In 1916, New York City enacted the nation’s first zoning regulations in a bid by upscale department store owners to keep garment factories from setting up shop next door. The idea took hold and soon began to spread throughout the rest of the country. In the 1970s, the land use and zoning regulatory process began to steadily expand in scope and complexity and continues to present a daunting cost in terms of time, effort, and money for landowners, homeowners, business owners, and entrepreneurs in New York and beyond.
Land Use Regulation
Land use is generally regulated by a variety of permitting authorities, with each individual permitting agency being charged with the regulation of a specific area of concern. Understandably, the more regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process, the more opportunity for conflict and confusion.
There are essentially two core areas of land use regulation, zoning laws and building codes. Each of these overarching areas is then further subdivided into a myriad of smaller areas of regulatory concern creating a maze that applicants must successfully navigate in order to obtain permission to begin or continue their projects. This is a daunting task for even the most seasoned of developers and may prove nearly impossible for the novice home owner or entrepreneur. Most will find that retaining the assistance of an experienced land use attorney is a critical step towards success.
Let’s take a deeper look at the two core areas of land use regulation.
Zoning laws, or zoning ordinances, regulate the what, where, why, and how of land use and building construction. Regulatory agencies use zoning laws to determine what type of buildings may be built, where a building may be built, and what types of activities may take place in or around a proposed or existing structure.
On the surface, this may sound simple enough, but consider the fact that each of these areas of regulatory concern can, and often is, broken down to the smallest detail. Among other minute details, zoning laws can be used to dictate how many windows a structure must have and where they can be placed, what color paint may be used, what type of plants may be planted, and what vehicles, if any, may be parked on the property. It does not stop there, zoning ordinances are frequently used to regulate the character of the proposed establishment or land use as well.
Building codes were intended to deal with the practical matters underlying the overall safety and structural integrity of a proposed construction project or an existing building. However, over time building code regulation has been complicated by the same bureaucracy and competing interests found in the zoning law arena.
It is not uncommon for a proposed project to require that applicants obtain a separate permit for any, or all of the following activities:
- Demolition of any pre-existing structure present on the property
- Construction or installation of any structure such as a fence, driveway, or landscaping that may encroach on any public right of way
- Construction of the main building AND any accessory structures
- Installation, updating, or upgrading electrical wiring
- Installation, updating, or upgrading plumbing fixtures
- Installation of one or more elevators
- Installation of major appliances such as Air conditioners, refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, and more
- Construction of any structure within a designated flood plain
- Construction of any structure within or adjacent to an environmentally sensitive area
- Installation of safety alarms, and surveillance systems
Complexities & Inconsistencies In Land Use Regulation
The already daunting array of zoning laws and building codes is further complicated by seemingly infinite bureaucratic complexities brought into the mix through the use of different agencies, different inspectors, and different standards for each unique area of concern.
With so many regulatory authorities in the mix confusion, and worse, conflicting regulatory requirements are a common, and frequent occurrence.
Benefit Of Retaining A Land Use Attorney
As we have discussed above, a land use project can be brought to a screeching halt by any of an array of permitting authorities or permitting issues. When a permit is denied the applicant is left with a handful of rather unappealing options.
A. Head back to the drawing board to revise their plans and begin the permitting process from square one with a new set of project plans
B. File a lawsuit and hash it out in front of a judge
C. Abandon the project, and often the property, and simply give up
Regardless of the option chosen the applicant is almost guaranteed to face a substantial loss of time, energy, and dollars. By retaining the assistance of a qualified land use attorney, the applicant can avoid facing this bleak set of choices. An experienced land use attorney will have the required insider knowledge of the various regulatory agencies and their individual requirements to help simplify and ease the permitting process.