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Zoning Law Basics

Zoning Law Basics

  • Posted by Fries Law
  • On March 3, 2014
  • Real Estate Law, Zoning Law

Have you ever wanted to convert a portion of your family home into an art gallery, or wanted to extend the hours of operation for your business or wanted to construct a gazebo that would come too close to your neighbors yard? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have just drifted into the “Zoning Zone.”

Zoning approval usually starts at your local zoning office, but if the zoning office denies your application, your next step would be the Zoning Hearing Board. The Board decides cases based on the Zoning Ordinance of your respective municipality. Zoning Ordinances list land uses which are permitted, those which are prohibited and those which are allowed only under certain circumstances, all for the sake of the public welfare, safety and health. Like anything else, zoning law basics can be best explained through example, but it is important to note that each municipality’s zoning laws may be different.

In the city of Allentown, building a freestanding tower in an industrial district is usually permitted, but building a freestanding tower in a residential district would be prohibited and would be allowed in a business district only if the applicant meets certain conditions. Of course, it goes without saying, if an Applicant wanted to build a tower in an industrial district, he would not need to go before the Zoning Board because, barring any unusual circumstances, his application would be approved by the local zoning office.

Generally, if you wanted to build a freestanding tower in a residential district, you would have to apply for a variance. A variance is a form of relief which allows an applicant to pursue his proposed use, but only if he can prove to the Board the Zoning rules work an unnecessary hardship on him. An Applicant can prove an unnecessary hardship if the land, where the tower is proposed to be built, is unique, or if there is no way the land can be developed in a way to conform to the Zoning rules. It is also important to note that the hardship cannot be created by the Applicant and any variance, if approved, must not alter the essential character of the neighborhood and must represent the minimum deviation from the rules at issue. Thus, with our freestanding tower example, the Applicant has a high burden to meet in order to build in a residential neighborhood – making a variance the hardest form of relief to obtain from the Zoning Hearing Board.

Depending upon the particulars of your local zoning ordinance, generally speaking, if you wanted to build a freestanding tower in a business district, you would have to apply for a special exception. A special exception is for uses permitted by the zoning rules, but certain conditions must be met before the Board can approve the application. Special exception applications are generally approved unless they result in a significant safety hazard, traffic hazard, health hazard or if they cause a detrimental effect upon the surrounding community. Zoning Boards are also within their power to impose reasonable conditions upon the applicant if those conditions would preserve the public welfare, safety and health. Thus, with our freestanding tower example, the Applicant does not have much of a burden to overcome. Assuming the tower does not pose a threat to the public or creates an unnecessary hazard, a Zoning Board would more than likely approve the application.

These are just two examples of zoning issues, and you should consult with an attorney regarding the specifics of your zoning matter. At Fries Law Office, we are here to help you with any and all of your zoning needs. Just give us a call for an initial consultation and we will be happy to assist you.