March 16, 2022

Emerging Trends in City Codes for Smaller Cities Across the US

city code trends city code trends

Written by: Eric P. Wilhite, AICP, Local Planning Lead 

City codes are nothing new. In fact, in the United States, planning began to emerge as a standardized profession and practice in the early 1900s. As time passes, communities across the country review and modify city codes to remain fair to all stakeholders and create an orderly framework to operate by.  

Recently, smaller communities, those with populations between 10 - 20,000 and growing, outside of the metroplex suburbs are finding their codes insufficient. Changes in rental ordinances, parking standards, and development layouts are requiring these smaller communities to review and make modifications to address current land use trends. 

1. Short Term Rental Ordinances 

According to Airbnb News, the summer of 2021 brought about a new trend. Popularity rose in family travel to remote destinations, away from their big-city homes - a trend that isn’t going anywhere soon. These remote rentals will remain popular for tourism and wedding gatherings.  

This trend has brought up unique issues for cities with single-family home rentals sprouting up. While communities are reaping benefits from collecting some tax revenue, many residents are concerned with the lack of regulatory control. Parties and disturbances from rentals are negatively impacting once quiet neighborhoods, which is requiring cities to navigate and create new regulations. These regulations allow property owners' rights to exist while reducing the negative effects on adjacent landowners.  

2. Parking Standards and Codes  

Many cities across the country are recognizing a lack of value in parking lot fields, like those at big-box retailers. Often, these parking spaces are underutilized and left empty for most of the year. As trends in land use, planning, and community development attempt to reduce the dependency on automobile use, the demand for automobile-centric site design has shifted.  

Cities are trying to navigate this landscape as new development occurs and redevelopment opportunities arise in older commercial corridors. This has increased the popularity of shared parking for multi-use. For example, two businesses might share a parking lot because they have different hours that peak parking is utilized.  

3. Density  

Finally, there is an increased mix of home types and lot sizes in single-family developments. Developers are blending neighborhoods by adding duplexes and triplexes. This can be difficult to navigate as lot sizes and various regulations for multi-family homes are different. Many single-family detached lot subdivisions are trending towards narrower lot widths to increase lot counts, but the street and lot layouts are the same “cookie-cutter” design. 

Cities are looking for a balance in developing the community they envision while allowing developers to get what they need. Creative designs and the addition of parks in open spaces within residential communities are being created to compensate for the smaller lot sizes. 

As smaller communities throughout the country continue to develop, these issues and many others are likely to arise. Many cities are working to embrace the trends, but most have limited staffing. This has slowed the adoption of regulations. Westwood’s planning team has helped several cities adapt and flourish and can help navigate these uncharted waters.  

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