ZONING 101/Definitions


Zoning codes determine the built form of towns and cities, and therefore they have a huge impact on how people live in them. Zoning divides the land in the town into different zones, in which some land uses are and are not allowed. For an easy example, this is why you don’t typically find industrial uses next to a school.

Throughout this process you may hear zoning terms you are unfamiliar with. The goal is to make the code as user-friendly as possible and that starts with de-jargoning. Below are some often used terms you may hear or see in a document along with a brief summary of what they mean and a graphic if it helps put the term into context. If there is a term you don't recognize and it isn't listed below, please email us at codecreate@viennava.gov and we will add it to the de-jargon guide below.

Accessory Living Units (ALU): A small residence that is located on the same property as another larger residence. An ALU is an independent, self-contained living space, with its own kitchen or kitchenette, bathroom and sleeping area. This can be located within the main house or as a separate building on the property.

Affordable Housing: Under the Code of Virginia, affordable housing is defined as housing that is affordable to households with incomes at or below the area median income, provided that the occupant pays no more than thirty percent of his gross income for gross housing costs, including utilities. 

Frontage: The feature(s) that define how a building meets the public right-of-way. For example, front porches, landscaping, or parking lots. 

Building Height: The number of stories that a building has. This relates to scale, which is a building's size in relation to other buildings or pieces of the built environment.  

Cottage Housing: Single-family detached houses, usually clustered around a common area, that are smaller and more compact than traditional single-family detached houses. Such houses are usually required to have a high-quality architectural style and a connection to the common area via front porches and other architectural features. 

Incentive Zoning: Under the Code of Virginia, incentive housing means the use of bonuses in the form of increased project density or other benefits to a developer in return for the developer providing certain features, design elements, uses, services, or amenities desired by the locality, including but not limited to, site design incorporating principles of new urbanism and traditional neighborhood development, environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient building design, affordable housing creation and preservation, and historical preservation, as part of the development. 

Inclusionary Zoning: Residential developers are provided with incentives to reserve a certain number of residential units in a development at prices affordable to low- and moderate-income households. 

Landscaping: Carefully planned greenspace. In an urban environment, this would include street trees, gardens, flower pots, and parks. Often this is used as a buffer between pedestrian space and the street. 

Lot Coverage: The percent of a lot taken up by the house, driveway, accessory structures (such as sheds), porches, decks and patios. 

Maker or Artisan manufacturing:  Small-scale businesses that produce little to no vibration, noise, fumes, or other nuisances through the use of hand-tools, mechanical tools and electronic tools for the manufacture of finished products or parts including design, processing, fabrication, assembly, treatment, and packaging of products; as well as the incidental storage, sales and distribution of such products. Typical maker or artisan manufacturing uses include, but are not limited to: electronic goods, food and bakery products; non-alcoholic beverages; printmaking; household appliances; leather products; jewelry and clothing/apparel; metal work; furniture; glass or ceramic production; paper manufacturing. 

Pedestrian Infrastructure: Elements that create a positive and safe experience for those on foot, such as crosswalks, wide sidewalks, flower pots, and a low traffic speed. 

Resource Management Area (RMA): means a component of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area (not classified as a resource protection area (RPA), as designated on the official CBPA map for the Town as incorporated in the current comprehensive plan that includes lands, which if improperly used or developed, have a potential for causing significant water quality degradation. Lands with the following characteristics may be classified as RMAs: A. 100-year floodplains; B. Highly erodible soils and/or slopes in excess of 15 percent; C. Highly permeable soils; D. Non-tidal wetlands not classified as an RPA; or E. Other lands as identified by the Town to be necessary to protect the quality of state waters. 

Resource Protection Area (RPA): means a component of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area as designated on the official CBPA map for the Town as incorporated in the Comprehensive Plan that is comprised of lands adjacent to a water body with perennial flow that have an intrinsic water quality value due to the ecological and biological processes they perform or are sensitive to the impacts which may result in significant degradation to the quality of state waters. The following lands shall be classified as RPAs: A. Non-tidal wetlands connected by surface flow to or contiguous to a water body with perennial flow; B. Other lands as identified by the Town to be necessary to protect the quality of state waters; and C. Buffer areas having widths of not less than 100 feet, landward of the components listed in subsections A and B of this definition, and adjacent to and landward from each side of any water body with perennial flow. 

Right-of-Way: The area over which a legal right of passage exists; land used for public purposes in association with the construction or provision of public facilities, transportation projects, or other infrastructure. 

Setback: The distance between buildings and the street. 

Subdivision: Under the Code of Virginia, subdivision means the division of a parcel of land into three or more lots or parcels of less than five acres each for the purpose of transfer of ownership or building development, or, if a new street is involved in such division, any division of a parcel of land. The term includes resubdivision and, when appropriate to the context, shall relate to the process of subdividing or to the land subdivided and solely for the purpose of recordation of any single division of land into two lots or parcel. 

Transit: The transportation system, such as buses, light rail, bike lanes, sidewalks, and streets. 

Transparency: The percentage of windows on a buildings ground floor, which can impact how a pedestrian views the space. 

Use: The activity that takes place on a piece of land. For example, commercial or residential activities are typically grouped together.

Different types of ALUs

Examples of cottage housing developments

Example of lot coverage calculation

Typical residential right-of-way section

Example of transparency of ground floor of a building