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How to Handle Problems with Commercial Zoning Laws

It is not always possible to find a commercial property zoned for a particular use. Commercial zoning laws determine factors like the acceptable business activities in the area and setback requirements, as well as building heights, sizes, and proximities to each other.

When a commercial use violates zoning laws, it's not always the end of the story, however. There are several options for receiving approval for the business use, even though it may not agree with the commercial zoning laws in the area.

Generate Support from the Business Community

Strong support from the business community may help win over zoning and planning departments. If others can advocate the potential benefit to the community of a particular business, it may be easier to generate backing for the business. The possibility of a full-sized grocery store opening in a location not zoned for the use, for instance, may generate support from the business community if it is likely to generate jobs or stimulate the economy in a city. Seek support from trade associations, the chamber of commerce, and a business development office in the community. It may also be helpful to contact an experienced lawyer in the area to advocate on behalf of the business.

What to Do When a Use Violates Commercial Zoning Laws

If a zoning ordinance prohibits a use, it is possible to receive relief from the board of zoning adjustment or the board of appeals. Zoning boards typically create zoning laws, regulate zoning, conduct land use hearings and grant conditional use permits and variances for nonconforming uses. Every locality is different, but the board will usually hold a public hearing to determine if it should alter zoning laws or grant a variance. The business will have the opportunity to argue their side and members of the public can voice their opinions as well.

  • Get support from the community: This is a good opportunity to have community members and other nearby businesses offer support orally or through a written petition. It is also effective to ward off any criticism before the hearing by reaching an agreement with people living near the property who may object to the business moving in.
  • Request a conditional use permit: A board may condition use of a specific activity in a zone on the fulfillment of a condition or set of conditions.
  • Request a variance: A variance is an exception to a zoning regulation. Many variance statutes require the applicant to establish that an undue hardship exists and that granting the variance will not cause a substantially negative impact on the public.

Appealing a Commercial Zoning Decision in Court

If it is impossible to reach an agreement with the zoning board, the business may be able to appeal the decision in court. Going to court, however, is expensive and time-consuming. In fact, it can take several years to receive a court ruling, and there's no guarantee that the court will decide in your favor.

In some instances, a court may rule quickly on the matter if it only involves ordering a zoning official to carry out a ministerial duty. For example, if a business has complied with all requirements but the official refuses to grant approval, the court may order the government agency to take a particular action.

Need Legal Help with your Zoning Issue? 

If zoning issues are plaguing your new business, consider getting professional legal help. Before deciding whether to pursue the issue in court, consult with an experienced business and commercial attorney. An attorney can advise you whether it may cost more to litigate the case than is worth it for you. 

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
address you business's operational needs.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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