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Why Doesn’t That Township Give Me the Permits That I Want?

Landowners are often frustrated that they cannot build without a permit, and the local municipality seems to make it difficult or impossible to get that permit.

Landowners sometimes make an application to a local zoning hearing board, only to be more frustrated when their request is turned down.

What you can do with your own land is controlled by zoning ordinances, which seem to get longer and more complex every year. Some run to over a hundred pages.

Those of us who represent zoning hearing boards often see landowners who we suspect may have the right to get an approval – but they do not tell the government board what it needs to hear. Therefore, they do not get the permit that they could receive. They have not planned their presentation correctly.

The key to getting what you want is to realize that the decision makers do not really have much discretion – they think their hands are tied by what is written in the zoning or land development ordinances. Landowners must look carefully through those ordinances, as there will usually be a “checklist” of what must be presented to a government board. Going down that checklist and making sure the government is told –in detail– how you will satisfy each of the requirements in the list, will avoid a frustrating denial.

There are also some situations where a prior decision by a judge can be used to overrule what is written in the ordinance. Just one of the many examples would be the business that has operated at the same address for a long time; the neighborhood has been re-zoned residential so the municipality tries to prevent the business from expanding. Judges have said that a “natural expansion” of an old business can occur to an even greater degree than the limitations in a zoning ordinance. Zoning and permit officers are not lawyers so they will not know these special situations.

When you are frustrated with the local municipal government because you cannot get an approval you want, discuss it with us. We have years of experience dealing with, and also representing, local governments.