Changing the Zoning on Your Property

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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If the intended use of your property is not permitted by local zoning law, you may be able to change your zoning ordinance as it pertains to your land. Most communities have formal procedures available to property owners who want to make a zoning change, whether it is petitioning for a large scale zoning change or requesting that a specific use be allowed on your property.

Requesting a Special Use Permit or a Variance

Most zoning ordinances will allow you to petition the zoning board for either a special use permit or a variance to alter your permitted land use, erect a structure not otherwise allowed, or use the same piece of property for two different purposes. To obtain a special use permit or a variance, you will be required to follow the procedures laid out by the zoning board. Typically this involves filing a petition to the zoning board that makes a case for your request, presenting your request at a zoning board meeting, answering questions about why your property should be allowed a non-conforming use, and getting permission from the board to use the property in the manner in which you request. 

Requesting a Zoning Change

Although a request for a special use permit or a variance is likely the easier, cheaper, and more effective way to change the way your property is zoned, there may be an occasion to request a general change as to how your neighborhood is zoned. If your neighborhood is changing, and your property is prepared to lead the way into the new use, you may want to petition the zoning board to allow the local zoning ordinance to grow as the neighborhood does. This procedure for changing zoning may be similar to that of asking for a variance, in that you still petition the zoning board and present your argument for a change at a zoning meeting. However, because of the nature of a zoning change and its impact on the neighborhood, the petition and hearing will likely be open for public comment and potential controversy. Depending on the community, a change in zoning may require that a number of citizens file a request, or that the change be initiated by a public vote.  

Getting Legal Help

Whether you attempt to get an allowance for a non-conforming use or to change the zoning law in general, it is important to work with an attorney familiar with the process. Not only will your lawyer be able to help you with the formal procedure of changing how your property is zoned by helping you prepare your best argument for a zoning change, but s/he will introduce you to local zoning officials with whom you can build relationships with and discover how they feel about zoning changes and your proposed change and its impact on the community. 

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