7 min read

How to Avoid Zoning Trouble

Cara Adria Murphy
Business advisor
zoning by law

Once you have found the ideal building and location to help meet the various needs of your business, it can be stressing to know the location is not zoned for the kind of business you want to start.  Luckily, harsh zoning situations do not mean you are out of luck.

In most countries, local governments use different zoning laws to guard the safety of a particular place and to regulate growth. Commercial zoning laws help to control the type or business activity that can occupy a certain building or zoned area. There is some degree of administrative discretion you can undertake and the purpose of this article to inform the readers on how they can avoid zoning trouble for their business.

What Do Zoning Laws Control?

These laws help to regulate certain activities, for instance, waste management, noise level, the appearance of a building (size, height, and proximity to each other), air quality and parking. In different business zoning, they control the specific numbers of parking spaces, the size of signs, the number of businesses that are alike in the same location and numbers of houses that each zone can contain.

Avoid Business Zoning Trouble

A business owner is advised to check out the zoning ordinances of the area they want to start a business to determine if the type of activity is permitted. Consider the following points when selecting your property:

  • Be Very Careful When Signing a Lease

Before signing any lease agreement, it is advisable to find out whether your business activities can be carried out in the desired area. Investigate the location’s zoning laws and make sure that you incorporate a contingency clause.

  • Type of Business

Zoning ordinances allow particular types of businesses to occupy each county. Some counties allow mixed residential and commercial use for activities while another county may only allow warehouses and heavy industries. For example, a nightclub is not authorized to operate in a residential area and you cannot open a cosmetic shop in an area segregated for warehouses. This can cause lots of problems once the zoning officials decide your business is not permitted to function in the commercial district.

Download the New Location Notification Letter

See our broad selection of professional notification letters

Business Activities

Zoning laws prohibit certain business activities in certain areas. Certain activities involving air and water quality, waste management, visual appearance, and noise might get you regulated. In addition, they also restrict the number of same businesses that occupy each district such as allowing only two pet shops or three bookshops in a particular neighborhood.

Finally, some of the zoning laws are enforced for the sake of others. Like the laws for home-based businesses. In some residential areas, zoning laws do not allow any business activity including home-based businesses. However, in most municipalities, residential zoning laws permit small home-based companies as long as they do not negatively affect the neighborhood.

Understand the Previous Nonconforming Use

When you find a new location, never assume that you will be able to carry on the same business activity as the previous tenants as they may have violated zoning laws or the law may have changed. In general, there is non-conformance that comes up due to the implementation of new zoning laws. Most of the time the current business occupant has the right to continue using the previous rules. However, once they move out of that property or zone, the new occupant may not continue using the non-conformance laws.  

Amortization is an additional way that limits non-conforming uses. Under this condition, the non-conforming user is permitted to use the same old zoning laws for a particular period. After the expiry of the given period, the limit is then converted to an active conforming use.

Check Out on Variance

A variance is a unique legal document permit that gives the tenant permission to use a particular area for their business contrary to the zoning laws. Most of the statutes that permit adoptions of special zoning ordinances are required to detail the circumstances in which the variances were granted. More often than not these hardships are established to validate the individual permit. Some examples include:

  •    Having an undeveloped lot that needs a variance to construct a useful building.
  •    An odd-shaped lot with setback requirements for construction that do not meet living standards might be allowed in the zone.

Check Out Conditional Use

A conditional use is a unique use permitted under the zoning ordinance, but it needs to meet real conditions. For example, a zoning board may allow the residential zone to have professional offices if they have at least four parking spaces off the street. For a business owner or property owner to get a conditional use, they need to file the application with the local officials for them to determine if the given conditions are viable.

Zoning Laws on Parking Spaces and Signs

It is a requirement for certain businesses to provide parking. If there is a problem with the parking in the desired area, you will need to come up with a plan.  A legal template that will show steps you will undertake to deal with increased traffic that your business will draw.

Business signs are also regulated and must meet certain requirements like (size, appearance, and placement). Be ready for the zoning officials to be picky about your signs. Many local laws always limit the sizes of signs to around 5 feet by 3 feet.  Exterior designs of signs are also regulated, and most of the laws check if they are colorful, made of neon, flashing or illuminated. Zoning laws also regulate sign placements; they check if they are hanging over the sidewalk, flat against the building or mounted on a pole. Some counties limit the use of strange languages on the signs.

Tip: Before investing heavily on a sign, find out what the local regulations are first.

Licence for Use of a Car Parking Space

Understanding Zoning Laws

The main thing you need to understand on zoning laws is that most of the times they are imposed for the sake of companies and people in the neighborhood (mostly right for the home-based businesses). Although most of the areas are quite strict with their zoning laws, it’s rare to have an official knocking on your door unannounced unless you are competitor, a neighbor complained or you have deliberately violated the laws. As a real business person, it's ideal to know your neighbors and especially if you have a home-based business since enforcements are triggered by complaints. It is crucial to develop a good relationship with those people who surround your company.

The county planning departments have the mandate to create and monitor laws in most areas. 

Primary Zoning Resolution Options

Luckily, the detection of different zoning problems does not necessary mean that you can’t move ahead with your project. If you find that you are not allowed to conduct business in your area, you have the option to appeal the adverse rulings, file a lawsuit or obtain support from your community or neighbors.

Appeal: You can talk to the adjustment zoning board or the council board of appeals and have them interpret a zoning ordinance to be favorable to you. Ensure you have the full support of your area’s business community and neighbors.

An evidentiary hearing held by the board renders a decision purely based on all the evidence you have presented. The board can decide to affirm (in part or in whole) reverse or modify the decisions appealed. The zoning board has the power to make a new decision since all the officials who made the original law are members.

Business Community: If your project is adding value to the community, you can contact the county business development officials and have them stir a zoning that will accommodate your needs. You can also use lawyers, contractors, and other people who are familiar with the zoning laws to help you get things done.

Go to Court: Hundreds of applicants of zoning and building regulations are sorted out through administrative appeals and negotiations with administrators. But if all this fails you can go to court (this can be expensive and time-consuming). However, sometimes you need to seek help from the court if what you are fighting for is valuable, and the chances of success are high. Take this route if you are sure to get a definitive ruling and the benefits outweigh the negatives of time and cost.

Although a location is an important aspect of your business, zoning issues may prohibit you from using a particular place that you may desire. It is important to do thorough research before you commit to a certain business location. At Starting Business you can find all the legal documents and legal templates to help you solve all your zoning problems and achieve your goals.

Download Our Agreement for Commercial Lease

A ready-to-complete document for arranging a commercial lease agreement 

Cara Adria Murphy Business advisor
I am the owner and co founder of stay at home mom jobs. I strive to make a difference in the lives of women. Empowering them and imparting business skills to them. I have successfully mentored many women to start their own businesses and this is what drives me everyday.
I am the owner and co founder of stay at home mom jobs. I strive to make a difference in the lives of women. Empowering them and imparting business skills to them. I have successfully mentored many women to start their own businesses and this is what drives me everyday.

Comments (0)

Load More