Last year, thousands of people signed a petition in support of Sit. Stay, a Newtown doggy daycare that was seeking a zoning variance that would have allowed it to stay in business.
People tend to love dogs, and the people who care for them. But when it comes to zoning, the law is the law. Even ten thousand dog lovers can’t change it.
Fortunately for its owners and supporters, the Newtown Township zoning board sided with the doggie daycare, clearing the way for it to stay in business.
And while it’s nice to have the community on your side when filing zoning appeals, Doylestown residents and business owners should also have a land use attorney by their side during this process.
As you’ll see, getting your property rezoned can be quite complicated.
Expanding your business
If you want to expand your business, and your business is located in a district where what you do is already covered by the local zoning ordinance – for example, a retail operation in a commercial district – then your appearance before the zoning board will deal with issues like property setback limitations.
Things get trickier when you introduce the idea of a non-conforming use. Let’s say you owned a machine shop that opened in 1960. Ten years later, your community established a zoning ordinance.
The machine shop was now part of a residential zone, but because it predated the zoning ordinance, it was considered “grandfathered” as a pre-existing non-conforming use and could stay in business.
Now it’s 2019. The machine shop is still in business. In fact, business is booming and the owners need more space.
Under Pennsylvania natural expansion doctrine, businesses have the right to expand a non-conforming use. But those rights have limits, with municipalities having the power to restrict non-conforming uses.
And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared that an expansion of a non-conforming use can be halted if it would have a negative effect on public health or safety.
Special exceptions and variances
When it comes to zoning appeals, Doylestown and other local communities typically require property owners to appear before the zoning hearing board, which will approve or deny either a special exception or a variance (an exception to land use rules).
In a zoning hearing, the burden of proof is on the property owner to present witnesses or other evidence that shows the existence of a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
But that might not always be enough. Property owners can’t extend the non-conforming use into connected properties. And most state zoning ordinances won’t allow a property to expand more than 25 to 50 percent of the size of the original property.
Going before a zoning hearing board can be a daunting task, especially when you aren’t sure about the law. If you need help plotting out your next zoning appeals, Doylestown’s Benner and Wild is ready to assist you.
Our land use attorneys have decades of experience in handling zoning requests and helping residents and businesses who are challenging local zoning ordinances. Contact us today to find out how we can help your company grow.