The City of Trenton’s zoning code creates a number of “nonconforming” use issues that make it difficult for residents who are trying to increase the productivity and value of their property. In some instances, this is the result of a zoning code that does not have a great deal of nuance. For example, most residential areas are covered by only one zone: the RB zone. This zone allows for detached single-family dwelling units, semi-detached single-family dwelling units, and row house dwelling units, but applies the same lot standards across the city. This is especially problematic in Trenton, where a number of neighborhoods have historically been composed of a mixture of uses and housing types, and where the RB Zone does not permit neighborhood service commercial uses. Disparity between the existing conditions and housing needs and the current zoning adds cost and delays to anyone looking to rehabilitate or develop property in these areas.
It will be critical for the City to ensure that land use recommendations and subsequent zoning updates align with the policies articulated in Trenton250. In terms of affordable housing, this includes ensuring that zoning allows, and in certain instances requires, a variety of housing options that can fit the needs of a diverse population, such as multi-family housing and infill townhomes, senior housing, group homes that accommodate people with disabilities or recovering from addiction, and live-work housing. Moreover, it will involve updating the zoning code to ensure that design standards and regulations do not place an undue burden on homeowners who want to make improvements. To advance goals related to market-rate housing, the City will need to update zoning to ensure that context-sensitive housing can be built at market rates.
The City of Trenton should undertake a comprehensive zoning update to ensure consistency with the Land Use and Community Form Plan
(see Land Use Report) as well as the other policies articulated in the Master Plan. This will be a time consuming and costly endeavor for the City. Nonetheless, it has the opportunity to smooth the development approvals process and encourage more development that is consistent with the City’s community-driven vision. At the same time, a well written zoning ordinance should make it easier to understand what can be built. This should reduce tensions between residents and the development community, which should result in reduced development costs. The Land Use and Community Form Plan
provides a framework for this update and fulfils the statutory obligation that the master plan contain a section that, “describes the existing and proposed location, extent and intensity of development of land to be used in the future for varying types of residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, educational and other public and private purposes or combination of purposes; and stating the relationship thereof to the existing and any proposed zone plan and zoning ordinance… including a statement of the standards of population density and development intensity recommended for the municipality.” (40:55D-28)