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
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
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
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.