My Business Property has Been Rezoned as Residential, What are my Options?

“Our Township just recently adopted zoning. We owned a property for 40 years. We lived in a mobile home and also operated a business at the property.We built a work building for our business on this property. We moved to another home after 20 years, and still kept the mobile home for storage on the first lot and we operated our business on that lot for another 20 years. We recently closed our business and we removed the mobile home that was in disrepair from wind damage and just being old.

The new zoning lists our former business property as Residential Single Family Dwelling. The township lot size ordinance says that that property is too small to build on. And I suppose I can’t sell it for commercial. The lot has all utilities (gas, electric, water, septic system) in place. Am I protected in anyway as far as being able to put a home or another mobile home back on that lot? What are some options that I have to sell this property?”

The answer to your question lies in reading the zoning ordinance that was adopted in your area. This is usually great reading if you are having trouble sleeping, or you can hire an attorney to read it for you.

Typically, when a zoning ordinance is put in place, existing improvements (buildings, etc.) are “grandfathered,” meaning that even if they do not meet the terms of the ordinance, the owners don’t have to tear them down. Had you, for example, repaired the mobile home, there is probably little they could have done to stop you. However, once you voluntarily tear something down, as you did, you may lose–or may already have lost–the right to replace it. Again, you need to look at your specific ordinance, as they do vary considerably.

If you can’t replace what you tore down, and as you say the lot is too small for building under the terms of the ordinance, you should be able to get a variance. This typically involves some sort of application to the local zoning board, planning commission, or similar body (check your ordinance to see who to apply to, or just ask a helpful municipal employee) to explain why you need an exception to be made in your particular situation.

Different cities, towns, and counties vary considerably in how difficult and expensive it can be to obtain a variance, but the situation where there is absolutely no possibility of building under the zoning ordinance is actually the best one for getting a variance. As for selling the property, I would consult with a local agent and ask whether you are better off selling first, or trying to build then sell.