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Getting Past the Zoning Board

If you want to build onto your home or renovate your current house, you need to face the zoning board. This group - made up of lawyers, firefighters, doctors, bartenders, and other local citizens - can make or break your project.

These concerned citizens may seem like neighbors, but when they make up the zoning board, they become all-powerful and tough adversaries. It doesn't matter if you are talking about your local zoning board or your homeowners' association board. This group can tell you how high your fence can be and what color your front door cannot be.

The problem you face is how to deal with the board to get the result you want. Here are four tips to making the approval process go your way:

One: Talk to Your Neighbors The best place to begin your quest is with your neighbors themselves. Talk to them about your project. Tell them what you plan and how you plan on using it. It could make the difference between getting your idea past the zoning board and not. In some cases, neighbors bring cases and protests before the board because they were not asked in advance. If you are planning on major changes, especially those that will affect the outside of your home, talk first, seek zoning second.

You may need to make some small changes to your plans before getting your neighbors' approval. But having your neighbors behind you can make things a lot easier in the long run.

Two: Talk to the Professional Zoning Staff There are always those who are hired to run the zoning office. They may not be on the board itself, but they know how it all works and can help out a lot. Go to the staff for advice. They have the answers.

Ask if you need a permit. Ask what a backyard setback is. Ask as many questions as you can so you can make an informed proposal.

The staff can tell you the basic zoning laws in place within your jurisdiction. They will know how high a fence can be without a variance. They also will know ways to get your application approved. Many will tell you how to word your application for passage, such as removing the word "apartment" from your proposal and substituting in-law's addition or some other innocuous word.

Three: Turn Professional Another way to beat the board is to hire a professional who knows how it all works. Turn to a lawyer or an architect to put the professional spin on your application.

A lawyer and architect will know how to draft a proposal that includes a legal description of the project and a good set of plans. Sometimes it's the little stuff that makes the difference. The professionals know what the board is looking for and know how to provide it.

Four: Appeal a Negative Decision Just because you fail the first time out doesn't mean you can't try again. You have the right to appeal, especially if you feel the decision was unjust or wrong. Just don't expect the appeal to be easy. You must be prepared. And you must be prepared to fight hard. But you can get the original decision overturned in some cases.

Source: Based on information from Smart Money Magazine.

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