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:
- Conserves energy by limiting inappropriate site disturbance and reducing environmental disturbance;
- Ensures that a proposed use is appropriate for the specific character of a site, and can balance the level of development that the site can accommodate with minimizing negative impacts on the environment;
- Promotes natural resource protection and can limit adverse impacts on neighboring properties;
- Directs development to areas served by sewer and water service;
- Establishes objective and quantifiable performance standards based on actual site conditions;
- Performance zoning recognizes the carrying capacity of a site within the development process;
- Provides the developer with the flexibility to respond to changing market conditions;
- Encourages the development of wider range of housing types;
- Reduces potential conflicts between incompatible land uses; and
- Provides more discretion to the private sector in making decisions regarding the location of land uses.
The following limitations are associated with the use of performance zoning:
- Eliminates zoning districts and replaces them with performance standards. Such a significant change can be challenging for a municipality;
- Requires additional technical expertise and cost to evaluate and monitor than required under conventional zoning;
- Reduced effectiveness in municipalities that do not have public water and sewage facilities. Without this infrastructure, there is little ability to build anything other than low-density developments on lots large enough to support on-site water and sewer systems; and
- Permits developers wide discretion in the types of housing that are permitted to be built, but may be opposed by residents if the new dwellings are unlike other dwellings in the area.
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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.
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.