Before purchasing property, it is vital that you do your due diligence to make sure the space is compatible with your intended use. This could involve inspections to ensure the expansion or modifications you plan are feasible, environmental testing to make sure the property is safe, and it certainly includes finding out what the zoning is where the property is located. For example, if you buy a lot planning to open a pizza parlor, you better make sure the lot is in an area that is zoned for that type of restaurant. However, if you have already bought the property when you find out it is not zoned for what you want to do with it, it might be possible to file a rezoning application with the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission. However, this application is one of the more complicated types of zoning applications, so it is best to seek out a zoning attorney who can advise you.
What Are Zones?
In order to control development and ensure that the integrity of an area remains intact, local governments divide land up into zones. In broad terms, areas are usually either zoned residential or commercial. Most businesses are not permitted in residential zones. However, modern zoning ordinances include more areas that allow for multiple uses. Known as mixed-use zones, there are still restrictions on the types of development that can occur there. For example, a mixed residential and commercial zone might allow a locally owned retailer but not a chain mega-store. Prince George’s County recently revised its 60-year-old zoning ordinance to encourage economic growth and include more mixed-use areas, but that doesn’t mean your pizza parlor will be allowed in a single-family residential zone.
Prince George’s County’s “New” Zones
PGC’s new zoning ordinance consolidates zones into four major base zones. Within the general categories are sub-zones that each have specific restrictions.
- Rural and Agricultural. These zones include farms, parks, forests, large-lot single-family homes, and nature preserves. Commercial use is generally restricted to agriculture-based businesses.
- Residential. These zones are neighborhoods with single-family homes and apartment buildings. Areas zoned as multi-family dwellings also permit certain types of businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies.
- Nonresidential. These commercial zones are subdivided into five types, each allowing different types of businesses, from the least intense—allowing retail and dining—to the most intense—allowing industrial manufacturing.
- Transit-Oriented and Activity Center. These mixed-use zones have high population density, access to public transportation, and allow for a range of housing and business types.
So, what if you bought property in a residential zone and want to open a business? Depending on a number of factors, you might be able to apply to have the property rezoned so that you can open your business.
Zoning Applications in PGC
There are several avenues you can pursue if your plan does not comply with the zoning rules that are in place. Determining which option is appropriate for your purposes is best left to an attorney with zoning law experience, as the application process can be complicated. Special exceptions and special permits apply in certain situations, while variances and departures can be granted for relief from the strict requirements within a zone. However, to get clearance to use a property in a manner for which the location is not zoned, you will have to request a Zoning Map Amendment, and the District Council will have to determine that there has either been a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood or that a mistake was made in the original zoning map. This is not easy to accomplish and should not be attempted without legal counsel.
Make Scudder Legal Your Partner From Day One
Zoning laws are county-specific, so it can be difficult to understand what it takes to be compliant from one county to the next. If you are a developer or entrepreneur looking to open or expand a business in Prince George’s County, it is vital that you work with a lawyer who understands the zoning ordinances inside and out. Before you purchase a lot or existing building, talk to Principal Attorney Traci Scudder at Scudder Legal. She will give your situation the personal attention it deserves. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 240-273-3294 to schedule a consultation to discuss your zoning and land use needs.