Land Use And The Law

October 20, 2015


Introduction to “Land Use and the Law” column…


As a young lawyer relatively new to the practice of law, I wrote a regular column on land use law featured in the newsletter for the St. Louis County Municipal League. Now, after practicing law for more than 30 years, primarily in the metropolitan St. Louis area, elected and appointed officials, and city staffs, might benefit from my observations, opinions, and conclusions about land use law in Missouri. I am introducing this column by offering a basic overview of zoning law in Missouri.

Original Zoning: Missouri’s Zoning Enabling Act


Zoning and land use regulation by municipalities are authorized by statute in Missouri by the Zoning Enabling Act, §§ 89.020 – 89.491, R.S.MO. (“Zoning and Planning”). (Counties should refer to §§ 64.010 – 64.975, R.S.Mo. (“County Planning, Zoning, Recreation, Natural Streams and Waterways”)). Because zoning and land use regulation fundamentally conflict with individual property rights recognized and protected under our constitutions and the common law, the enabling statutes and ordinances adopted by local governments are generally strictly construed against the government and in favor of individual property owners. However, if prescribed procedures are followed and the regulations bear a substantial relation to the public good or general welfare, courts are to defer to the legislative judgment of local governments.

By following the procedures in the enabling statutes, local governments may divide their jurisdiction into zoning districts, define categories of uses for those districts, and establish regulations or performance standards for those uses. Uses categories may be defined generally (e.g., residential, office, commercial, industrial), and specifically (e.g., residential districts might include single family dwellings, multifamily dwellings, churches, schools, certain recreational uses; commercial districts might include specific retail uses or use categories). Typically, local governments define uses, which will be permitted in particular zoning districts, and state generally that if a use is not expressly permitted; it is to be deemed prohibited. In addition, local governments often authorize “conditional” or “special” uses if certain special procedures are followed and conditions are satisfied. Such conditional or special uses include those uses, which a local government concludes might be beneficial to the community but incompatible with permitted uses in the particular zoning district unless certain conditions are met. A conditional use permit, if granted, defines the conditions deemed necessary to protect surrounding property owners while benefiting public interests in the conditional use. Finally, local governments will define performance standards for various uses in particular zoning districts. Such regulations include minimum lot sizes, setbacks from lot lines and streets, parking requirements, limitations on building mass (e.g., floor area ratios), density, and green space and landscaping requirements. More recently, there has been a move toward what are often referred to as “planned districts”, where the local government tailors its regulations or performance standards to a particular tract. Generally, such planned districts offer more flexibility to developers and greater control over development to governments. However, a local government adopting such planned districts must clearly define the criteria for establishing the regulations for particular developments.



Mary B. Schultz is a partner in the law firm of Schultz & Associates LLP,, 640 Cepi Dr., Suite A; Chesterfield (St. Louis), Missouri 63005, (636) 537-4645. Mary B. Schultz graduated from Northwestern University Law School more than 30 years ago, in 1985, and has been practicing primarily in Missouri ever since. Mary B. Schultz is admitted to practice in Missouri and Illinois. Schultz & Associates LLP is an affiliate member of the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

This column is intended to provide general information only. It does not constitute, nor should be relied upon, as legal advice or a legal opinion relating to specific facts or circumstances.

Reproduction of all or any part of this column is permitted, provided credit is given to Mary B. Schultz.


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