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Zoning & Land Use Issues

Local governments have established a number of regulations and rules, administered by one or more boards or agencies, to control the use of land. Those bodies apply the rules to protect property values and ensure a thoughtful, organized approach to land use. When considering any new or different use of land or a building, we guide clients in complying with these rules.

Zoning Ordinances

Nearly every city has established zoning ordinances and other rules that dictate where certain businesses may locate. It is crucial to make sure that the zoning ordinances permit business operations in the selected location before committing to that location for the business. Zoning enforcement officials may be able to close down a business that is improperly operating in an area not zoned for the particular type of business. For example, if a business is engaged in light manufacturing, the zoning ordinances in the city will likely restrict the operation of light manufacturing businesses from residential and commercial areas. Determining whether an area is properly zoned is sometimes a difficult matter. We assist clients in reviewing the zoning ordinances and the maps and plats that define where the various zones are located.

Construction Permits and Occupational Licenses

One common problem encountered by homeowners and businesses is securing construction permits. These permits may be required for seemingly simple activities, such as painting the exterior of a home or installing a fence, as well as more complex projects. When considering any work that will alter the exterior appearances of a home or affect plumbing or wiring inside, a construction permit may be required. Cities also regulate the location of businesses by the grant of construction permits and occupational licenses. Those matters may be handled by a department different from the office that deals with zoning matters. We work with clients in contacting the appropriate officials to determine what licenses and permits may be needed before an investment in any real estate is made.

Zoning Appeals Board

Even though the zoning ordinances may prevent operating a certain type of business or making changes to a home, sometimes there is relief. Most cities have a board of zoning adjustment or zoning appeals that reviews zoning ordinances and complaints. It may be possible to appeal to that group for a change in the zoning ordinances or to receive a “variance.” A variance is a kind of special permission to use property for a specific purpose not otherwise permitted by the zoning ordinances. That group may also permit a “non-conforming use” in certain circumstances. In this case, a use that was previously permitted may be allowed to continue following any change in the zoning ordinances that would make it otherwise illegal. In other words, the prior use is “grandfathered” because it would be unfair to take away the right to use the property in manner previously permitted. We work with clients in moving through the zoning appeals process.

Conditional Use Permits

Most zoning ordinances require “conditional use permits” in certain cases. This means that even though the intended business is proper for the location’s zone, an extra permit is still required. For example, a business owner wanting to establish a recycling business that will generate noxious fumes or waste in an industrial area would need a conditional use permit.

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