Upzoning is defined by traditional planning circles as “change in the zoning of a tract or parcel of land so as to intensify its usage. An example would be a change in zoning so as to increase the number of units allowable per area unit.” Intensifying the number of units allows greater density or commercial uses.
However, in certain regions (such as Long Island), applications of upzoning do not serve to foster growth, but to limit it. In these instances, “…the term is used to mean the opposite -- changing the zoning in a broad area to limit growth and density.” It is this definition of upzoning that is most applicable to Long Island.
Commonly, the practice of decreasing allowable unit yield is referred to as “downzoning”. In New York City, many outer borough neighborhoods were downzoned to preserve the density and charm of certain neighborhoods. Contrast this to Long Island, where upzoning refers to the increase in size of a development lot, say, from A-1 (one house on 1 acre) to A-5 or 10 (one house per five or ten acres of land) for the sake of limiting housing and development densities.
Much of the upzoning across Long Island came as a response to environmental concerns, and the drive to upzone peaked with the state of New York passing the Sole Source Aquifer Law in 1987.
It is the goal of this piece to highlight the application of upzoning used by various Long Island towns with the purpose of limiting growth, as well as limiting groundwater pollution.
If property is upzoned by a municipality blindly, without cause, a takings case may threaten the integrity of the zoning code. However, if the upzoning is done in the context of a comprehensive planning effort, the taking issue could be avoided: