What you Need to Know Prior to Appearing Before a Planning or Zoning Board
Having to appear before a planning or zoning board can be stressful. Making things more difficult, New Jersey is notoriously challenging when it comes to land use rules and regulations. Whether you are appearing before a planning board or zoning board for a home addition, the installation of an in ground swimming pool, or the construction of a privacy fence, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the process you are about to undertake. The below describes a few items you must consider prior to appearing before a municipal planning or zoning board.
Do you know what percentage of your property consists of “impervious coverage?” What percentage of your lot does your home cover? How far away is your home from your next door neighbor or the street? These are questions will need answered before applying for a zoning permit. The survey you obtained when you purchased your home will not have this information. In fact, your survey from when your house was purchased may no longer be accurate. You will need an engineer or an architect to work with you to calculate these numbers and make sure everything is up-to-date. It is not unusual if certain aspects of your property do not comply with your Town’s current zoning regulations, whether your home was built 5 or 50 years ago.
If your project does not comply with your Town’s zoning regulations, you will need a variance. Common scenarios requiring a variance include constructing an addition to your home which results in more building coverage than is permitted; installing a patio in your backyard that results in more impervious coverage than is permitted; and in installing an in-ground swimming pool. Variances that pertain to the physical aspect of your property are known as “bulk variances.” Sometimes, your property has “existing non-conformities,” or characteristics that already exceed what is permitted by your Town’s zoning regulations. These non-conformities may or may not impact your ability to have your new variance approved.
Whether to apply for a variance is a fact-intensive question. You will need to determine how much your project deviates from your Town’s zoning regulations, and what can be done to minimize the impact that deviation might have on surrounding properties. For example, should you install a “drywell” to help manage stormwater? Should you offer to plant bushes around the generator you would like to put in your side yard? What legal arguments can you offer to justify the grant of a variance? You should have an idea of the answers to these questions before applying for a variance.
If you proceed with applying for a variance, the application process can be confusing. Often, you will need to apply for a zoning permit first, and obtain a denial letter from the Town’s zoning officer. Then, the correct application forms, plans, checklists, certifications, filing fees, and escrows, among other items, will need to be filed with the planning board or zoning board.
Once your application is filed, deemed complete, and assigned a hearing date, you will need to send a notice to all of the property owners within 200 feet of your home, as well as publish notice of your application in a newspaper designated by your Town. The notices must be mailed and published at least 10 days before your hearing date, which often means sending your notice to the appropriate newspaper before the 10-day deadline. The notice must contain an adequate description of your project, the hearing date, location of the hearing (or login information if the hearing is virtual), and the description of any variances, among other things, that comply with New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law. If your notice is late, or not proper, the Board does not have the power to hear your application.
Hearings often occur at night, typically starting between 6:30 and 7:30 in many towns in New Jersey. When your application is called, you should expect to testify and answer questions. The professionals who prepared the plans for your project, typically an architect and engineer, will need to be present to offer testimony as well. In certain scenarios, a professional planner may also be needed. Everyone should be prepared ahead of time. Difficult questions should be anticipated, with answers prepared. Your neighbors, or other “interested parties” that may not live nearby, have the opportunity to ask questions of any witnesses, and make statements in support of, or in opposition to, your application.
How Can We Help?
- Preparation is key when appearing before a municipal planning board or zoning board. However, this can be a daunting task if you are inexperienced. Having a trusted advisor by your side to guide you through the process is critical if you want to have your variance approved.
- Having an attorney who has understands the process provides you the most advantageous opportunity to have your variance application approved. Each board conducts its meetings differently and ensuring that you are adhering to their meeting rules and processes is imperative.
- One of our seasoned attorneys will walk you through the application process itself and can serve as your representative when making your presentation.
- Will hiring an attorney cost a lot? The short answer is no. Fees are generally fixed and working with an experienced attorney can often save money by mitigating costly mistakes.