How Zoning Laws Can Affect Your Florida Property Improvement Plans
Florida is still experiencing a pandemic-spawned population explosion and consequently, more robust building and development activity. In addition to new residents upgrading and enhancing their real estate assets for both livability and maintenance of their real estate asset, savvy real estate investors and developers are taking the opportunity to respond to the demand for highly desired properties by acquiring buildings or land with additional potential and upgrading to flip into the high-end Florida real estate market. If you’re about to enter the real estate upgrade game, don’t bring in the wrecking ball just yet. First you need to consider local and state zoning laws. As we often see in coastal South Florida towns, zoning can be a highly contentious issue, and there are a lot of factors involved. Here, then, are a few things you need to know about Florida’s zoning laws to stay ahead of the game.
Zoning Laws 101
Zoning laws are rules and regulations concerning pieces of land divided into zones by the local government or municipality. Typical zone types are residential, industrial, commercial, and agricultural. There are also mixed-use zones, where residential housing can co-exist near public transit, shops, bars, and restaurants for example, as well as zones that can be designated as both residential and commercial.
Only one type of development can exist in each zone. You can’t build a chemical plant next to a residential neighborhood, for example, or put a sports stadium in the middle of an orange grove.
There are also zoning laws that affect what type of architecture is allowed in a zone. These laws can impact building size and height, and even what types of materials can be used. For example, Palm Beach has strict architectural requirements designed to preserve its historic look and feel and may reject building plans that do not conform to its “Palm Beach style.” And, if your property is situated in one of the states many historic districts, the restrictions even more stingent.
The Purpose of Zoning
Zoning laws exist to protect the environment and and regulate the growth of a community ensuring that residents do not have to contend with loud noise, noxious fumes, or high traffic areas. Zoning laws can even regulate things like the number of available parking spaces, sign usage, and fire escape access.
How to Find Out What Your Property is Zoned For
To find out which category your property is in, you can contact your local county government office, or simply check out their website. Many local governments maintain and provide a list of zoning maps and ordinances. You can also search for your specific property and its zoning designation at your county appraiser’s office.
Waiving Zoning Laws
Over time, the needs of a community often change, which requires changes to the zoning ordinances. For this reason and because unique situations sometimes call for unique solutions, in many places, including Florida, property owners can get what is known as a zoning variance, which offers an exception to certain zoning requirements when it is considered highly burdensome for a homeowner to remain compliant.
Zoning variances allow local governments to waive certain zoning rules for property owners if they can prove it is highly impractical or impossible to comply with them for reasons beyond their control. For example, if there is not enough land available to buy and affordably construct a parking lot for a business. If you meet such a condition you could ask for a zoning variance. A licensed Florida real estate lawyer can help a great help in obtaining this variance, especially if they have experience and a relationship with the governing commission.
Getting a Property Rezoned
While a lot of time and effort is put into planning and implementing zoning laws, there are times when a property might require rezoning. For example, geographic areas change, preventing the use of the property under its current zoning, or there was an error when the property was originally zoned. And sometimes, the rezoning request is in line with the county’s long-range plan for land use in that area.
If your property fits with one of these conditions, it might be eligible for rezoning.
Rezoning requests must go through the county in which the property is located. Additionally, the city may have its own requirements. You must first submit an application and written proposal and pay a fee to the county’s zoning office. You might also have to present your request at a public hearing with the county’s board of commissioners and/or city zoning board, answering questions and taking comments from the public before a decision is rendered.
Making a zoning change is an involved process requiring a lot of paperwork. Many property owners seek counsel with a real estate attorney to help them through the tangle of policies and procedures. At the end of the day, your best is to obtain your variance, special exception, or conditional use permit, before finalizing your construction commitments.
Typical Florida Zoning Issues
Zoning disputes can arise between homeowners, between developers of commercial properties, or between landowners and the local government. Common issues are property line disputes and neighborhood objections to incoming businesses and loss of green space to resulting parking lots. Some cities have sub-categories where only certain types of homes can be built, such as single-family homes instead of apartment buildings, or maximum height and sizes of proposed buildings in certain areas, and can pursue legal action against the owners of non-conforming construction.
Aesthetics, including setback issues often come into play where homeowners might object to their view being obstructed by a tall building or by the installation of excessive billboards and signage in their communities. Setback refers to the distance from a property line to the building and ordinances may be in place for aesthetic reasons or to control ventilation and overcrowding of the city’s infrastructure.
Palm Beach’s Recent Zoning Disputes
To illustrate, like many South Florida coastal areas, the town of Palm Beach and Palm Beach County are no strangers to zoning disputes, especially in the current climate where an influx of out-of-state builders and developers are targeting areas of accelerated real estate valuations.
One recently proposed development won conditional approval from the city but is drawing a lot of opposition from residents. Farrell Building Company wants to build 27 multimillion-dollar homes on 22 unused acres in the Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club.
The land is part of the old golf course, where the club once held soccer matches before a conflict with the city over illegal alcohol sales.
Residents of Palm Beach Polo oppose the development because they argue it will remove much-needed green space and cause road congestion. More than 400 people signed a petition opposing the plan.
The Town of Palm Beach has turned down several plans presented by homeowners because the proposals did not conform to the city’s architectural zoning requirements, citing issues such as “alien design,” “over-scaled,” and “sub-basement” non compliance.
Last October the Palm Beach Architectural Review Commission rejected plans for an impressive Italian-style “villa on a Lombardy hillside” because it was too large for the lot. Last year the town also nixed plans for a mid-century modern spec mansion to be built on the former site of the Jeffrey Epstein estate because the designs were “too commercial” and did not match the architecture of the surrounding area.
As you can see, in certain circumstance, zoning issues can put an unforeseen snag in construction plans. But with just a little foresight and the help of a Florida bar board-certified real estate lawyer, your property improvements can be navigated smoothly and legally.
Contact Florida Bar Board-Certified Attorneys David E. Klein, Esq. and Guy Rabideau at Rabideauklein.com. They have the expertise and experience you need to ensure that your interests are protected throughout your real estate transactions in the Town of Palm Beach, across the Palm Beaches and throughout Florida. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss the legal implications of your Florida property transactions.