Before you build or even before you purchase the lot, if possible, confirm if any variances, conditional use permits or other zoning approvals are required. If you fail to do that, you will be stuck applying for an after-the-fact variance or other approvals and it’s always easier to ask for permission than forgiveness.
My tips really start with what not to do. Many people treat the zoning process as adversarial. They hire a lawyer, they argue with Zoning staff and they often threaten neighbors or staff with lawsuits or other actions if they don’t get their way. Another common problem is applicants are unwilling to get a proper survey or other necessary information on the front end to make sure the application is complete and will address all issues. Zoning is a political process; you want to build trust not create enemies.
My advice is to start with the local zoning authority. Staff are best equipped to review your application and make sure your requests are appropriate. Listen to staff – they want a successful application and often have good ideas to possible alter your ideas in a way that will gain approval with the commission. A negative staff review creates an uphill battle with any council or zoning commission.
Talk to your neighbors long before any hearing. By law, zoning staff must provide legal notice to your neighbors of any zoning request. A legal notice is always better received if you have already talked about the issues face to face with your neighbor. Zoning commissions will give substantial weight to neighbor opposition so its wise to listen to their concerns long before a hearing and see if you can present an application that they can accept.
Work with experienced surveyors, attorneys, builders and other professionals on the front end. Your best chance is to make a good first impression. Being prepared, respectful and focusing on the proper arguments can really impact how a zoning commission will review your application.
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