Is my property subdividable?
Can I start a home-based business here?
Are there height restrictions?
Buyers or sellers may ask questions like the ones above. The answers may often be found deep in the zoning code for a particular neighborhood or parcel.
What is Zoning?
Zoning is a device of land use planning used by local governments in most developed countries. The word is derived from the practice of designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one set of land uses from another. Zoning may be use-based (regulating the uses to which land may be put), or it may regulate building height, lot coverage, and similar characteristics, or some combination of these. Similar urban planning methods have dictated the use of various areas for particular purposes in many cities from ancient times.
Verify zoning jurisdiction
When questions about land use or zoning come in to our Ticor Title Customer Service team, the first thing we’ll do is verify which jurisdiction the property is in. This is important because zoning can be under the jurisdiction of a city or the entire county. There’s no point in calling Pierce County Planning and Land Services if the property is inside the city limits of Tacoma and vice versa.
To make matters more complicated, the same zoning code designation could be used by more than one city, and it could mean different things in different jurisdictions. (For example, R-4 in the city of Bellevue has a minimum lot width of 65’ while in Covington the minimum lot width is 30’. Setbacks, minimum dimensions, and height restrictions may be very different from city to city, even if they use some of the same codes.)
Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect you with the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!
Connect with the right departmentIt’s important to get the facts. Your client may be basing important decisions on the answers to their questions. Zoning and related issues are subject to changes due to annexations and/or changing regulations. You or your client will want the most current and direct information possible. Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect you with the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!
In some cases, the zoning classification may not be exactly what you or your client was hoping for. Fear not. There may be options. Check with the jurisdiction to see if they might allow a variance for a specific parcel. If all the neighbors in an area agree, it may also be possible to request a rezone that would affect a whole block or neighborhood. (Link to Map 1) In cases where the surrounding zoning is all like-kind, it may be harder to get a variance or rezone than if the neighborhood is a patchwork of different zoning codes.
King, Pierce, and Snohomish zoning resources
In addition to zoning regulations, another possible factor to consider may be CC&Rs. A change that fits within the current zoning code regulations may be prohibited by a property’s CC&Rs. For example, a property that is zoned SF 5000 in the City of Seattle may have maximum height of 30’ in the zoning code but the same property may also have a recorded view easement or plat covenants that limit homes on the lot to a single story. When the various regulations conflict, the rule of thumb would be to abide by the most restrictive among them.
To see the unincorporated county zoning on a map, check out these great sites:
- Unincorporated King County Zoning Map
- Unincorporated Pierce County Zoning Map
- Unincorporated Snohomish County Zoning Map
Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here are a few examples:
What are CC&Rs?
The covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) are the governing documents that dictate how the homeowners association operates and what rules the owners — and their tenants and guests — must obey. These legal documents might also be called the bylaws, the master deed, the houses rules or another name. These documents and rules are legally enforceable by the homeowners association, unless a specific provision conflicts with federal, state or local laws. From www.realtor.com
Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here is a link to a great site with links to city web sites and municipal codes: http://www.mrsc.org/codes.aspx
Be thorough in your research
As with many property issues, there’s more to than story than meets the eye. The information provided by your title company is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Buyers and sellers should always perform thorough research before making any big plans or decisions. In fact, it might be a good idea to consult with a land use attorney.