new shop and zoning issues

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Forum topic by daverandalls posted 03-25-2012 01:16 PM 1974 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View daverandalls's profile


2 posts in 2432 days

03-25-2012 01:16 PM

Good evening gentlemen,

I have been nosing around here for and absorbing vast quantities of valuable information, thank you all for your insights. I did a search and came up empty. I am wanting to build a 30×50 shop behind my house. I have a .33 acre lot and can stay clear of my easements, but the city says i can only build an 800 sf building. My question is whether or not there is any way around the zoning laws to get this done. the city ordinance says also that there may be no more than 2 buildings in addition to the principle structure. (2) 20×40’s?? also what about if its attached to the house(addition) have any of you circumvented the rules to get this done in your area? if so i would really love a bit of clarification on “attached to home”. Thank you in advance for your responses.

it should be noted that my home is zoned r-1 and 1 block over there is a landscape supply company(zoned light industrial) and agricultural zoning. What could be a compelling argument for a variance?

13 replies so far

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4157 days

#1 posted 03-25-2012 01:18 PM

Hi Dave;

You should be on a legal forum, not a woodworking one. You may get all kinds of free legal advice here, but it’s worth what you pay for it.

Zoning laws vary from town to town, so find a local zoning attorney. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe one of the zoning officers in your munincipality will tell you how to get around the rules.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View CharlieM1958's profile


16278 posts in 4396 days

#2 posted 03-25-2012 01:43 PM

Lee is correct. Every municipality is going to be a little different.

Where I live, the procedure would be to apply for a zoning variance. If none of your immediate neighbors objects, it would probably be granted.

The last thing you want to do is just go ahead and violate the rules, because you could be forced to tear down a completed structure.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Jeff's profile


479 posts in 3372 days

#3 posted 03-25-2012 01:58 PM

Charlie’s right. In the long run you’ll be glad you didn’t “circumvent the rules.”

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3246 days

#4 posted 03-25-2012 02:11 PM

As Lee says, this isn’t the place to get advice for a zoning issue. Even advice from a legal forum would probably be questionable.

You need to deal directly with the JHA (Jurisdiction Having Authority) for your location – or work with a contractor who has experience with them. IME, most of them are pretty reasonable as long as you don’t get confrontational. A few polite questions will probably get some explanations for why the rules exist, and it isn’t unheard of for them to make suggestions that legally get you around some things. Most JHA’s I know of have procedures for getting variances and that’s a good place to start.

Pay attention to Charlie’s advice, too. I’ve seen people forced to tear down illegal structures and it ain’t pretty. – lol

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View NJWiliam's profile


32 posts in 2745 days

#5 posted 03-25-2012 02:18 PM

Look around your neighborhood for what sort of variances have been granted.

Speak with your neighbors and explain why it won’t negatively impact them.
Depending on your neighborhood, noise may be a significant issue.

Speak with the municipal engineer in advance, if they have pet peeves about certain things, make sure it’s obvious they are addressed. If the engineer supports your application, that is a very big advantage.

Attend some zoning/planning board meetings if possible, to see what concerns the board typically has, and if other similar variances have been recently granted.

These things vary greatly from State to State, and for municipalities in the same State.

Getting around the rules is usually just going to amount to trouble later, if not when you try to get permits, inspections, and a certificate of occupancy (if needed), then if you sell the property and it’s inspected, etc.

If you attend some meetings, you may also see what attorneys are there frequently, and how they do . . .

