Building & Renovation June 5, 2017

Zoning Restrictions A-Z


Every city and town where I have worked has a set of “Zoning” rules that create a minimum or maximum standard for building within that community. I’ve heard of places where you have the local permission givers to paint your front door a different color. I’ve also taught classes in places where you can build anything you want; anywhere you want on your land. After all, it’s your land right? True enough. But what about your neighbors rights?Zoning regulations vary greatly from one neighboring town to the next. They may include how close you can build to the street (front line setback), from the sides (side line setbacks), and from the rear lot line (I think you have it now). In one area of my town, one half acre is a legal building lot and in another it takes four acres. Additionally, overall building height, and maximum percentage of  lot coverage. This is considered independently from the land area needed to build your septic system and septic reserve area. Keep in mind that there are seven different residential zones in Guilford, each one having their own chart of minimums and maximums. If you live on a State road or are close to an inland wetlands area, you have some more numbers to digest. Most Zoning Enforcement Officers are more than willing to listen to your thoughts about a specific street address and share their thoughts. If you have stopped twice during this paragraph for Advil, call your Contractor and ask them to figure this out!

If during your quest, you are told that your proposed addition for instance, is outside of the zoning lines; it is also possible to go to the local Zoning Board of Appeals. Your presentation to ZBA should be well documented and hopefully supported by your neighbors. This is a public hearing so all will be asked “If they want to speak in favor of this application” and then “Against”. The ZBA can allow a “Variance” on a case by case basis but it must be based upon a “Hardship”. Some contractors will speak on your behalf at these meetings. You are able to present your case yourself or defer to an Engineer or Architect.

Let’s go back to the idea of “Neighbors”. These regulations for the most part, are to protect us from our neighbors. I’m sure you wouldn’t want the person that shares your side yard to build his garage right up to the property line. At the same time, these rules are trying to keep general areas of town similar in mass and proximity to the street and side lines. If your neighbor is seeking a variance, I suggest that you work with them to find some common solution. In too many cases, variances are granted, one neighbor then sues the other and the town. The case must go to court and be resolved before a building permit is issued. The lawyers win no matter what and the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s continue their feud.