Zoning and Planning FAQ

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. (Q.) What is a zoning ordinance and how does it apply to my real estate?

(A.) New Jersey, under the Municipal Land Use Law, requires every town to adopt a zoning ordinance. Simply put, a zoning ordinance outlines what can be done or what use a certain property may be put to, and what can be built on that property, specifically the type of structure, the height, the size, and the setbacks. This is why some areas of a town are residential while others may be completely commercial. It is the zoning ordinance that outlines these uses.

2. (Q.) What is the difference between a zoning board and a planning board?

(A.) The zoning board is the only board that can grant a variance from the zoning ordinance involving uses. For example, if you wanted to use a residential property for a professional office, and if the zoning ordinance does not allow it, then only the zoning board can grant you relief from the ordinance. The zoning board also hears variances for residential properties often when relief is needed for the setback of a house in that it is too close to a property line, a fence height is too high, or the percent lot coverage which is allowed in a particular zone is exceeded. A planning board generally deals with commercial real estate construction and subdivisions of lots to create additional lots. A zoning board can hear the same matters that a planning board hears if a use variance is also involved with the application. Recently, some towns in New Jersey have combined their two boards so all applications are heard by the planning board.

3. (Q.) What is a variance?

(A.) If you want to use a property to do something that is not allowed in a certain zone, you need a variance. If you want to build something that is not allowed in a certain zone or does not meet certain requirements of construction within that zone, a variance is required. You will not be issued a building permit or a zoning permit, if applicable, without first getting the variance.

4. (Q.) How do you get a variance?

(A.) The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law sets the standards for granting a variance. With regard to variances which involve the building itself, the setback, the percent lot coverage, all known as BULK variances, if a hardship can be shown that involves the land itself, a variance can be granted. That hardship generally is caused by the shape of the lot, the narrowness of the lot, or the topography of the lot itself, or possibly the way in which a building has been located on the lot. In the alternative, if what is proposed can be shown to be a better plan or configuration than the ordinance provides, and if it is allowed, it will not be detrimental to the area nor to the zoning ordinance, relief can also be granted.

In order to get a use variance, an applicant must show that the use that is being requested is one that would benefit the area and the town in general and that any detriment which would result from the grant of the variance would be outweighed by the benefit that it creates. This benefit is more than simply a benefit to the applicant but rather to the area or the town itself.

5. (Q.) Do I need a lawyer to apply for a variance?

(A.) If you are a corporation, partnership, LLC, or some other type of entity you must be represented by an attorney in order to appear before either a zoning or planning board. If you are an individual you are not required to have an attorney represent you in front of the board. However, given the complexity of zoning ordinances and the Municipal Land Use Law, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney if you believe that you may need a variance.

ASSOCIATIONS AND AWARDS

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