Spotlight on Zoning Practice

Is Your Zoning Ready for the EV Surge?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are an increasingly common feature on roadways and in garages across the country. Expanded incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act are just the latest tailwinds for a booming market. Many major automakers — including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo — have firm plans to stop selling gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2040. The big question now is whether we'll be able to deploy public charging infrastructure fast enough to keep pace.

As Brian Ross, AICP, Jessica Hyink, and Rebecca Heisel note in the October issue of Zoning Practice, "Preparing for the Electric Vehicle Surge," local land-use decisions are vital to the efficient and effective installation of a complete network of public-use EV chargers. Furthermore, our experiences with zoning for gas stations may prove of limited value to the emerging vehicle-fueling paradigm.

What Makes EVs a Zoning Issue?

Currently, most EV chargers are out of sight, and out of mind in the garages of private residences. EV charging is rapidly becoming a "customary" accessory use in this context and, therefore, may merit no more than a passing reference in local zoning codes. However, not everyone has access to a home charger, and extensive public charging infrastructure will help tame routine "range anxiety" and make interregional travel more widely feasible.

Ross, Hyink, and Heisel emphasize that it's important to consider four factors when evaluating EV chargers from a land-use perspective:

  1. Are the chargers designed to be used for hours or minutes at a time?
  2. How many chargers are there in a single location?
  3. Are the chargers accessible to anyone or only to specific customers, employees, or residents?
  4. Does the user the site owner or operator pay for the charge?

The answers to these questions should inform the treatment of EV charging infrastructure in the local zoning code.

How Can Zoning Promote EV Infrastructure Deployment?

Some communities have included incentives or requirements for EV chargers in local parking standards for more than a decade now. But Ross, Hyink, and Heisel have noticed two important changes in recent years. First, zoning definitions are getting more precise by differentiating installations that are EV capable or ready from those with a Level 2 or Direct Current Fast Charging station. Second, zoning codes require higher percentages of parking spaces to be set aside for charging.

Based on their analysis, Ross, Hyink, and Heisel suggest communities incorporate the following practices in their zoning codes:

  • Define distinct EV charger uses.
  • Explicitly permit accessory uses.
  • Set parking design or performance standards.
  • Develop a mixed-use standard.

In addition to unpacking these ideas, they also explain why planners and local officials can't rely exclusively on new installations associated with private development projects to create an equitable charging network.

EV federal funding support

Federal government funding may be available to help build EV charging infrastructure. Learn more about the Electric Vehicle Formula Program.

Top image: Getty Images

About the Author
David Morley, AICP, is a research program and QA manager with APA and editor of Zoning Practice.

October 13, 2022

By David Morley, AICP