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Zoning on your mind? Main Photo

Zoning on your mind?

Understanding whether rezoning, CUP or a variance will work best for you.
Posted: October 29, 2019 by Anna Jotham

When buying a commercial property, it’s important to know the best way to bring that property into compliance with local zoning ordinances. But how can you know which application you should make? There are so many options, each with its own set of particular considerations, and there’s a lot riding on the decision. After all, you want to be able to use the property in the way you intend.

So which application is right for you: conditional use permit (CUP), rezoning or maybe a variance? Let’s examine each of these options and their intended purpose.


Understanding the differences between zoning options

It’s essential to note that while this is a general guide to the particulars about these zoning options and the purpose of each, zoning differs depending on the state and city in which the property is located. You may wish to partner with an attorney and other experts to determine which path is right for you.


Understanding rezoning

Through rezoning, it is possible to change the use district of a property to allow the applicant to use the property in the way they wish. Zoning overall is in place to protect the public, so it takes into account negative consequences of the use of a particular property, how use can affect property values and public services. When these goals are not being met by the current zoning designation, sometimes rezoning is allowed if the proposed use would bridge that gap.

With rezoning, there are two options: one amends the zoning ordinance and affects all properties, and the other amends the ordinance map to change a particular parcel. Chances are if you go this route, you will want to pursue the second, which is more common.


Understanding variances

A variance allows for a limited waiver or change to a zoning requirement. It is often a suitable solution for requirements that would pose a hardship on the property owner, often due to a physical characteristic of the land. Variances come in two forms. An area variance provides an exception to allow a property owner to have the same use of their land as others without the physical characteristics of the land. The second, a use variance, allows a property owner to use land in a way that is prohibited in the district under normal circumstances.

Variances are often used to allow property owners to have the same playing field as others on similar properties, and are often an option when jurisdictions recognize the strict adherence to regulations would keep a property owner from reasonable economic use of their land.


Understanding conditional use permits

Conditional use permits or CUPs allow for permanent use of a piece of land as long as conditions set by the appropriate governing body are met. Such conditions ensure that the use does not have a negative impact on properties located nearby. This might include a use that increases noise in the area or traffic, for example. It’s important to note that CUPs do not automatically transfer to a new owner when the property is sold. As a form of variance, the permits can be limited.


Pursuing the zoning solution that is right for you

City and state regulations are complex, and the last thing a developer wants is to run into zoning barriers that prevent them from using the property in the way they intend. Finding the right solution to the zoning challenges for the property you are considering purchasing and navigating the process may require help from zoning experts as a well as a legal team that specializes in land use. In the end, it’s all about bringing your property and what you plan to do with it into compliance. 

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