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Local Zoning Ordinances: Your Rights and Responsibilities

Most municipalities establish zoning ordinances that meet the standards of the citizens in that area. York County and Adams County, Pennsylvania is no exception to this type of local regulation. York County and Adams County specifically state that the purpose of their ordinances is meant to protect the health and safety of citizens while encouraging development without the risk of urban blight.

In most cases, residents appreciate the protection offered by the zoning laws, but occasionally conflicts arise. A disagreement about what a specific zone allows for signs, structures, and other types of property use does not mean the resident has no options. Everyone has the same right to address the law and question the validity of an ordinance. Here’s what you should know about your rights and responsibilities.

Check Local Ordinances

Before any changes take place, everyone should check their local ordinances to make certain their plans are acceptable for their area. The websites for the town or the county often have maps that allow people to find the zone for their property. Zones usually include single-family or multi-family residential, transitional (a mixture of homes and businesses), and commercial.

Municipal offices also have the zoning maps on hand if the information is not readily available online. Request the map from the local code enforcement department or a link to any online resources not previously found.

Talk to Authorities

Zoning ordinances may not always seem to address every plan. The lack of a clear ordinance does not mean people can freely do whatever they would like. Contact the zoning board to make certain an associated law does not apply.

The wording of ordinances may also seem confusing, or the property location may border two different zones. Discuss the problem with the planning board, zoning board, or a code enforcement office to clarify what the city or county allows. The lack of zoning approval could become an expensive problem, so make certain the project has approval before investment.

Understand the Risks

Zoning issues can lead to legal problems for the property owner. The municipality may fine the offender or force the property owner to remove any structure or other items that conflict with a current ordinance. The zoning issue could lower the value of the property or make it difficult to sell because the new owner would need to make the changes or pay fines as well.

Zoning ordinance offenders could also face lawsuits from their neighbors or other community members even if the town does not act against the property owner. This is a risk if others believe the structure or other change makes the community unsafe or lowers the value of their property.

Know the Options

Property owners do have the right to disagree with the decision of the zoning board and defend their plans. The individual can file a request with the zoning board to change the ordinance or to waive the restrictions for this one project.

An individual can also file a lawsuit if they believe the municipality is using an unrelated law to forbid their project. Lawsuits may also occur if someone believes the ordinance is illegal or unfair. The law requires fair enforcement of all laws, including zoning laws.

Equal protection under the law is part of the 14th amendment. People have the right to file a lawsuit against a municipality if they feel they have received unfair treatment. Someone punished or refused a permit for a project due to zoning ordinances, despite approval of similar projects in the same zone, should speak to an attorney.

Taxpayers understandably become upset when they feel they cannot use their property the way they would like. Anyone that believes they are a victim of unfair zoning practices needs legal advice. At Kalasnik Law Office, we can review your case and the local ordinances, to see if there was a violation of your rights. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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