Zoning: Friend or Foe?

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Zoning: Friend or Foe?

By Buster Owens

The self-storage industry is experiencing the fastest growth rate to date. With the introduction to the storage market of REITs, successful franchising, low cost and availability of money, the expansion is tremendous. A successful self-storage developer follows the same basic rules of real estate: make site selections based on location, location, location. With the larger companies aggressively pursuing the best locations and willing to pay top dollar for them, an in-depth knowledge of the zoning process may be the key to an individual's success in the marketplace.

Zoning can do one of two things: It can work against you, or it can be used to your advantage if you assemble a piece of prime property and rezone it. The larger companies are, generally, looking for property that is properly zoned and ready for development. They prefer not to spend an extended period of time on the rezoning process.

According to the Orange County, Fla., Code Book, the functions, powers and duties of the zoning commission shall be:

  • To acquire and maintain in current form such basic information and materials as are necessary to an understanding of past trends, present conditions and forces at work, or cause changes in these conditions. Such basic information and materials may include: maps and photographs of man-made and natural physical features of the area concerned; statistics on past trends and present conditions with respect to population, property values, economic base and land use; and such other information as is important or likely to be important in determining the amount, direction and kind of development to be expected in the area and its various parts.
  • To prepare and, from time to time, amend and revise comprehensive and coordinated general plans for meeting present requirements and such future requirements as may be foreseen; to prepare and, from time to time, amend and revise an official zoning map showing the zones and districts as established by the comprehensive plan.
  • To establish principles and policies for guiding action in the development area.
  • To prepare and recommend to the board of county commissioners resolutions promoting orderly development along the lines indicated in the comprehensive plan.
  • To determine whether specific proposed developments conform to the principles and requirements of the comprehensive plan for the growth and development of the area, and to approve all proposed plats in accordance with the standards and requirements of the comprehensive plan and the regulations adopted hereunder; to provide for an orderly street development and alignment in all plats and subdivisions developed in the county.
  • To keep the board of county commissioners and the general public informed and advised as to these matters.
  • To conduct such public hearings as may be required to gather information necessary for the drafting, establishment and maintenance of the comprehensive plan, and such additional public hearings as are specified under the provisions of this act.
  • To cooperate with municipalities, regional planning councils and other governmental agencies for the purpose of achieving a harmonious and coordinated plan for the development of the land resources under their respective jurisdiction(s).
  • To perform any other duties which may be lawfully assigned to it.

The powers and duties of the zoning commission refer to the maintenance of a comprehensive plan. Some states require all cities, counties and municipalities to submit a land-use plan (zoning map) to the state for adoption. The land-use plan indicates to the state where and what type of zoning is in place for the area. Rezoning a property from one major classification to another could possibly require an amendment to the state's comprehensive land map prior to beginning the rezoning process. It is extremely important to know the procedure in your jurisdiction.

Zoning Classifications

Zoning classifications can be broken down into five major categories: agricultural, residential, multi-family, commercial and industrial. In years past, self-storage was typically grouped into industrial zonings. The industrial zoning was, in part, due to the term "mini-warehouses." When discussing a proposed facility with the zoning official, the proper term to use is "self-storage facility." Mini-warehouses conjure the image of unattractive, metal-ribbed buildings with no architectural flair. It also brings to mind small businesses operating out of these units, which can be unsightly.

As the industry has matured and zoning boards have become more familiar with the latest designs in self-storage, they have come to accept the fact that self-storage is a retail business, and that a commercial zoning is more appropriate.

Making Zoning Work for You

Having reviewed the functions of the zoning board, how can I use this information to my advantage? Following is a case study of the rezoning of a piece of property in Orange County, Fla. The parcel is approximately 5.2 acres and is located in a prime, in-fill market. The property fronts two different roads and carries three different zonings. Part of the property along the major road is zoned C-1, another part of the property is multi-family, and the third zoning is for high-density housing.

In this case, we want to rezone the property PD (planned development) in order to keep 1.2 acres in the C-1 zoning and to rezone the remaining 4 acres to a C-3 zoning, which is consistent to self-storage. As stated earlier, patience is needed for this exercise. We will create a timeline for the steps involved with the amendment to the comprehensive land plan and the eventual rezoning.

December 1996--Discussions with County Planning regarding land-use potential.

To begin the process, you need to research with the planning and zoning department what you would like to accomplish. This should give you an indication as to how well it will be received by the staff. It also helps to begin building a personal relationship with the staff, which can be beneficial. I have found an artist's rendering of the proposed facility to be one of the most important factors in helping to sell your ideas, not only with the zoning board, but with the neighbors and businesses in the immediate area.

January 1997--Presentation to and discussions with neighborhood groups and surrounding businesses.

This might be the most important step. Before making formal applications to the county, contact the local neighborhood and homeowner's associations and go meet with them. This is not a prerequisite to rezoning, but it helps to win over your neighbors and determine what type of opposition you will be facing during the public hearings. Take your ideas and pictures to these meetings and explain what you would like to build. These meetings are typically informal, allowing the residents to ask you questions about their concerns.

