A Zoning Check for Homeowners

Say you want to add on to your house, and you know the perfect spot to do this.  Time to hire an architect and get on with it?

Not a bad idea, but one of the first things an architect will do is research the zoning rules that apply to your property.  You can do this also, if you are so inclined, though a responsible architect will do the same and double check that you have not missed anything.  All the zoning rules in our area are publically available online.

What are zoning rules and why are they important?  They limit what you can build on your property and where you can build it. 

So how do you find out the rules for your property?  Follow these steps.

1. Find out the classification for your property.  Your city has a zoning classification for each parcel in the city.  Cities publish zoning maps which show the designation for different areas in the city.  Find your parcel on your city's map.  Many cities have interactive maps online where you can type in your address and it will display the result.

2.  Locate the Zoning Ordinance online.  Each city defines its zoning classes in its own particular way, but there are some similarities in the overall organization.  If you see "R-1" or "R-30" you will be dealing with a residential zone.  The Zoning Ordinance is always a section of the Municipal Code, or set of laws in force in your city.  Start at your city's website.

3.  Identify and note the requirements that govern how your property may be developed.  They usually fall into two groups of requirements:  general development standards which apply to all parcels, which may cover issues like parking, landscaping and zoning administrative procedures; and specific standards that apply to your zone. These rules will cover how close to each property line you may build, how tall you may build, how many total square feet you may have on your property, whether you need special zoning or design review for your proposal to name only a few.  Different cities have different particular requirements.

4.  Locate your property boundaries.  Many of the limits depend on the distance of structures from the property line and the overall area of the property.  (There are also building code issues when structures are close to property lines, but that is another topic!)  If what you hope to do brings you near any of the location or area limits, you will need to have your property lines accurately located.  This usually requires hiring a surveyor or finding a survey that has already been done for your property.  Fences in my experience are rarely accurately located, though usually they are within a foot or two.  In many cities the front property line is easy to locate because city engineering (public works) departments may have accurate drawings of curbs and gutters in relation to property lines.  This is frequently not the case, however, in hillside residential areas with old streets and no curbs. 

5.  On a drawing of your property locate your house and property lines in correct relation.

At this point you now have all the facts and circumstances to see what the zoning rules for your property will be.  

© More Than Construction, Inc., 2014