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Not In My Backyard: It's All in the Zoning

Many of us have said this, or been accused of being a NIMBY by someone else. Who decides what can or can’t be built in the lot next to your house or business? Do you have any say so in the matter? What gets approved is all a matter of zoning, the guidelines of which are established by each municipality, which determines what the best use of land is for that particular area. 

A zoning ordinance is a land use restriction used by municipalities to control the type of use on a piece of

land.  The municipality, who each have their own ordinance, will set the rules and regulations to fit the general characteristics of the land as dictated from the general plan. The general plan is like the constitution of a municipality and is the governing document of all elements including land use and growth.

The main categories of zoning districts for municipalities in the Napa Valley are residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, airport and public. All other zoning districts are a variation of the main categories. There is also a secondary set of rules called an overlay district, which govern a property exposed to circumstances affecting the property.

Several designations will allow certain uses provided the applicant applies for a conditional use permit. This allows a municipality to consider special uses, not directly permitted, with additional conditions placed upon the applicant. Some examples are that involving the sale of liquor, convenience markets, service stations, theaters, private schools, restaurants with a drive-through. 

Consideration of approval is at the discretion of the city or county staff, planning commission and sometimes the city council or board of supervisors. Approval usually requires a public hearing at which time neighboring property owners are provided notice and are allowed to attend to express their opinions, views and concerns.

A variance is a process in which a property owner, developer or tenant applies to deviate from the standard set of rules whether it be for the height or size of a building or the requirements for parking, for example. The process in applying for a variance is similar to that of a conditional use permit, however variances are closely scrutinized with approval not easily obtained.

You may see a business that has been operating at a location for decades and ask yourself how they can continue there. Most likely they are operating under a legal non-conforming use, also called a "grandfathered use." This is a use that legally existed prior to the current zoning ordinance, but is not currently permitted. This business can continue, however there are several on-going criteria which must be met to do so.

Have you ever participated in a public hearing? What was the proposed project, your concerns and the outcome? Leave your comments or suggestions for future posts below.

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