Zoning and City Code Considerations for Urban Homesteaders

If you are considering starting a new urban homesteading project, make sure you are aware of the zoning designation and city codes for your area.

| March 18, 2014

The urban homesteading movement is growing and flourishing in cities large and small all over the country. Even if you are an apartment dweller with little or no outdoor space, this helpful guide gives you everything you need to know to get a taste of the “country life” in the city. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading (Alpha Books, 2011), by Sundari Elizabeth Kraft, will help make your homesteading dreams a reality. In this excerpt, from chapter 2, “City Considerations,” you will find important and helpful information about working with zoning and city codes.

Navigating Your City’s Zoning Code

Zoning codes are pretty much always written by lawyers. So unless you’ve passed the bar exam, don’t feel bad if you find the code difficult to understand. Here are a few tips you can keep in mind as you dive in and attempt to figure out what you are and are not allowed to do:

Know your designation: Start by learning what the zoning designation is for your area. Even if it’s “residential,” there are usually distinctions in the code between residential types (R-1, R-2, etc.). Many cities have a function somewhere on their website that allows you to input your address and receive a bunch of information on your property, including your zoning designation. Or you can call the zoning office and ask.

Search for keywords: Most cities have their zoning code online. However, sometimes it can be difficult to tell which section of the code relates to your questions. Try to find a link that opens the whole code; it will be a large document. Then use the “find” or “search” function in your web browser or PDF reader to locate all the instances of the word you’re looking for, like chicken, goat, or garden.

Call and ask ... and then ask again: Reading page after page of zoning language can be enough to leave you cross-eyed. Sometimes the quickest way to get answers is to call your city’s zoning department and talk with someone. Be sure to make note of the name of the person who’s answering your questions in case you need to reference it in the future.

But here’s the catch: you should probably call back later and direct the same questions to a second person. The people who work for the zoning department certainly do their best, but zoning codes are complex and change frequently. Sometimes the first answer you get isn’t the right one, so it’s best to double-check.

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