Drone Zoning: Urban Planning’s Next Frontier?

Zoning Practice — April 2023

By Troy Rule


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Businesses are increasingly seeking to use drones to deliver goods, inspect infrastructure, take aerial photos, and serve other valuable functions. Local land-use planners, who have governed uses of low airspace for nearly a century through setback requirements, height restrictions, and other means, could serve important new regulatory roles in that space in the drone era — if federal regulators would let them.

With adequate federal and state government support, drone-use zoning — the use of municipal ordinances and overlay zoning maps to regulate drone activities — could emerge as the next great frontier for zoning law. Drones are increasingly capable tools for delivering goods, photographing real estate listings, surveying pipelines, and serving other valuable commercial functions. However, drones can also be like pigs in the parlor instead of the barnyard: In certain settings, their noise and threats to privacy can unjustifiably interfere with activities on the ground.

This issue of Zoning Practice explores how planners can apply zoning concepts to local regulations governing drone use. It begins with background on the emerging need for more expansive local drone-use controls and briefly summarizes existing barriers to regulating drone use locally before summarizing three potential approaches to drone zoning.


Page Count
Date Published
April 1, 2023
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Troy Rule