How to create an accessible, living zoning code

The zoning code generally is more complex and contains more graphics and tables than the rest of the municipal code. This makes it tempting to treat it differently and use specialized software to create it. However, it is still an ordinance with general regulations and penalties, passed by the council/board, and as such is part of the municipal code. It is a living document which will be amended over and over. It will need to be accessed and interpreted by many people, both city employees and members of the public. With everything going online now, compatibility with the Internet is a higher priority than print copies.

To create a document that meets all of these needs:

  • Use the same section numbering system as the county or city municipal code for consistency and easier interpretation by others. 
  • Use an expandable section numbering system. You want to be able to add new material within existing material without destroying the integrity of the document.
  • Organize with short sections and chapters. If you end up with five levels of subsections, the section is probably too long to be easily understood and will be slow to load on the Internet.
  • Group definitions so that there are 26 sections, one for each letter of the alphabet. Do not assign a separate section number for each definition. This helps avoid the need to insert new section numbers with extra dots, dashes or letters, which are awkward and clumsy.
  • Draft the code with software that planners can easily use to generate code amendments and that will easily convert to HTML for access on the Internet (PDF files are not user-friendly for people wanting to find zoning regulations or permitted uses). MS Word or another word processing program tends to be the best for drafting. Use of Adobe’s InDesign software, while making for an attractive document, is not as adaptable when updating or converting to HTML.