Local governments establish rules and zoning regulations in PA about how land in their jurisdiction can be used. Most people are aware that there are limits such as what can be built in a residential area versus what can be built in a commercial area. However, there are many other zoning factors you should consider before buying vacant land.
Understanding the zoning requirements is imperative before you purchase any parcel. You don’t want to find out after you purchase that you can’t do what you had intended with the land. Read on to learn more about what you should watch out for!
The planning department divides land up and determines how it may be used. Thier ultimate goal is to create economically viable areas that work for all types of land uses. They aim to create spaces for residential, commercial and agricultural uses. Planning boards will often subdivide these zones further, R1, R2 etc. These subdivisions further determine what can be built. For example: Only detached, single family homes or multi-family units. Townhouses, condos, apartments, the number of stories, manufactured homes, etc.
Special Circumstances & Variances
As with anything, there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are seeking an exemption, you will need to present your case to the planning board. They will review your plans and reasoning and determine if you will be allowed the special permission you are seeking. If they do not approve, you typically will have the right to appeal (and improve) your case, but you will have to decide if pursuing the matter further is worth your time and money.
Also, you will notice that there are exemptions for buildings that were erected before an area was zoned a specific way. For example, you might see a house in the middle of a business district. This doesn’t mean that you will be able to build a house there too.
Divide and Conquer?
If you are buying a large parcel, and are thinking about sub-dividing and selling the lots individually for a profit, there are a few things you should know. There are additional rules that typically apply in these situations and we strongly suggest you work with the county closely and consult a land professional such as Philly Land Investor before you purchase with the intent to divide the land. This is a strategy used by land investors who have a good grasp on the market, they can see the value in the individual lots before the area becomes developed.
Manufactured Homes, Tiny Houses, & Shipping Containers
If you are looking to put up an alternative style home, you should make sure it will be compliant with ALL zoning regulations. Check to see if a pre-fabricated home is permitted and then take it one step further by contacting the planning board and sharing with them what you would like to do. You want to cover all bases and be fully compliant should a complaint arise. Once you have a go-ahead, it is safe to purchase the property and build your structure. Tiny houses, shipping container homes, and other alternative domiciles are becoming increasingly popular. However all too many people don’t have the proper clearance to put such a home on a piece of land, and unfortunately, they get stuck moving the home and being burdened by additional fines and fees.