Zoning refers to regulations on how you may use a piece of property. These laws generally divide a community into zones, or sections, each with its own permitted activity. If you want to use your property for activities not permitted under the current zoning laws, you need to either ask for a waiver or challenge the law itself. Some reasons why you might want to get your property zoned differently include:
- You want to buy property that is not zoned for your intended use
- A zoning change has made your current activity illegal
- Zoning regulations make it hard to use the property effectively
Process for Requesting a Zoning Change
Every municipality has its own rules and procedures for changing zoning. To be sure you get it right, talk with a land use lawyer who can advise you about your odds of success and help you formulate a plan for your specific situation. Although the specifics vary, the general procedure is similar in many areas: - File a written application - Pay an application fee - Attend a hearing with the zoning board to make your case; you may submit supporting information including photographs, drawings, or models. - The zoning board may notify your neighbors and give them a chance to voice their opinions
You have several options for making your case. You can ask for a waiver or request a change to the law. There are three basic types of waivers, depending on your situation. Variances: These provide exceptions to zoning laws that permit you to use the land in a way not normally allowed. Owners ask for a variance when following the law would cause them unfair difficulty. Many states also require the owner show that the desired use won't cause problems for neighbors. Non-conforming Use Permits: This type of waiver is usually used to "grandfather in" a business that was legal under a previous zoning law but is forbidden under a changed law. As long as it is not harmful to the neighborhood, the business may continue operating. These permits apply only for as long as the business stays open and do not transfer to a new business in the same location, even an identical one. Conditional Use Permits: These are similar to variances and let you use the property for a non-allowed purpose as long as you meet certain conditions, usually set by the zoning board.
Challenging a Zoning Ordinance
If you want to challenge the zoning ordinance itself, you also have a few options. You can argue that the new ordinance does not fit the municipality's Master Plan, if one exists. You can also argue that the board violated procedural due process in passing the law, either because it: - did not follow the statutory procedure for passing zoning ordinances, or - did not provide enough notice and time for objections from affected property owners
Regardless of the option you choose, you'll need a strong case. Try to show how your use will benefit the neighborhood, or at least not hurt it. If you're asking to avoid doing something normally required, offer an acceptable alternative. It's also helpful to get the support of neighbors and other nearby community members. Talk to them before the hearing and offer compromises for any of their concerns. With neighbors on board, you'll have a better chance of success.