Richmond is rewriting its zoning ordinance. What does this mean?

Richmonders are invited to apply to join the Zoning Advisory Council to provide input to the planning commission.


The zoning ordinance sets regulations for what can be built in Richmond.

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The city is rewriting its zoning ordinance — the section of the city code that establishes what can be built where — and how — in Richmond.

What is the zoning ordinance?

The ordinance is a legal document that maps the entire city based on what can be built and how sites must be designed. You can find it in chapter 30 of the city code.

Why rewrite the zoning ordinance?

The current ordinance dates back to 1976, which means several of the rules in place aren’t aligned with the realities of Richmond life in the 21st century. Many of the policies from the ordinance have also resulted in exclusionary zoning practices which exacerbate racial disparities and inequality.

Richmond is growing, but it can’t get any bigger physically by annexing more land — meaning the city has to take advantage of the 62.5 square miles it has.

A large part of Richmond 300, the city’s award-winning master plan, is dependent on changing the zoning ordinance.


For many years, City Council has taken a piecemeal approach to rezoning and amending the zoning ordinance.

Photo by RICtoday

What will change?

In a presentation to City Council, Dept. of Planning and Review Director Kevin Vonck shared a number of goals for the rewritten ordinance.

The new zoning ordinance will create new districts with specific, technical, and measurable regulations. It will likely permit a greater range of housing types within parcels — for example, allowing a duplex to be built on a lot next to a single-family home — as well as a greater range of compatible commercial and industrial uses on those parcels.

Vonck also said the new ordinance should prioritize pedestrian safety, historical and cultural resources, and the personality of Richmond’s neighborhoods. He also wants it to be easier to understand.

“You shouldn’t need a land use attorney to figure out how to use your own property,” Vonck said.

What’s the timeline?

The first step will be developing what Vonck calls a “citywide development pattern book” — a way to document what’s been built already and when. Many structures in the city would not technically be legal to build today, but the new zoning ordinance might legalize them.

The planning commission will then build a framework to establish definitions, processes, and guidelines for the new ordinance and the new districts.

Vonck anticipates that those steps will take the rest of 2024. Starting in 2025, the department will dive into actually drafting the ordinance.


The rewrite will include mapping when current structures were built, which can stretch back 200+ years.

Map via city documents

Who is in charge of the rewrite?

The planning commission is at the helm of the process. It voted to establish a Zoning Advisory Council subcommittee to assist in the rewrite and build community awareness and participation in the process. The council will be made up of ~17 members, including at least 14 current Richmond residents.

The commission has also contracted the firm Code Studio as a consultant to help with the pattern book, public engagement, and analysis.

How can I get involved?

Applications are open for Richmonders to join the Zoning Advisory Council. Apply by Tuesday, March 19 to be considered. The council will meet monthly for two years.

Further along in the process, there will also be working groups, community engagement sessions, and public hearings to participate in.