5  Zoning in Hampton Roads

5.0.1 Data collection

Zoning data collection and analysis for the Hampton Roads region took place from April through August 2023. At this time, Gloucester County and the City of Poquoson were going through updates of their zoning ordinances. The findings and presentation of the Hampton Roads portion of the Virginia Zoning Atlas are a point-in-time representation of zoning ordinances during this time. This analysis also includes the Towns of Windsor and Surry.

Missing town data

The other towns in the region, Boykins, Branchville, Capron, Claremont, Courtland, Dendron, Ivor, and Newsoms, were not part of this analysis because their zoning map and/or zoning ordinance were unavailable to us.

Zoning and geospatial analysis contributions were made by Christopher Newport University students: Robert Bennett, Stephen Everard, Audrey Morrison, Orson Lange, and Layne Marshall. Eric Mai and Maria Dougherty were the project leads for the region.

It is the intent of the Virginia Zoning Atlas to track major changes to zoning ordinances and zoning maps with periodic updates.

5.0.2 Sponsors

5.1 Key findings

  • Mixed with Residential zoning districts make up only 3 percent (3%) of total developable land in the region.
  • Sixty-nine percent (69%) of land in Hampton Roads is dedicated to single-family detached only housing zoning districts. In many localities, the percentage is much higher.
    • Minimum lot sizes for single-family detached housing are highest in Gloucster, Windsor, and Poquoson, but many jurisdictions in Hampton Roads have a minimum lot size between 0.5 to 1.0 acre.
  • The percent of land that you can build 2+ family housing is but a fraction of total developable land in most localities in Hampton Roads. Newport News (12%), Norfolk (11%), and Williamsburg (9%) stand out among their neighbors, but not by much.
  • Two jurisdictions — Hampton and Poquoson — employ minimum square footage requirements for housing.
  • All jurisdictions employ off-street parking requirements. For 4+-Family treatment, parking minimums range between 1 to 2.5 spaces depending on the number of bedrooms per unit. Some jurisdictions require additional spaces to account for visitors, while others do not.
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations vary greatly across the region, but many jurisdictions place significant restrictions on how they are used. Newport News and Chesapeake are notable for not allowing residential ADUs at all.
  • There are numerous opportunities to upzone areas within a quarter mile of public transit routes in the region.
  • Throughout the region, there are areas with more low-wage jobs than there is housing affordable to those jobs. More by-right 4+-family housing in these areas can support these essential workers and a diverse economy.

5.2 Zoning’s impact in Hampton Roads

With increasing housing affordability issues across the region, a diverse and growing supply of housing is needed to meet the needs of a diverse population. Localities have significant control over their supply through their zoning ordinances.

The following findings are based on the Zoning Atlas Methodology and takes into account the impact of federally-owned lands and wetland areas, which are both prevalent throughout the region. Like our colleagues in New Hampshire, we have sought to exclude areas of land that are not buildable. We have excluded all federal land from calculations, as well as area of wetlands and/or water that are 10 contiguous acres or more.


Federal lands were identified using ESRI Landscape’s USA Federal Lands feature layer, which accounted for lands managed by six federal agencies, including:

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Department of Defense
  • National Park Service
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Forest Service

Camp Peary is notably missing from this data and was added on 10/13/2023. Thanks, Earl Anderson!

Wetland/water areas were identified using the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Seamless Wetlands Data. The wetlands polygon was used and allow polygons with an area of 10 acres or more were utilized as a mask layer to clip from our Hampton Roads zoning district layer file.

Overlay districts, which are districts that may change the regulations of a base zoning district, were not a part of this analysis. Few overlay districts in the Hampton Roads region affect the uses of the base zoning district.

5.3 Zoning ordinances in Hampton Roads

Table 5.1: Summary of zoning ordinances in Hampton Roads
Jurisdiction County or equivalent Government Type Date of Zoning Ordinance Number of Pages Number of base and overlay districts
Boykins Southampton County Municipality NA NA NA
Branchville Southampton County Municipality 1982 32 3
Capron Southampton County Municipality NA NA NA
Chesapeake Chesapeake Municipality 1993 620 47
Claremont Surry County Municipality NA NA NA
Courtland Southampton County Municipality NA NA NA
Dendron Surry County Municipality NA NA NA
Franklin (city) Franklin Municipality 1994 132 19
Gloucester Gloucester County County 2023 154 16
Hampton Hampton Municipality 1960 328 57
Isle of Wight Isle of Wight County County 2005 468 21
Ivor Southampton County Municipality NA NA NA
James City James City County County 1985 399 19
Newport News Newport News Municipality 1997 141 30
Newsoms Southampton County Municipality NA NA NA
Norfolk Norfolk Municipality 2018 896 96
Poquoson Poquoson Municipality 1981 194 17
Portsmouth Portsmouth Municipality 2020 160 34
Smithfield Isle of Wight County Municipality 1998 499 20
Southampton Southampton County County 1990 253 16
Suffolk Suffolk Municipality 1999 427 30
Surry Surry County County 2013 239 14
Surry (town) Surry County Municipality 1981 40 5
Virginia Beach Virginia Beach Municipality 1998 348 43
Williamsburg Williamsburg Municipality 1991 446 19
Windsor Isle of Wight County Municipality 2015 148 11
York York County County 1995 251 25

Zoning ordinances see amendments made over the years that eliminate, add, or refine language to better meet the needs of the community. But comprehensive rewrites following a comprehensive planning process can help ensure that zoning regulations align with future land use goals and changing demographics. From the table above, you can see that several localities have updated their zoning ordinances in recent years, while others have not had comprehensive update in decades.

Subjectively, we found that many zoning ordinances had varying degrees of “readability.” We considered the language employed (i.e. did it overuse legal jargon?), the ease of which information needed could be found, and the use of images or graphics. Chesapeake’s zoning ordinance stood out to us as being overly complicated due to its use of a nontraditional use table. York County’s zoning ordinance was relatively straightforward.

5.4 Type of zoning district