After finding a location that seems to fit your new business, you may find that it's not properly zoned for your specific needs. In general, it's best to avoid signing a lease until it has been established that the site is approved for your business, but sometimes zoning ordinances can be confusing or misleading. While this may be discouraging, there is promising news, as you may be able to navigate various zoning situations to work in your favor — although the process can be tedious.
Follow these tips to increase your chances of achieving success in your rezoning efforts:
Find support in the business community
If you have local employees and you can show that your business will contribute positively to the area economy, try making contact with the chamber of commerce or city/county development officials. If you can argue to other business owners that your business will be an asset for the city, you may get the help you need when it comes to advocating on your behalf in front of zoning and planning officials. It's also a good idea to seek support from trade/merchants' associations, contractors, lawyers and building and safety officials.
Appeal adverse rulings
If a zoning ruling is not in your favor, remember that the decision isn't necessarily final. If the decision comes from the local planning commission, it's possible to have a board of appeals or board of zoning adjustment interpret the ordinance in a way that favors your business. Another option is to try to obtain a special exception, called a variance. Similarly, you may be able to apply for a conditional use permit, which allows a property to be used for a non-zoned purpose as long as certain conditions are met.
Appealing adverse rulings tends to be a more successful process if you have the support of community members and neighbors. Consider asking neighbors to give statements of support at your administrative hearing, or create a petition for neighboring businesses to sign. If you sense that opposition to your business is developing, do everything you can to resolve those differences before the hearing.
Consider court action
If an administrative appeal does not work, it's possible to take the matter to court. However, this can be a lengthy and expensive process, and should be used as a last resort. Before going to court, try to obtain as much information as possible about the cost of litigation, how long the process will take and your chances of success. To better your chances, seek a lawyer who has experience dealing with similar issues or who has worked as a city attorney and is familiar with local ordinances.
Zoning matters, while sometimes challenging, may be overcome, setting your commercial property up for success in the years to come. Keep these tips in mind if your business needs to deal with these issues.