An Initiative A Day 4.2: Include traditional small-lot, compact single-family and townhouse residential designations in zoning codes throughout the region.

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board will be voting on the the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  With just under 40 days to the vote and 41 initiatives in the vision, we thought it would be good to create a countdown to the vote.  Everyday over the next 5 weeks,  we will be sharing an “Initiative A Day” with you so you can gent a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here Vibrant NEO_Recs&Init_010114.

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Recommendation 4: Encourage a higher frequency of mixed-use development and a range of diverse, affordable housing options

Initiative 4.2: Include traditional small-lot, compact single-family and townhouse residential designations in zoning codes throughout the region.

WHAT THIS MEANS. Declining family sizes are a steady, multi-generational trend in both regional and national demographics. Young people are choosing to delay marriage and childbearing, having smaller families as a result; baby boomers are looking to downsize. These realities are likely driving the shifts in preferences toward more compact housing options such as townhomes and small-lot, single-family homes. In a recently released quarterly survey, the National Association of Realtors showed a greater than 30% potential market demand for such housing types (citation: National Association of Realtors, National Community Preference Survey, October 2013).

Contrasting sharply with the increase in demand for more compact housing options is the decline in attainability of homeownership, in particular for younger demographics. These conditions have increased calls for filling the “missing middle” in America’s housing stock, defined to be townhomes, duplexes, bungalow courts, and small-lot, single-family residential houses (citation: Dan Parolek, Some of the blame for the undersupply of such housing can be attributed to municipal land use policy and zoning codes, which can frustrate developers’ ability to deliver the kind of medium-density projects that offer entry-level home ownership options to young buyers and facilitate downsizing for baby boomer households.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. Small lot and compact housing development meets the needs of a confluence of demographic factors that are already reshaping life in cities around the country. Municipalities and townships in Northeast Ohio should make their zoning codes and subdivision regulations friendlier to more compact housing typologies. This can manifest as townhouses or duplexes in more urban settings, or cluster/conservation developments in more rural settings. Such a move increases property tax revenue and thus enhances the fiscal sustainability of service provision and infrastructure maintenance. The recently published Stark County Sustainable Planning and Zoning Handbook acknowledge these facts while laying out a practical framework for different municipalities in the county to consider in land use and zoning regulation (footnote:

POLICY: Adopt Expedited Permitting and Review Policies for compact development and location-efficient homes and businesses: While permitting and review processes play an important role in ensuring newly built or renovated homes and apartments meet health, safety, environmental, and other standards, a lengthy or complex approvals process also can lead to unnecessary delays and increased expenses. Policies that expedite the permitting and review process reduce the time, cost, and risk of development. These policies can streamline the overall development approvals process for all homes

TOOL: An amendment to Cleveland’s subdivision regulations allows the City Planning Commission to approve the creation of “substandard” lots (i.e., lots that are smaller than otherwise required) where such lot sizes are characteristic of the neighborhood. Whereas the city’s zoning code requires new residential lots to be at least 40 feet wide and 4,800 square feet in area, the Planning Commission has used the new provision to permit the creation of lots that are as narrow as 25 feet and as small as approximately 2,000 square feet in order to allow development of single-family and two-family houses that fit the scale of older, urban-density neighborhoods. (Cleveland Ohio, Code of Ordinances; see Chapter 349.14)

GETTING IT DONE. As in 4.1, this initiative must be led by local jurisdictions, including municipalities, townships, and counties. Regional planning entities such as NEOSCC and consortium partners such as COGs can play an important catalyzing role by surveying member jurisdictions, facilitating dialogue between municipalities on different approaches to regulating compact housing development, and creating and encouraging local governments to adopt model code language.


Municipalities, Townships, Counties; Councils of Governments

Target Community

Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas, cost risk areas

Implementation Complexity


These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region. The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.