We often believe that as the owners of property that we can use our land however we desire. As we understand in the HOA and condominium world; that is not the case when there are restrictive covenants and declarations filed that regulate the use of an owner’s property. But what if you do not own property that is subject to these types of restrictions? Can you then use your land however you see fit? The answer to those questions is most likely, no.
Local municipalities have land use ordinances and regulations in place that dictate a designated “use” that is allowed for a piece of property. For example a property may be zoned for residential, office, or industrial use. These designations are given to property based on how local governments envision property development in their jurisdiction and how that property use fits in their long range development plans.
What happens when property owners want to use their property in a way that does not necessarily “fit” squarely within a current zoning designation, or when a property owner wants to add an additional use to their property that otherwise is not allowed under the property’s current zoning designation? Property owners will need to apply to their local planning department for a change in zoning. For example this could be an application to take a piece of property from a residential zoning designation to an office designation. It could also mean that an owner in a light industrial district wants to add a more intense use to their property that is only allowed in a high industrial zoning district. Typically these cases are heard by a local zoning board or commission.
Some land use changes do not require a wholesale zoning change. For example you may need a variance from some of the setback requirements in your neighborhood so that you can build your garage, or you may not want to make a zoning district change but may need to have a specific use allowed that requires a Special Use Permit. These are all changes to the use of your land that may necessarily require application be made to local municipalities including a local board of adjustment.
Land use patterns are fluid and develop over time. Neighborhoods evolve and municipal goals and long range plans change. As such, there are processes in place for changing how property is allowed to be used. Changing a land use designation requires planning and can involve meetings with local municipal planners, engineers, Department of Transportation (DOT), attorneys, local boards and commissions, and in many cases the City or Town elected Council. I have served on various City of Greensboro Boards and Commissions since 2012 including the Board of Adjustment and Zoning Commission. I recently finished my second term on the Greensboro Zoning Commission, including spending this last year as the Chair. I am familiar with the types of cases presented to these governmental bodies and understand the preparation needed to present an application in order that it stands the best chance of success.
Land use changes affect more than just the property owner and their particular tract of land. Neighbors are also affected by changes which is why it is important to be deliberate about making land use changes. Careful thought should be given to whether such a change is viable and how it fits within surrounding properties and long term planning goals of your local governments. While local ordinances often do not require dialog with neighboring properties other than specific notice requirements, it is often helpful to both the applicants and neighbors as it can alleviate much of the fear of the unknown.
If you need guidance and advice regarding a land use or zoning change in the Greensboro area, you can reach me in our Law Firm Carolinas Greensboro office.