Do you have a landfill lurching over your backyard? Is your next-door neighbor a nightclub?
If not, you can thank your local zoning laws.
What is zoning? Think of it as a tool that municipalities use to determine the character of their community. With zoning, your township or borough or city can govern how you can use your property.
Zoning divides a community into different zones – hence the name – where different uses are allowed. The most commonly used zoning designations are residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural.
A glance at your town’s zoning map will show you what zone is what: “R” for residential, “C” for commercial, etc. In some places, you’ll find zones that have a combined use, such as “industrial/commercial.”
Those zones can have their own narrower divisions. Residential zones, for example, might have one section that allows apartments, another for mobile homes, etc. Industrial zones might be considered heavy or light industrial. And commercial zones can have different sections for things like restaurants, warehouses and gas stations.
Aside from determining land use issues, zoning controls things like how large or high a building can be, the dimensions of a building lot and whether residents can, say, raise chickens on their property. Zoning helps make sure there is space for things like schools and public parks, and also preserves historical sites and open space.
Like a lot of things in our court system, the zoning laws we have now took time to develop. The first zoning regulations came about out of necessity. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cities were becoming more and more crowded, and unrestricted building was becoming a health and safety hazard.
New York City got its first zoning regulation in 1916, based off similar practices developed in Germany in the 1800s. Ten years later, the Supreme Court ruling Ambler Realty vs. The Village of Euclid determined that communities were within their Constitutional rights to exercise zoning power, a finding that helped set the state for modern zoning laws.
Zoning laws are overseen by your local or county government zoning board. But not all zoning regulations are uniform. One community might allow a mix of commercial and residential uses, while the next town over has no such provisions in its zoning laws.
And these laws aren’t permanent. That could be good news for developers who want to get a building project off the ground…and less welcome news for residents who aren’t looking forward to living next to that developer’s project.
Zoning is a complicated, multi-step process. Do you want to expand your business? Add on to your home? Establish a home-based business? Put a commercial property in an area that’s not zoned for commercial uses?
All of those issues will require you to appear before your community zoning board. It’s not something you should attempt on your own.
Having an experienced zoning and land use lawyer by your side can make a world of difference when you try to plead your case, and the attorneys at Penglase & Benson have a wealth of experience handling zoning matters in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Contact us today, and we’ll make sure your voice is heard.