Zoning Symbols and Names

Zoning symbols and names will vary depending on the community. Frequently, communities use letters of the alphabet as code abbreviations to identify what kind of use is allowed in a physical geographic area, such as A for agricultural (or airport or apartments), R for residential, C for commercial, I or M (industrial or manufacturing), and P for a park or parking lots. Learn more about common zoning symbols and names in our free legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Zoning symbols vary among communities. An R2 zone in one community is not necessarily the same as an R2 in another community. Zoning districts including residential districts may be organized differently depending on where you are. If you’re looking to build, open a business, or anything else, it’s essential to know what your city’s requirements are. If you’re buying undeveloped land, it’s critical to check on the details of building permits early on.

What do zoning symbols look like?

Frequently, communities use letters of the alphabet as code abbreviations to identify the use allowed in a physical geographic area, such as A for agricultural (or airport or apartments), R for residential, C for commercial, I or M (industrial or manufacturing) and P for park or parking lots.

These symbols are usually followed by a number to specify the level of use. For example, the common generalizations are R1 for a single-family home, R2 for two-dwelling units, and R3 for apartment complexes.

In addition, some communities also designate another number to indicate certain square footage for that particular zone. For instance, R1-3 signifies a single-family dwelling with a lot size of less than 3 acres.

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Can You Estimate Square Feet Based on Zoning Symbols?

Depending on where you are, zoning symbols don’t just indicate what you’re allowed to build. They also indicate how much room you have to work with. So if you’re looking at a property online, R1-3 could indicate residential zoning districts with a lot size of 3 acres or smaller. Your city officials can provide a more specific list for your area.

Some zoning dictates things like maximum height, units per acre, and other things meant to control population density. An area zoned for single family homes may not be zoned for large condo complexes due to building height even though both are residential development.

Similarly, some areas are zoned for accessory structures. Homeowners and business owners should always check to see if they need to file permits before building even small accessory buildings.

How Has Zoning Changed over the Years?

Zoning, like everything else, has evolved over the years. We’ve introduced different types of buildings and created overlay districts. People live further from work than they used to due to the popularity of cars, and mixed-use zones are more common than ever before.

Many building codes still rely on the fundamental principal of separation. Industrial districts are kept apart from even other types of commercial development. Some residential areas have yard requirements. As the world changes, you can expect zoning to change as well.

How Do You Know What Zoning Applies to You?

The simplest way to find out what zone you’re in is by using your property address. Some cities have websites you can check, or you can call your local offices. Write down your questions ahead of time. You should know a wide range of facts from the type of development to minimum lot size. Depending on what you’re buying the property for, you should also know the minimum setbacks.

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