• Early-stage Counsel Brings Success in Zoning Cases
  • April 30, 2003 | Author: Randell D. Wallace
  • Law Firm: Lathrop & Gage LLP - Kansas City Office
  • With the advent of cable TV telecasts of local planning and zoning hearings, individuals and neighborhood organizations have become much more sophisti-cated in voicing opposition to proposed subdivisions, rezonings and developments. This was pointed out to me recently by a surveyor/engineer with whom I have collaborated on a great number of planning and zoning matters. He noted that these opponents are able to gather information and educate themselves in the convenience and comfort of their homes...making it simple to prepare arguments and presentations to the proposed zoning case.

    That means that it's even more important than ever to seek the advice of experienced planning and zoning counsel at the initial stage in the development process. This will help ensure that developers are prepared and their applications are adequately completed. If you wait you may find that it is too late to save your zoning application after the planning and zoning staff has already committed itself to a negative recommendation or after substantial opposition has already developed.

    Here's how your planning and zoning counsel can help:

    • Get counsel involved at the earliest stage -- before the application is filed.
    • Have your counsel review the title to the property and contract issues. This will ensure that common matters like title issues, prior subdivision plats, covenants, conditions and restrictions, railroad easements and similar matters will not cause delay or even denial of what would have otherwise been readily acceptable zoning or subdivision change.
    • Ask your counsel to evaluate existing zoning and possible uses under current regulations as well as access to utilities and public streets needed for development.
    • Suggest that your counsel consult with the planning and zoning staff regarding their concerns and to work with them to recognize positions that may be subject to legal challenge or cause difficulties for the developer.
    • Request that your counsel coordinate an information program with neighbors and others who may feel they will be affected by the requested zoning or land-use change. It is human nature to be afraid of the unknown and oppose change. A carefully coordinated information program -- perhaps including a "neighbor-hood meeting" prior to an official public hearing -- often diffuses fears of would-be opponents to the development plan.
    • Ask your counsel to assist with the presentation of public hearing before the zoning board, council or commission. With the assistance of the developer and the developer's design professionals, the proposed plan's compliance with all exist-ing regulation should be stressed to the board members. Additionally, the manner in which legitimate concerns of opponents have been addressed should be ex-plained and irrelevant concerns raised by opponents should be identified as such in order to provide support for forward action of the proposed zoning or land use change.

    Having a planning and zoning attorney involved from the onset of your proposed plan can help minimize hurdles and issues that could ruin your development, ultimately accelerating the acceptance of your development campaign.