Recreation Zones--Benefits and Detriments

by Cathy Roemer
(Jerome, Idaho)

Visitor Question: What is the purpose of a recreation zone? Is it to prevent certain uses or to enhance multiple use?

Editors' Reply:

Let's hope we're answering the question you intended; if not, hit the Contact Us button.

We're going to assume that this question is about a zoning district called Recreation, and answer that way.

Recreation zoning can be applied to particular land parcels in one of three ways usually, in our experience:

1. Sometimes there's a Recreation zone because whoever did the zoning regulations and ordinance is simply very thorough.

They notice that some uses in the community--roller or ice skating rinks, bowling alleys, swimming clubs, amusement parks, ski slopes with no lodging--are recreational uses that don't fit neatly into other commercial zoning categories.

For some reason, they may not have a Public or Institutional zoning classification, so they may also assign public parks to Recreation as well.

In these instances, the zoning category often is simply a recognition of the existing land use and isn't really offering a public policy directive.

2. As you suggest, it is possible that the town council or your governing board simply thinks that they would like to develop a recreational area where multiple types of activities are encouraged.

Perhaps they are actively seeking complimentary uses, where conceivably families could go in different directions once they arrive at the recreation district.

We've known of Recreation zoning being assigned because the leadership had an agenda of some sort.

For example, perhaps they wanted to bring in a large movie theater or a gambling casino. Sometimes these also are called Recreation, although if we were starting from scratch, we would use Entertainment as the district name if that's what we had in mind.

With Entertainment, you also could include clubs, restaurants, bars, concert venues, and the like.

3. A third thing that is somewhat common in tourist areas, especially those based on scenery or a beach, is that the Recreation zoning classification is assigned with the thought that preserving the natural asset can best be accomplished by keeping other uses out.

This category also would be popular in areas where hunting clubs or pay fishing lakes abound.

Although we think using Recreation as the zoning category and then writing in protections for the aesthetic, scenic, or natural values as part of the zoning regulations part of the ordinance is a little awkward, sometimes it's done.

The interesting thing about land use zoning is that most cities of any size could make a case for some really unique feature of their ordinance. So this list isn't exhaustive, by any means.

But in most instances we know about, the Recreation zoning classification is really kind of silly.

If you want Entertainment, say so and include all kinds of performance venues, eating and drinking establishments, gaming, racing, and such.

Include your parks as either part of an Open Space category or a Governmental, Institutional, or Cultural classification.

Commercial recreation, where you pay a fee to enter, can easily be accommodated simply in Commercial categories, based on square footage, building massing, or whatever you use to distinguish between heavy commercial, neighborhood commercial, and everything in between.

That's about as much as we can say without knowing more about a specific recreation zone proposal. Our opinion is that other classifications probably are more descriptive and also allow better protection of and control over a particular recreational use.

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