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Thread: Zoning violations - Correction after 20 years?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Zoning violations - Correction after 20 years?

    A property owner was denied for a zoning variance for a 6 ft fence in his front yard (corner lot). So he brought in pictures of 20 different "violations" throughout the City. (On a side note, it was interesting that he did NOT include a picture of his parents fence, which is similar to the others).

    First situation, the building department approved and issued permits for all but a few. They interpreted our ordinance incorrectly but the fences are only about 1-3 feet from where they should be. These fences were built between 5 and 15 years ago.

    Second situation, one property is in violation, and there is a letter in the file from 1986. The dept issued a permit, but later sent a letter stating that the fence was in violation. The back of the permit has a handwritten note stating that the zoning admin. is 'going to handle' the violation. Well, the fence is still there, and no one knows what happened - did they allow it, ignore it, etc. For what its worth, he was a member of Planning Commission at the time.

    So, what should I do? For the 1st situation, do we make them move their fences into compliance when its been 5-10 years, only a few feet, and the City's fault? What about the second situation - that is definately a violation, but almost 20 years old?

    Is there some point that a municipality can't go back and correct a violation - kind of like a statute of limitations?

    Any help would be wonderful!!!!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I recall some case law (might be just our state though) that permits issued in error are void. I've had similar experiences, and have told the individual that, upon receipt of a written, SIGNED, complaint about the violations, enforcement action would commence. That way I could make HIM the bad guy to the folks getting the compliance letters.

    Make sure your elected officials know what you're doing before you start. Either to get their blessing, or just to give them a heads up for when their phones start to ring.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    A property owner was denied for a zoning variance for a 6 ft fence in his front yard (corner lot). So he brought in pictures of 20 different "violations" throughout the City. (On a side note, it was interesting that he did NOT include a picture of his parents fence, which is similar to the others).

    First situation, the building department approved and issued permits for all but a few. They interpreted our ordinance incorrectly but the fences are only about 1-3 feet from where they should be. These fences were built between 5 and 15 years ago.

    Second situation, one property is in violation, and there is a letter in the file from 1986. The dept issued a permit, but later sent a letter stating that the fence was in violation. The back of the permit has a handwritten note stating that the zoning admin. is 'going to handle' the violation. Well, the fence is still there, and no one knows what happened - did they allow it, ignore it, etc. For what its worth, he was a member of Planning Commission at the time.

    So, what should I do? For the 1st situation, do we make them move their fences into compliance when its been 5-10 years, only a few feet, and the City's fault? What about the second situation - that is definately a violation, but almost 20 years old?

    Is there some point that a municipality can't go back and correct a violation - kind of like a statute of limitations?

    Any help would be wonderful!!!!
    I would think for those fences that were issued permits you'd have to look at it like a legal non-conforming and let them stand where they are. The other fences should be issued a new violation.. but then again, I can be mean when it comes to issues like this.

    (I hate when people come in with pictures of "everyone else doing it".. go jump off the Brooklyn Bridge then!!)
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    If your director is a bend over and smile kinda guy like ours, you would simply rewrite the ordinance and comp plan to permit the violations.

  5. #5
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    We'd go after the violations....there is relief available under NH state law for violations of dimensional requirements that have gone unenforced for 10 years or more:

    http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/...4/674-33-a.htm
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  6. #6
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I would be careful in trying to enforce after something has gone on for so long.

    Laches: n. the legal doctrine that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party (hurt the opponent) as a sort of "legal ambush." Examples: a) knowing the correct property line, Oliver Owner fails to bring a lawsuit to establish title to a portion of real estate until Nat Neighbor has built a house which encroaches on the property in which Owner has title; b) Tommy Traveler learns that his father has died, but waits four years to come forward until the entire estate has been distributed on the belief that Tommy was dead; c) Susan Smart has a legitimate claim against her old firm for sexual harassment, but waits three years to come forward and file a lawsuit, after the employee who caused the problem has died, and the witnesses have all left the company and scattered around the country. The defense of laches is often raised in the list of "affirmative defenses" in answers filed by defendants, but is seldom applied by the courts. Laches is not to be confused with the "statute of limitations," which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc.).

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