Zap zoning headaches


Whether you're planning on building new or renovating an existing space, be aware of potential restrictions.

Whether you're planning on building new or renovating an existing space, be aware of potential restrictions, says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Mark Hafen, AIA, architect with Gates Hafen Cochrane in Boulder, Colo. If an area is fast-growing and desirable—places like Coral Gables, Fla.; Montgomery County, Md.; New York; and Palo Alto, Calif.—you'll likely have zoning or planning issues. Conversely, slow-growth areas or places where growth is shrinking, like Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y., want to encourage growth and are less likely to zone your project into City Hall limbo.

In addition, places like Boulder, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and most of California (specifically within 100 yards of the coast) have regulations in place to protect the environment, encourage mass transit, reinforce the pedestrian experience, and protect views. In contrast, cities that highly value individual rights, like Houston (which has no zoning), make the process a piece of cake, Hafen says.

New York, Boston, and Chicago are difficult for builders because they're older and larger, compared to Phoenix or Kansas City, Mo. Older and larger areas have had more time to pile regulation on top of regulation.

Areas close to waterways also create more problems because of regulations protecting water quality. And the older a site is and the more uses it's had, the more likely it is you're going to run into environmental impact issues, existing easements and utilities, or even a subway that will impact the site.

Expect to spend a few months on a straightforward rezoning or variance request—six to eight months is average, Hafen says. And in highly desirable areas, a couple of years is the norm. "We were working on the zoning process for a shelter in Monterey, Calif., and the process took over two years," Hafen says. "Between all the consultants, environmental studies, reports, and so on, the total cost was about $250,000 for the approval process alone." So be prepared.

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