In this particular case, the homeowner's association for the condos to the north and the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association came to our public hearings and spoke favorably about our proposition. We were able to convince the residents of the condos that self-storage would be a good buffer between their homes and the commercial activity occupying the corner. Furthermore, with the present zoning in place, there could possibly be low-income housing built on the property. It is difficult for the board to deny your application when you have the support of your neighbors and the surrounding businesses.

February 1997--Application for land-use change; small-scale amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan.

The first official step is to modify the state of Florida's previously adopted land-use map. Due to the size of the property, a small-scale amendment is required. Small-scale amendment applications are only accepted twice a year and are only valid for the first 60 acres that are applied for. Due to these restrictions, it is very important to know these timetables or you could be sitting around doing nothing for six months. It is also important to be one of the first to apply to ensure that you do not get removed from the docket. Even though the application is made through the state, the local planning and zoning board handles the public hearings and will then make recommendation to the state as to whether it should be accepted or not.

March 1997--Follow-up presentation to concerned citizen groups for input.

The citizen groups have now had a chance to digest your earlier presentation and are expressing their concerns.

April 1997--Public hearing; Planning and Zoning; land-use change.

This is the first in a series of public hearings concerning the amending of the comprehensive land-use plan. Once again, the artist rendering of your proposed facility will be useful. Also, any support from the citizen groups that have been previously addressed will be of tremendous value. If the neighbors like it, why would the board not be in favor of the project? I cannot emphasize the impact of citizens standing before the board during a public hearing and stating that a self-storage facility is what they would like to see built on your property.

May 1997--Public hearing; Board of County Commission; land-use change.

This is the same type of hearing as the one above, only this hearing is in front of the County Commissioners instead of Planning and Zoning. You should prepare in the same manner as above.

May 1997--Application for zoning change.

Now that you are well underway with the amendment to the land-use plan, Zoning will accept your application for rezoning. Remember that you cannot rezone the parcel without the land-use amendment.

May 1997--Contract for survey and preliminary site engineering.

At this point in the procedure, you will have a pretty good feel as to where the process is heading. If everything looks favorable, it is time to start with preliminary engineering on the parcel.

June 1997--Pre-application conference for preliminary site-development review.

A pre-application conference with the staff helps you to define setback requirements, aisle widths, height restrictions, floor-area ratios, etc., that will need to be incorporated into your development plan.

June 1997--Presentation to Development Review Committee for site development.

This step entails the submittal of a site plan that is fairly complete. The plan will show 90 percent of what will be required to be on the plans once you submit for the actual site permit. For example, this plan will show the building layouts, the location of the office, all utilities, grading and drainage plans, retention and landscaping.

July 1997--Public Hearing; planning and zoning change.

Finally, it is time to actually begin the rezoning process. Having been through the public hearings on the proposed land-use change, you see they are basically repetitive. Typically, you are working with the same officials on the rezoning as you did with the small-scale amendment to the land-use plan.

August 1997--Public hearing; Board of County Commissioners; zoning change.

This is the final hearing to have the zoning change adopted by the commission. This is typically a formality. Hopefully, at this point, the planning and zoning staff have recommended the change for approval. If not, this is the time to fight your battle with the commission. If this is the case, you will want to contact everyone you know who is in favor of your development and ask them to attend the hearing to speak on your behalf.

August 1997--Submission of plat for review.

Now that the zoning has been successfully changed, you will be required to prepare and submit the revised plat, showing the new zoning on the property. This plat will then become part of the public record and will reflect the new zonings.

September 1997--Revisions to and final recording of the plat.

You have now completed the rezoning process that began almost a year ago. It is not uncommon for this timeline to be extended due to many delays from engineers, responses from county officials, missed deadlines, etc.

October 1997--Submit plans and specifications to building department for permits.

January 1998--Receive permits and begin development of property.

After an overview of the system and timelines involved, it becomes apparent why most people choose not to buy property without the correct zoning. However, the time is well spent when you compare what you probably saved in land costs and the proximity to an established market.

In conclusion, the cumbersome procedures for the rezoning can indeed be your friend. It may open an opportunity for you that you would not of been able to achieve otherwise. In order to successfully guide your way through the system, here are some important reminders:

1) Familiarize yourself with the process.

2) Recruit your neighbors early.

3) Be aware of deadline dates for submittals and public hearings.

4) Be friendly towards the staff.

5) Use artist renderings and photographs to sell your ideas.

Good luck, and keep in mind that the services of a professional planner might be the way to go. Any city will have consultants who specialize in these rezoning issues. They are already familiar with the local officials and have a working knowledge of the procedures required by your jurisdiction. It could save you time and some frustration.

Emmett "Buster" Owens III is director of marketing for The Rabco Corp., based in Ocoee, Fla. Rabco is a full-service contractor specializing in the design, engineering, fabrication and erection of custom and pre-engineered single- and multistory self-storage facilities. For more information, call (800) 989-0220; Web: www.rabco.com.

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