Zoning and Nonconforming Use
Zoning is the division of land into districts. These districts have uniform zoning regulations including those on land use, height, setbacks, lot size, density, coverage, and floor area ratio (FAR). Zoning rules keep changing and are updated to reflect the changing business situation and to guide, control, and regulate future growth and development of commercial and residential areas.
Legal Nonconforming Use
A "legal nonconforming use" is a use of land or structure which was legally established according to the applicable zoning and building laws of the time, but which does not meet current zoning and building regulations. Zoning laws are "forward looking" and regulate future uses of a land or property site rather than the existing ones. Zoning laws are not retroactive.
Take, for example, a commercial project consisting of land or property whose present use is legal and in compliance with the existing zoning ordinances. If zoning ordinances change, the site may still be utilized for original zoning use as-is. The new zoning laws will apply only to other properties which do not have the existing and now prohibited use.
Every city, county and state has different flavors of the legal non-nonconforming use. A person wishing to discover property zoning and use would start by checking the local jurisdiction which governs the area where the property is located. For example, the City of San Jose, CA says "as long as the use is continuously operated and it is not discontinued or abandoned for more than a six (6) month period" you can continue to use your land/property as-is. View the PDF or link
Several good questions to answer while researching a project in Santa Clara County, California would be:
- Must a Legal Non-Conforming Use be abandoned or altered to meet Current Regulations
- Can an abandoned Legal Non-Conforming Use be reinstated
- If a Legal Non-Conforming Structure is destroyed by fire or other natural disaster can the use be re-established
- Is there a Time Limit for Restoration of Legal Non-Conforming Use for Fire Damage or Natural Disaster
- What is the Expansion of a Legal Non-Conforming Use
- Adding Non-Conforming Uses to an existing Legal Non-Conforming Use
- Can one Legal Non-Conforming Use be exchanged for another
Each jurisdiction will answer these questions in a different manner. These questions also show that for multi-location real estate transactions it can be a challenge for the buyer and lender to navigate through the zoning rules. To leverage "non-conforming use", simply showing the start date is not enough, as most jurisdictions look for proof of evidence that this particular use has not been abandoned and is "continuous". This continuous and uninterrupted use is at times difficult to prove.
The Planning and Zoning Resource Corporation has been helping clients with "non-conforming use" due diligence and all other zoning analysis. PZR® has developed a zoning report format supported by municipal documentation which provides companies with a reliable, independently confirmed statement that speaks to the compliance status of your property's existing use, setbacks, height, density and parking. PZR® will provide you with a zoning report early in the due diligence process so that comfort levels can be reached as to legal conforming and nonconforming issues.
The PZR® Zoning report is extensive and includes:
- The specific zoning designation of the site, as established by the current municipal code.
- The uses allowed under the zoning designation established by the zoning ordinance and whether the present use of the subject site is legally permitted.
- The minimum yard or setback requirements and a review of the survey for compliance.
- The building height requirement, whether by number of stories or actual height above ground level, and a review of the survey for compliance.
- The bulk or density restrictions of the property, and a determination of compliance.
- The formula for determining the minimum parking requirements, and a comparison of the required parking count to the actual site count.
- Special circumstances to be considered could include legal non-compliance of any of the above factors, the issuance of zoning compliance letters from the municipalities, the existence of variances, council minutes, certificates of occupancy, building inspections and the effect of site plan approval.
The Planning and Zoning Resource Corporation (PZR®) provides zoning investigation and provides several services.
- Zoning Verification Letters
- Building and Zoning Code Violation Letters
- Certificates of Occupancy
- Building Permits
- Variances, Special Use Permits or Conditional Use Permits
- Planned Unit Developments
- Site Plans
- Zoning Codes
- ALTA Land Title Survey Coordination through SRN
is the leading commercial zoning company due diligence and zoning analyst in America. The Planning and Zoning Resource Corporation been an integral part of some of the largest multi-site transactions on record, as well as single site transactions financed by local and national lenders. The Planning and Zoning Resource Corporation is the creator and sole provider of The PZR Report®
(Zoning Report) which sets the standard in zoning reports, letters, analysis, endorsements and is highly recognized and accepted by virtually every segment of the commercial real estate industry. PZR®
has great experience and expertise with California State Zoning, zoning-info, zoning services, San Jose zoning, Santa Clara and Orange County Zoning Reports, Los Angeles Due Diligence, San Francisco Commercial Zoning and throughout all fifty states.