If you are going to operate a home business, have animals near the house or want to add an outbuilding or basement apartment, you'll need to find out what the property is zoned. Many different municipalities regulate zoning, so it's important to find out which municipality regulates the zoning for your property. Zoning is divided into two general categories: residential and commercial. Within each general category there are several divisions, such as residential single family, residential multi-family and retail. To find the out what the property is zoned, start with the property address.
Talk to a realtor and neighbors. As you are examining the property, ask a Realtor or the surrounding neighbors to see if they know which governmental agency is responsible for the zoning in that area. Long-term residents or experienced Realtors are more likely to know that information because they are more likely to have interacted with a zoning board. Single-family residents, especially short-term residents, have little reason to need zoning regulations.
Do an Internet search. The first line of research in the digital age is an Internet search using the exact property address. With so many public records online, this effort is likely to reveal the municipality that regulates zoning and planning issues for that property.
Visit the county offices. If you are not able to discover the municipality through an Internet search, then visit the county offices. Speak with the county recorder's clerks and ask to see zoning maps or tell them the address or general location of the property and ask if it is in the county jurisdiction or in some other municipality's jurisdiction for zoning. The county recorder keeps records of every real estate transaction in the county, and has detailed real estate maps. She can direct you to the correct municipality.
Visit or call the appropriate municipality. Once you have discovered the municipality that is responsible for planning and zoning your property, call or visit them. There is usually a zoning department or board, a planning and zoning board or department, or a planning department that handles zoning regulations. If you have the address for the property, a simple phone call may be adequate. If not, you may have to go into the office and look at zoning maps.
Check zoning guidelines for your use. Ask if there are specific written, online or printed guidelines describing what uses are allowed in each zoning area. Each subcategory of residential or commercial is usually assigned a number, such as R-1 for residential or C-2 for commercial. The numbers will not give you specific enough information to know if your proposed use is acceptable for that area, so ask for the specifics. Be sure to check such regulations as sign height, yard setbacks and allowed home business uses before moving forward with any project or business.
If you know the appropriate municipality, you can find much of the zoning information online. Some have all the zoning maps online, others allow you to search zoning by property address. Once you have reviewed the zoning guidelines for your property, check with the zoning enforcement officers, describe your planned use of the property, and be sure that they agree the use is acceptable. Ask for any cautions or tips they would give. Since they will be the ones who enforce the guidelines, it's best to know their interpretation of the rules.
Do not take the word of a Realtor or any other non-governmental agent about the zoning of a piece of land. If in any doubt that the zoning is acceptable for the use, visit the government office for the appropriate municipality directly and ask for an official determination. Ask the person in charge of enforcing zoning ordinances (this may vary depending on the municipality) to affirm the zoning and the use you propose.
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