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Answers To Common Zoning And Land Use Questions

Zoning and land use in southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey can be quite complicated as these areas strive for a balance of open space, historic preservation and green living, along with the needs of a growing population.

The Pottstown and Phoenixville area, in particular, have experienced quite a bit of growth and development in the past few years. OWM Law‘s real estate, zoning and land use attorneys have successfully represented national developers and local landowners in the preparation, submittal and defense of landowner applications before local governments, township boards, planning commissioners and community groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there restrictions on how a landowner can develop his property?

The right of a landowner to develop and use his real property is regulated or restricted by various legal requirements, including zoning ordinances and subdivision and land development ordinances.

A landowner must review zoning ordinances to determine if his proposed use of a building or land is allowed. The provisions of the subdivision* and land development** ordinance must be consulted if the landowner intends to subdivide or develop his property. A careful purchaser of real property will review the various zoning, subdivision and land development requirements on the land before he finally acquires the property.

* Subdivision concerns the creation of new lots or changes in property lines.
** Land development involves the construction of public or private improvements to the land.

Why Is Zoning Needed?

According to the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, zoning is a method a community may use to regulate the use of land and structures. It is initiated by the adoption of a zoning ordinance designed to protect the public health, safety and welfare and to guide growth.*

A zoning ordinance divides all land within a municipality into districts and creates regulations that generally apply to the municipality as a whole, as well as specifically to individual districts. Studies and recommendations to determine the boundaries or need for districts are contained in a document called a ‘comprehensive plan.’

* Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, “Zoning,” Planning Series #4, Harrisburg, PA, May 2003

What Is The Relationship Between Planning And Zoning?

Planning looks to the future. In the form of a comprehensive plan, it involves taking inventory of development alternatives, analyzing collected data, projecting future growth and development alternatives, and establishing policies to be implemented in the future. It is a blueprint for the future development of the community.

In contrast, zoning is one method of implementing the plan. It is based upon the comprehensive plan and helps to put the plan into effect. Zoning is oriented to the present, whereas a comprehensive plan has a horizon of 15 to 20 years.*

* Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, “Zoning,” Planning Series #4, Ninth Edition, Harrisburg, PA, May 2003

Who Administers A Zoning Ordinance?

A zoning ordinance is generally administered by two entities: a zoning officer and a zoning hearing board.

What Is The Role Of The Zoning Officer?

The administration of a zoning ordinance falls in the first instance on the zoning officer of the municipality. Among the functions of the zoning officer is to receive and review permit applications subject to the zoning ordinance and to grant or deny the applications based on a strict reading of the ordinance.

What Is The Zoning Hearing Board?

After the zoning officer, the administration of the zoning ordinance falls under the jurisdiction of the zoning hearing board. The zoning hearing board is a quasi-judicial body consisting of three or five residents of the municipality. The zoning hearing board has jurisdiction over various matters, including appeals questioning the correctness of a decision of the zoning officer, applications seeking a special exception, or appeal or applications seeking a variance.

The zoning hearing board holds hearings on each application. Decisions of the zoning hearing board may be appealed to the local court of common pleas, and after that to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and, if allowed, to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Following the conclusion of a hearing, a zoning hearing board is required to issue a written decision upon the appeal or application.

When Did Zoning Laws Begin?

In the United States, the first zoning ordinance was passed in Los Angeles in 1908. The ordinance did not apply to all parts of the city, but it did establish residential and industrial districts. A few years later, New York City passed its city-wide zoning regulations.

What Does Agricultural Zoning Mean?

Agricultural zoning is designed to protect farmland from nonfarm use. Ordinances vary depending on where you live. See below for agricultural zoning information by county:

Chester

Montgomery

Berks

Check out the links below for additional information about zoning and land use in:

Montgomery County

Chester County

Berks County