Before you Buy or Sell Commercial property, you must familiarize yourself with the concept of Zoning. This article is designed to be a brief overview of zoning concepts to create awareness of the importance, scope and influence that the zoning codes have in determining the suitability of a particular parcel.
When most people think of zoning, they only think that zoning designates the “Permitted Uses” of the property. That is a very important aspect of zoning, but it only is a starting point. Zoning regulations control the size of the building you can build (Floor Area Ratio), the amount of land you can use (coverage, green space ratios), how tall the building can be, how much parking is required, the type, size and placement of signage, the architecture, landscaping, density and the minimum / maximum lot size required (and much more).
Zoning comes into play on every real estate transaction, but it is more subtle and benign in residential. When you are buying an existing house you usually need not be concerned because the developer has figured it all out… It has more relevance in residential if you are building a house from scratch.
Zoning has more impact in commercial because of the regulation of permitted uses.
Zoning regulations are laws that define and restrict how you can use your property. Municipalities adopt zoning regulations to set development standards to assure that land is used for the common good. Zoning prevents an auto body shop or a noisy factory to be built in the middle of a residential development.
There are 5 major categories of zoning Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Agricultural and Recreational. Within each major category there may be many sub categories.
Residential sub categories may be single family, multi family, condos, apartments, duplex, row homes, etc. There may also be sub categories, like single family on 10,000sf lots zoned R1 and single family homes on 15,000sf lots zoned R1A.
Commercial zoning may have many categories like VC, NC, C1, C2, C3, etc. Cities like New York may have 100 – 150 different zoning classifications, while Amity Township in Berks County may only have 8 or 10.
To complicate matters even more, zoning is not uniform for all municipalities. Every Township is trying to do the same thing, but there zoning regulations although similar are also different. A Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zoning in Bern Township Berks County may be trying to accomplish the same thing as a Village Commercial (VC) zoning in Exeter Township in Berks County. Unfortunately the spirit of both zoning classifications may be similar, but the details are almost always different. Remember zoning entails many components (as discussed above).
If you are going to build new construction or add on to existing construction it would be wise to assemble a team of professionals to guide you. This team may include a Commercial Realtor, a Real Estate Lawyer, Civil Engineer and a General Contractor.
Sometimes these regulations interact in ways that are not obvious. For example, if you can only provide parking for 100 cars and the parking regulations requires 5 cars per every thousand feet of building, you are now limited to a 20,000sf building.
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