by Laura Mueller
There are a lot of factors that you need to pay attention to when buying land, and zoning is one of the most important. How a property is zoned gives you a ton of information about what you can and cannot do with it, including regulations on building, landscaping, and general land use. But if the zoning laws don’t align with your plans, is it possible to have the property rezoned for your desired purpose? It’s a bit complicated—and, unfortunately, not so easy to do.
Here’s what to know about rezoning, plus where to start if you’re interested in pursuing the process.
Zoning laws are legally-binding guidelines on property use that are set out by the local governing body. They’re typically codified as part of a master plan for the neighborhood or town, with areas designated for specific uses such as residential or commercial development. Other things that zoning laws may regulate include:
• Building heights
• Building density
• Access roads and parking
• Removal of certain natural resources
Think of zoning laws like a rule book for what is and isn’t possible on a piece of land. They’re the reason you can’t build a shopping center in the middle of a subdivision… or a subdivision in the middle of a shopping center. They’re also potentially a major obstacle to doing what you want on a piece of land, since you won’t be able to make any changes without the zoning rights to do so.
Can you get your land rezoned?
It’s always recommended that you do thorough research on any zoning laws in relation to a property before you invest. That way, you won’t run into any surprises when you go to apply for building permits or pursue other types of improvements.
However, it’s certainly possible that when you’re searching for land you’ll find a parcel that is perfect in every way—except for how it’s zoned. If that happens, you can try to get it rezoned, but it’s going to take some work and it’s definitely not a guarantee.
At minimum, there are two things that you will have to prove in order to achieve a change in a property’s zoning regulations:
1. That it benefits the community. Asking to have your land rezoned for fully personal use is a tough sell. Local lawmakers want to know that the change will benefit the entire community, particularly in terms of economic potential.
2. That it adheres to state and federal laws. Beyond local zoning laws there are also state and federal requirements that dictate how land can be used. If there’s a statute standing in your way, even local support won’t be enough to change the regulations.
Your local government probably has other considerations too, but plan to meet these two must-haves if you want your rezoning request to have a shot.
How to apply for rezoning
If you can make a good case for rezoning your land, then your next step is to petition for a rezoning with your local Building and Planning Department.
Be ready to prove those two considerations mentioned above, with plenty of supporting documents to back up your claims. In addition, have a clear plan for what you want to do on the land and why it’s worth making the change. Keep in mind that you will likely have to pay a fine, with the cost to apply for rezoning starting at around $1,000.
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