4 Best Practices for Incorporating EV Charging into Local Zoning Codes
As electric vehicle (EV) sales accelerate due to both consumers and fleets electrifying, demand for fast charging will also increase across the U.S. The increased demand will prompt the growth of larger footprint EV charging stations, including locations where the primary property use is for EV charging.
Today, EV charging stations are often located at existing establishments like grocery stores, malls, or offices, allowing drivers to conveniently plug in at the places they already frequent. With increasing charging needs, a greater variety of site types is required, including larger standalone sites in which charging is the primary or sole use of a lot. Many local jurisdictions are currently accustomed to charging stations being co-located at existing retailers (i.e., an “accessory use”). As a result, their zoning codes do not yet have EV charging defined as its own use, similar to gas stations or other commercial uses.
Luckily, this is starting to evolve, and there are a number of best practices that local jurisdictions may look to as they consider updating their zoning to accommodate EV charging as a primary use. Drawing on EVgo’s decade-plus experience building charging stations across the country, the Connect the Watts™ team has identified four best practices for local zoning.
Define EV charging as its own use.
A critical first step to future-proofing local zoning codes is to define EV charging as its own use to accommodate standalone, larger charging stations for fleet and public charging use cases alike. When a local jurisdiction does not have its own EV charging classification, it creates a “square peg, round hole” situation for EV charging stations that may be misclassified as parking lots or fueling stations.
This has implications for where and how these standalone stations can be deployed, despite the fact that these classifications differ highly from EV charging. For example, charging is far less noxious and currently experiences less vehicular turnover than gas stations. And unlike standalone parking facilities, which may have more restrictive zoning requirements due to traffic concerns or other neighborhood considerations, the expansion of EV charging sites is critical to meeting local vehicle electrification goals, and flexibility in locations is key to ensuring equitable geographic distribution of charging infrastructure.
Allow primary use charging sites broadly across zoning districts.
There are many factors from site constraints and power availability to amenities and real estate conditions that determine where and whether new charging projects can be built. This is especially true for larger, standalone sites which have greater loads and require even more upfront coordination with local utilities. By allowing EV charging as a permitted use across a large spectrum of zoning districts (particularly in commercial zones), local codes can provide flexibility and geographic diversity in site selection.
This recommendation aligns with EV charging zoning regulations already in place in jurisdictions like San Diego and New York City. In San Diego, EV charging is a permitted accessory and primary use in all zoning districts, while New York City classifies EV charging in a less intensive use category that is permitted more broadly across the city than other fueling or automobile uses.1
Provide by-right approval for EV charging.
To the extent possible, local jurisdictions should avoid requiring discretionary zoning approvals for EV charging projects. Discretionary approval processes (often referred to as conditional use permits) can introduce significant delays, uncertainty, and added cost to a project. In cases where neighborhood-specific zoning requirements or other unique zoning overlays require additional review, the process should be handled administratively at the staff-level of the local planning department in lieu of a lengthy, intensive discretionary review process.
In California, state laws designed to expedite the permitting of EV charging stations explicitly require administrative, non-discretionary permit approvals for charging projects, underscoring the impact these processes can have on project timelines and feasibility.2 In response to growing demand for larger charging sites and their associated zoning challenges, the most recent edition of California’s EV Charging Permitting Guidebook clarifies that the requirement for administrative approvals also applies to zoning, rather than just building or electrical permits, stressing that charging stations should not be subject to conditional use permits.3
Provide performance-based design standards rather than prescriptive specifications.
As mentioned above, when EV charging stations are not treated as their own use, they are often grouped with “similar” use cases like parking or gas stations, which have their own unique requirements that can be dissimilar from EV charging. For example, existing design standards for parking uses or gas stations often include detailed specifications for landscaping and other required design elements like trees or canopies. However, unlike a standard surface parking lot, EV charging must include robust electrical support equipment and underground utilities that can limit the type of landscaping and aesthetic features that are feasible on a site. To prevent electric vehicle service providers (EVSPs) from having to request exemptions or alternative designs for each site, zoning regulations should opt for more flexible, performance-based design standards to account for underground utilities and electrical equipment needs.
One possible approach is a point system tied to stall count that offers several design and landscaping options from which EVSPs can choose based on the unique conditions of each EV charging site.4 When it comes to design standards, a flexible approach allows local jurisdictions to achieve desired design outcomes, save time for staff reviewers, and reduce obstacles to transportation electrification.
As EV adoption continues to grow, local jurisdictions can ensure they are well-positioned to meet charging needs by adopting changes to their zoning codes. These recommendations serve as a comprehensive starting point for updating and future-proofing zoning regulations by treating charging as its own use. To learn more, download the Connect the Watts™ local zoning codes best practices document.
EVgo remains a committed partner and resource for jurisdictions seeking to amend their local zoning codes to encourage the buildout of convenient, reliable, and accessible fast charging infrastructure. We are optimistic about the future of transportation electrification and remain committed to working closely with policymakers and partners to achieve our shared vision of Electric for All.
2 See AB 1236: “A city, county, or city and county shall administratively approve an application to install electric vehicle charging stations through the issuance of a building permit or similar nondiscretionary permit.”
4 See Table 3-8 and 3-9 in the City of West Hollywood parking design standards.