What to Expect When Rezoning Property in North Carolina

Mecklenburg County has changed a lot over the past 50 years, and as a result it has some of the most complex zoning laws in the country. Changes in the needs of families and businesses often require zoning law alterations. Most frequently, people want or need to conduct business from home or commercial property changes uses.

A Charlotte land use attorney is an important partner in this process. In most cases, the same body that considers a reconsideration request is the body which wrote the original zoning law, so these individuals are reluctant to change what they have created. An attorney prepares your case, laying the groundwork for a successful hearing. Furthermore, an attorney advocates for you at this hearing. In fact, the mere fact the applicant has an attorney shows the zoning board that they must take the application seriously. Therefore, applicants with lawyers have a distinct advantage.

Preliminary Matters

Usually, each neighborhood in Charlotte has a separate zoning designation. These designations change frequently, and often with little notice. Therefore, not every re-use requires re-zoning. Frequent residential re-uses include parking a large vehicle at your house or renovation projects, such as adding a room or enclosing a separate garage. Business owners frequently have zoning issues as well. Many commercial areas only allow certain kinds of business activities.

The current zoning laws are not the only consideration. When asking for a variance, or an exception to the zoning law, your plans must jive with the city’s long-term plans for that neighborhood. Additionally, special rules usually apply to historically-significant neighborhoods, structures, and uses.

Application and Notice

The exact procedure in this area varies, mostly based on location. Each zoning board has its own rules, and many of these rules are unwritten.

All applications must include specifics about the reason for the requested variance, such as the proposed scope of the project or proposed new land use. Usually, the application must take the current use, current law, and future long-term use into account. The filing fee varies. It is usually around $1,000 for a residential variance and at least $5,000 for a commercial variance request.

Strict time deadlines usually apply. The application must be received well in advance of the next scheduled zoning board meeting. A commission must have plenty of time to investigate the matter and make a determination. As outlined below, the property owner must receive the determination at least several days before the meeting. A tardy application means a delay until the next scheduled meeting, which could be several months away.

Applicants must also provide notice. The type of notice varies. Typically, applicants must post signage at the site and also run an approved advertisement in the public notice section of an approved publication. Failure to include the proper information could delay the process or even derail your variance application.

Initial Review

Shortly after it receives an application, the zoning board assigns an inspector to the matter. The review process usually follows several steps:

  • Onsite Inspection: The inspector examines the property and determines how much work the variance will require. The less disruption required, the more likely the zoning board is to approve the application.
  • Neighborhood Evaluation: The neighborhood evaluation usually includes property inspections and personal interviews. Inspectors want to determine what adverse impact, if any, a change at one location will have on neighboring property. Occasionally, inspectors speak to owners about the matter. Sometimes they simply go through any correspondence they receive and follow up on it accordingly.
  • Land Use Plans: As mentioned, the variance must account for not only existing law, but also big picture plans for the neighborhood. This part of the evaluation usually includes services impacts as well (g. will the neighborhood need additional garbage collection).

A Charlotte land use attorney normally does not directly participate in such evaluations. However, a lawyer helps you put your best foot forward and also prepares you for any questions the investigator may ask.

The Hearing

An investigator’s recommendation is not technically binding on the board. However, board members almost always follow the recommendation. So, if the investigator approved the variance, the hearing might only be a formality.

If the investigator did not approve the variance, the report may not have taken all the factors into account or the reporting investigator examined them incorrectly. Occasionally, investigators are biased or otherwise unqualified. The conciliatory approach sometimes works. If the owner makes some changes to the project, the zoning board may very well approve it.

Initially, appeals of adverse decisions usually go to the city council. The council may overturn the decision if it was unsupported by the facts, clearly arbitrary, or the proposed variance does not have a significant negative impact. Furthermore, adverse decisions must meet certain technical requirements.

Owners who lose at this stage might be able to appeal to district court. However, courts usually only overturn variance denials in extreme circumstances.

Count on a Diligent Attorney

The government strictly enforces zoning requirements. For a confidential consultation with an experienced land use attorney in Charlotte, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Mecklenburg County and throughout North Carolina.