What is a Development Code?

Learn about the tools cities use to determine what is allowed to be built and where.

A development code (also known as a zoning code) is a tool cities use to determine what is allowed to be built where. It generally regulates things like use (what can be done on a property), height (how tall a building can be), massing (how much three-dimensional space a building can occupy) and setbacks (how close the edges of a building can be to the property lines). It is also a mechanism for balancing competing private property interests.

Achieving these goals depends on how well the development code aligns with the comprehensive plan and whether the code is up-to-date and relevant, easy for officials to interpret and administer and easy for developers and the general public to understand.  

Think of zoning as the division of a city into parts where different activities and different building types are organized to achieve the greatest degree of compatibility. Now, think of the development code as the book of laws that does the sorting and provides the rules for deciding what can happen where.   

When someone buys a piece of property, they often do so with certain expectations. One is that what they’re allowed to do with it at the time of purchase (live there, rent it out), will always be allowed. Another is that the properties around it will remain the same and that the amenities they currently enjoy (a beautiful view, abundant natural light, a wooded lot next door) will always be there.    

Suppose someone inherits a house from a relative who was earning extra income by listing the house on Airbnb. They decide to do the same thing, but later, due to complaints from residents, there is a proposal to prohibit short-term rentals in the neighborhood.

Suppose someone purchases a home next to a small neighborhood bakery, but later, the bakery owner wants to expand both the bakery and the operation, which could mean increased hours, more traffic, demand for on-street parking and noise.

Suppose someone purchases a home with a view of the city skyline, but later, they learn that a developer plans to buy a nearby vacant lot and build a multi-story office building, which will not only block their view but also the sun, keeping their house and yard in perpetual shadow.

A city’s development code is what regulates these and thousands of other competing interests by creating predictability, fairness and compatibility while protecting existing character against encroaching development pressures. When a well-crafted development code is in place, framed by an equally well-crafted comprehensive plan, those pressures are transformed into quality modifications to the built environment, which increases quality of life and the value of land, strengthens the city’s fiscal position and ensures the preservation of its local culture.

Greenville’s new development code will affect every resident and business owner in the city; therefore, everyone should be paying close attention to this project and finding ways to get involved and ensure their interests - YOUR  interests - are being represented.