Performance Zoning

Performance zoning, also called impact zoning or flexible zoning, is an alternative technique to conventional zoning. Rather than establishing specific area and bulk standards within zoning districts to govern development, performance zoning regulates the design and location of a use based on the characteristics of a particular site to support development. Under performance zoning, municipalities replace conventional zoning districts with performance criteria to guide development. The result can be an increase in the range of uses that may be permitted and additional control over the effects of the land use. Landowners and developers are provided greater flexibility on how to meet performance zoning standards.


The following advantages are associated with the use of performance zoning:


The following limitations are associated with the use of performance zoning:

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Performance Zoning Criteria

A municipality must determine the criteria to be used for performance zoning including which natural resources are to be protected. For instance, wetlands, floodplains and steep slopes are typically protected from development. Woodlands, prime agricultural soils and moderate slopes may also be deemed worthy of preservation. After these areas are mapped and then deducted from a site's development potential, the remaining areas may be developed at a density permitted by the zoning ordinance. Regulations should also be included for maximum impervious surfaces and minimum open space areas. Depending on the type of performance controls used, the municipality may permit any form of residential development to be built. Non-residential development should be controlled through criteria such as floor-to-area ratio, maximum impervious surface ratios, accessibility to transportation, and availability of public water and sewer facilities.

Extent to Which Performance Zoning is Applied

The municipality must also decide how extensively it wants to use performance zoning. A municipality could permit any type of land use without regard to traditional zoning districts, while regulating the intensity of the land use through performance zoning controls. Alternatively, the municipality could use performance techniques only for residential land uses as a way of promoting open space and environmental protection. An intermediate alternative for both residential and non-residential uses could involve using zoning districts to control broad types of land uses, while using performance-based regulations to control density, floor area and open space, impervious surface area, and yard setbacks.

Locational Requirements for Development

Performance zoning is more effective in regulating the type of development and where it will occur, with the use of locational requirements. Development can be directed away from inappropriate areas through the use of stringent performance criteria, while other criteria can encourage development to locate in more appropriate areas. Through its comprehensive plan, municipal officials can identify a development district which is the most appropriate area(s) for higher density development. The development district should be large enough to accommodate the projected population for a specified period of time. The highest densities and a full range of housing types should be permitted in the development district.

Application to Minor Development Proposals

Performance zoning may be less effective when applied to small parcels or to minor land development proposals because the removal of all identified environmental features may not allow significant remaining areas for development, and relief clauses may need to be built into the ordinance. For instance, small parcels may be exempt from performance controls, or a developer may be allowed to opt out of a performance approach in exchange for building at a lower density.


Newlin Township has used performance based zoning since 1990. Other Chester County municipalities use some performance-based techniques to regulate development and determine the required amounts of open space in new developments.

Performance zoning in southeastern Pennsylvania is generally recognized as having been first widely used in Bucks County. The Bucks County Planning Commission developed their performance zoning regulations in 1973, which was used almost exclusively for residential development.

Related References

Performance zoning is authorized in Section 605(2) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, which contains provisions designed to regulate land uses based on various natural features as well as provisions that encourage design innovation and flexibility. While Section 605 requires that zoning districts must be uniform for each class of land uses, additional classifications can be made for regulating land uses near various environmental features, and for the purpose of encouraging innovation and flexibility in development.

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