22 Oct 2016

Zoning 101: what you need to know

Full of terms like approved land use, transition zones, residential amenity, flood overlays, planning scheme amendments and minimum lot sizes, property zoning is unquestionably complex, but understanding it is critical when buying and selling real estate.

Zoning is a framework, generally set out by state and territory governments and applied by local councils, which dictates what can be built where and how. It regulates the pace and pattern of development, growth and character of an area.

Restrictions, codes and processes do vary between states, but the main zones are residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and public.

Director of Mildura-based James Golsworthy Consulting, James Golsworthy, who specialises in land use planning and development matters, says while the main zones and their uses are self-explanatory, there are many sub-categories.

Golsworthy says knowing a block of land’s zoning is pivotal in any property transaction. While a house or house and land package will naturally be zoned residential, researching nearby zones is also important, he says.

“In Victoria, for example, there is a zone called mixed use, which is used as a transition zone, often on the periphery of the CBD, so you’d need to be aware, if that impacts you,” he says.

“As a (residential) purchaser, you always want to be aware of non-residential zones in your vicinity – and what industries and activities are allowed in that zone,” Golsworthy says.

If nearby land is zoned to allow a particular use, such as an abattoir, or specific type of development, like high-density housing, buyers can reasonably expect an abattoir or apartment building to pop up – even if it doesn’t exist at the time of purchase.

“It is buyer beware. You need to do your research and don’t just rely on marketing material. You have to understand what zoning applies,” he says.

Golsworthy encourages people to research online, at the very least. “Most state governments have websites where you can quickly find out the zoning for a particular address.”

Some states also have “overlays”, relating to heritage and requirements to mitigate flooding, bushfire, etc.

In some states, local councils set their own planning schemes, but most follow a framework set out by the state or territory government.

For those looking to buy land and sub-divide, zoning is key. The zone will dictate if sub-division is even possible, and if it is, minimum lot sizes, density, the types of designs allowed and much more.

Rezoning – where a zone is changed to allow different and new uses – is a long, complex and expensive process, Golsworthy says.

Rezoning can significantly increase the value of land, if, for example, it is rezoned from semi-rural to residential, allowing for greater residential development.

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