is to allow local authorities to regulate and control land and property markets to ensure complementary uses. Zoning can also provide the opportunity to stimulate or slow down development in specific areas. The planning and zoning process functions differently around the world and is controlled by different levels of authority. Most commonly, a local authority such as a municipality or a county controls zoning.
Zoning allows developments to stay consistent with a city's General Plan - a plan which is aligned with its projected future growth. Some of the permitted zoning uses in the City of Los Angeles include residential, commercial, agricultural, manufacturing and mixed-use. Each zoning designation has their own individual requirements with respect to the limited uses and development standards (e.g. minimum lot size, building setbacks, building height, and the floor area ratios).
The land use designation in the General Plan describe how future land use should be shaped. It is often the most visual and representative part of a General Plan. Varying land use designations control the intended use and number of dwelling units for a particular area. For example, land use designations near transit areas allow for high density development, reduced setbacks, and other minimum standards.
Zoning overlays are special purpose zoning districts that are designed
to stimulate a particular set of site conditions and outcomes. They are tailored to the specific needs of certain neighborhoods. For example, a commercial overlay may be allowed on a residential block to provide retail on the ground floor of neighborhood homes. Overlays may also impose height limits or other physical limitations to shape the built environment in a certain way or to protect historic characteristics or waterfront views.
Each zoning district has specific development standards such as parking requirements, setbacks, or building height limitations. There are occasions, however, when the strict application of such standards may be inappropriate because of physical characteristics of a particular property, such as shape or grade difference. The "variance" procedure is designed to permit adjustments to the zoning regulations when there are special or extraordinary physical circumstances applying to a parcel of land or building which prevent the property from being used to the extent intended by the zoning. Variances
may only be granted when the physical surroundings, shape, or topographical conditions of a property result in a particular hardship to the owner, not a mere inconvenience or desire to make property development less costly. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that all Variance requests be analyzed for potential environmental impacts. The applicant should request a meeting with a staff planner to determine the type of environmental analysis and process is necessary.
Each zone is designated with certain permitted, conditional and prohibited uses for the land. The purpose of a "conditional use permit" is to allow for special consideration of certain specified uses which may or may not be compatible with an area depending on the specifics of the particular project. The conditional use permit process gives the City sufficient flexibility to determine whether a specific land use on a given site will be compatible with the environment and the General Plan. In reviewing a conditional use permit application, the staff and Planning Commission will evaluate such items as building placement, massing, and size, characteristic of the use, traffic generation, noise, hours of operation, adequacy of parking, circulation, proposed intensity, landscaping and overall compatibility of the use with adjoining properties and other related development impacts. Conditions may be imposed as necessary to insure that the proposed use will be compatible with the surrounding properties and environment.