View a1Jim's profile


117283 posts in 3755 days

#6 posted 03-25-2012 03:14 PM

As a contractor of 25 years I face this type of challenge frequently. Some of the ways I might overcome the rules is first I will talk to my customer about conforming to the laws/rules buy applying for a variance ,this can be costly and time consuming and limiting. Some times you can fudge by doing things like building 800 sq ft this year and 800 next year all to the same building ,you do this by doing all the concrete at once and build the rest later. Some cities will not consider it a building if it doesn’t have walls so you build the enclosed area of 800 sq ft and the floor and roof for the other 800 sq ft and enclose it later. If the rules say you can only have 2 structures other than your principle structure you attach part of the new structure to the principle structure one even if it’s just a breeze way. The customer might have me build a garage because that’s allowed and a shop is not allowed. In my county a building used for agricultural purposes does not require a permit, so some times I’ll build a agricultural building and the owner will convert it to a shop later(totally legal) . Depending on the building/planning departments and it’s employees you can go to them and ask them how to build what you want and still follow the rules,I’ve found it’s best to talk to the people in charge when doing this,this way there suggestions can’t be trumped by a higher up in the department later on. Some contractors just build it whether it’s allowed or not and deal with the rules afterwards ,this is a risky approach because the officials can make you tear down what you build , on the other hand some small towns will never say a word about your structure not conforming. In short think about ways to get the job done and perhaps ask local contractors what they would do to get the job done. Like the first responders I’m not an attorney and I don’t know the laws where your at ,so it’s best to get legal advise from someone qualified to give legal advise.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View MrRon's profile


5150 posts in 3421 days

#7 posted 03-25-2012 07:47 PM

You might get it passed by calling it a “guest” house or “Granny” house, but check first. I am not a lawyer.

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

8513 posts in 2506 days

#8 posted 03-25-2012 08:05 PM

I used to sit on the planning board in my small town and learned a lot through the process.

I’ve seen several people put in for a variance and have never once seen it approved.

That said, I’ve worked with some great code enforcement guys who, while never breaking the rules, have advised me how to “creatively” navigate them to accomplish what I wanted to get done.

First, I recommend that you buy a current copy of the zoning ordinances (may be online for free) and read them cover to cover. Mark them up with highlighter where you have questions.

Then, I would make an appointment with your code guy and ask him hypothetical questions about what you can and can’t do.

If the guy seems like he’s willing to help you, and you think you can trust him, then share your true objectives with him and ask him if / how you can make this happen.

Be very careful about whether or not you call it a “business” as the R1 rules may kill that in a hurry. But… a shop for your hobby, is another matter. And making some income from your hobby does not necessarilly make it a business.

Zoning issues are where you quickly find out whether or not you live in a free state/county/town.

In general, you can get away with a LOT more in a rural area than in an urban one.

-- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2474 days

#9 posted 03-25-2012 08:58 PM

Two 20×40s, a 30×50 and a house is ALOT for a third acre plot. I can almost guarantee you it has more to do with soil perm and water runoff than anything. A certain percentage of a lot needs to be open to let rainwater absorb and not just flood streets and sewers.

If you already have a 20×40 why don’t you build up on that footprint? I don’t know what the structure is but adding two floors will get you 1600 square feet (you wanted an additional 1500). Yes it is more expensive than just slapping up a pole building, but….

View daverandalls's profile


2 posts in 2432 days

#10 posted 03-27-2012 04:34 AM

Wow, thanks for all the great responses! I probably should clear up a couple of things. First of all, I’m not really trying to break the rules, I am merely trying to find the loopholes that may work in my favor. My house is a split entry, 1150 sf. upstairs, basement is 1/2, 2 car garage. I don’t want two 20×40’s and a 30×50, what I meant was that I think it would be leagal to build two 20×40’s but not a 30×50. My 2 car garage is just not big enough. I could do a big expansion on it going 15’ wider and building 20’ onto the back and that would make it 35×44. But, that would still leave me with structural walls to contend with and the rooflines would never look right. Jim, I really liked your suggestion about building part of it now and part later. I have talked to a couple of people locally that have dealt with the city and it seems that they are very stubborn. I called anonymously and the guy I talked to was wasnt very helpful. I haven’t found a zoning attorney yet, but I’m just looking for others experiences as I have not been down this road before. Thanks again for the warm welcome.

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2464 days

#11 posted 04-08-2012 04:03 PM

It’s best to get a variance. It’s not complicated, you just need to have your neighbors sign off on it.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2464 days

#12 posted 04-08-2012 04:08 PM

Most residential neighborhoods these days don’t want a property to be upgraded exorbitantly beyond what the other houses are. It keeps the property values on the block relatively the same. So obtaining a permit to attach the building to your house could be impossible.
I’d go to city hall and ask one of the inspectors how he recommends you proceed. I think the variance is the best route.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3415 days

#13 posted 04-08-2012 04:45 PM

Good luck with your project. You might also look at the situation as an opportunity to buy, rent or lease something outside of town.

-- Hal, Tennessee

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