Zoning ordinances Featured

11:55am EDT August 30, 2006
Since when is your local fast food restaurant or your car repair shop found in a plaza of nice identical brick buildings with nothing giving away what is inside besides a small sign in the front? Well, if you live in a community with highly regulated zoning ordinances, you may see these things daily.

Zoning laws are used to regulate development and reflect a community’s goals and standards, says Marci Reddick, a partner and director at Sommer Barnard PC.

Most land is regulated by local zoning ordinances. Therefore, when a company goes to purchase a property for its business, it is crucial to make sure the zoning laws permit the activities your business intends to pursue.

Smart Business spoke with Reddick about the affects zoning laws have on companies and what a company can do to file for variances or exceptions to the local zoning code.

How do zoning laws affect business development?
Local units of government work to develop a comprehensive plan for orderly and harmonious development. This means creating development standards that meet a number of goals, which include encouraging development in a community and protecting the natural resources and interests of the existing businesses, farms and homes.

Zoning laws benefit individuals, businesses and communities by providing an orderly way to develop and use property. It gives property owners assurance of how land may be developed and may be used in the future.

How do zoning laws affect the way companies do business?
Zoning laws regulate where a company can do business and the activities it may engage in within that area. For example, in an industrial area, there are four different zoning classifications designed for industrial use. This means you might not be able to run a certain type of company in one zoning area such as I-1-U, which allows for the lightest industrial use, but you might be able to perform the actions needed to run that company in an I-4-U district — the highest industrial level.

It is important for business owners to check the zoning laws of any property they are acquiring to make sure they are able to use the land for their purposes. Most government Web sites provide access to this type of information.

What does a company risk if it is found in violation of a zoning ordinance?
Local government authorities regulate code enforcement. These authorities should have inspectors who will look for zoning violations in a community and respond to a violation claim.

For example, if a company is found to be in violation of a zoning ordinance while it’s constructing the building for its use of business, the local zoning authorities will issue a stop order and the business will not be able to proceed with construction until the violation is addressed. This can be devastating to a company because it costs them both time and money.

Depending on the zoning law, a company may need to change its building design or remove a sign. Fines may be imposed on company owners found in violation of local zoning codes. Owners have the option of paying a fine and abiding by the law or filing for a variance. A variance is a change from something that is permitted within the ordinance.

Another option for a company is to request is a special exception to the zoning ordinance. This means one must meet more qualifications for the proposed land use. For example, if an industrial company wants to move into a distract which it is not permitted but can prove that it will not cause extra air or noise pollution and are monitored by a regulatory organization, a special exception may be granted.

How does a company qualify for a variance or an exception successfully?
Working with local zoning staff, neighborhood associations and the residents is critical to success in obtaining a variance or special exception.

It is important for business owners to meet with adjacent business owners or community groups to explain the proposed project and to answer any questions or calm any fears. Bringing any illustrations of future buildings or details you can share will help people understand your plan. It is better to meet with these adjacent business owners on an individual basis so you can focus all your attention on their specific questions. If a staff has been hired for the facility, taking the management staff to these meetings is a very good idea so other business owners can see who they will be dealing with on a daily basis.

MARCI REDDICK is a partner and a director at Sommer Barnard PC. Reach her at (317) 713-3435 or mreddick@sommerbarnard.com.