Phillips & Angley

New to commercial real estate? Know the basics of zoning

Perhaps your business has rented in the past, but now your company has grown to the point where you want to set up your own shop on your own land. Finding the perfect place to do so often takes a great deal of time and consideration.

After you find a location you believe will suit your purposes, you may want to jump right in and make an offer. Before you do that, you need to know whether it is zoned for your intended purposes, but since you've never dealt with a commercial property purchase before, you may have questions regarding zoning and how it will affect your plans.

Can you do what you want with the property?

Have you ever noticed that retail establishments, restaurants and gas stations tend to be clustered into certain areas while residential areas are also contained the same way? That's due to zoning regulations. Massachusetts municipalities use zoning and land use rules and regulations in order to control how land is developed and used. Most cities have industrial, commercial and residential areas that are largely separate.

If you want to purchase land that you can build on to your specifications, you may want to start by reviewing and understanding the municipality's master plan. That plan will more than likely outline what types of zoning specific areas fall under. The zoning may limit or control street plans, regulations for building and subdivision development. For example, if you are looking to build an industrial facility, you need to be sure that the land you want to buy isn't zoned for residential development.

Can the city keep you from using the property as you wish?

Municipalities cannot institute arbitrary or capricious zoning regulations. The zoning must make sense and function to protect the public's right to the following:

  • Safety
  • Health
  • Comfort
  • General welfare
  • Morals

Zoning regulations must also meet the definition of reasonable through the following (loosely defined) criteria as well:

  • Purpose of the restriction
  • Needs of the municipality
  • The land's physical characteristics
  • The land's size and location
  • The effect on the property's value
  • The character of a neighborhood

Obviously, these standards are subjective, which may mean there could be a variety of you circumstances under which you could challenge the zoning regulations for the piece of property you want to purchase. You may take your case to the zoning appeals board in the area to request a change that would suit your purposes. Due to the specialized nature and complexity of this area of law, going before the appeals board alone is not advisable. You may be able to increase your chances of success by making use of the appropriate legal resources in your area. 

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