Modern Family: Zoning and the Non-Nuclear Living Arrangement

Zoning Practice — May 2020

By Brian Connolly, David Brewster


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Many zoning codes define the term "family" — as used in the terms single-family or multifamily dwelling — as a group of people related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or up to a certain number who are unrelated. However, while aimed at establishing stable neighborhoods, historical definitions of "family" contained in zoning codes have regularly excluded a wide variety of groups. Unaffordable housing has pushed families to live with extended family members, groups of unrelated roommates to cohabitate, and home seekers to find smaller, more efficient forms of housing. At the same time, contemporary treatment methods for disabilities has resulted in increased demand for group living arrangements.

This edition of Zoning Practice examines the changing face of the modern American family, evaluates existing law as it pertains to regulation of household structure, and offers suggestions for how zoning might be tweaked to respond to many of the changing norms of American family and household life.


Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2020
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Brian Connolly
Brian Connolly represents public- and private-sector clients in zoning, planning, development entitlements, and other complex regulatory matters. His practice encompasses a broad range of land use issues, including planned-unit developments, development agreements, and private covenants and restrictions. He also represents clients in land use and zoning litigation, initiatives and referenda associated with land use approvals, and real estate transactions. Brian has built a national reputation for his work on First Amendment issues related to local government regulation – including signs and outdoor advertising and other free speech issues – as well as fair housing matters in local planning and zoning, particularly in the area of housing for people with disabilities. In addition to representing clients in these areas, Brian’s work has included filing a U.S. Supreme Court amicus curiae brief and serving as an expert witness in cases involving these and other land use topics.

David Brewster