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Thread: Buildable substandard lots

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    May 2003
    Staff meeting

    Buildable substandard lots

    I am working on a revision to our code that allows for pre-existing substandard lots (do not meet the lot area/width requirements of the district) to be buildable.

    Our current text is kinda vague as it relates to vacant lots or additions to houses on substandard lots, so I need to clarify it and also simplify the language.

    I am wondering what your municipality does in regards to the buildability of substandard lots. Do you not permit them to be buildable? Do you allow for construction, but within certain parameters (ie most adjacent lots already developed)? Are they buildable, if created before a certain date?

    Please supply the text of the code section if possible.
    Last edited by mendelman; 24 Jul 2007 at 5:16 PM. Reason: fix title
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
    Jun 2007
    If they are already existing legal lots, like so many of those really old subdivisions near railroad tracks in older communities, I don't think you have a choice but to allow them to build in accordance with the zoning ordinance (i.e. setbacks, parking, height, lot coverage, basically everything but those pertaining to lot area and dimensions). Otherwise you will be buying lots to avoid a taking . The rub comes in that many of these lots can't be developed to meet current standards, such as they are too narrow to provide setbacks and still be wide enough for a standard 20-foot wide, two-car garage that is required by many ordinances.

    The good news, is that this is actually a reasonable grounds for granting a variance due to lot size/configuration and the fact that it would deprive the owner of a right (development) enjoyed by many of his neighbors, since these older neighborhoods are often mostly or at least partly developed.

    I don't recall ever seeing something codified about non-conforming lots being buildable in the communities I have worked for, but I'm sure some community has it.

  3. #3
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
    Oct 2001
    Middle of a Dusty Street
    I might go one step further and write the allowable variances into the code.

    We have several lots that are under the minimum here, and since there is nothing prohibiting the new construction, we approve them with a simple building permit if they can meet all of the other criteria. Luckily, most of them have rear access, and the garages go around back.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Appleton, Wisconsin
    The City of Appleton recently added an entire new classification (R-1C) to its zoning law to address just that problem. Too many houses and/or lots in the pre-WWII part of the city were non-conforming in their prior R-1B classification, which was designed to enforce typical post-WWII development patterns, and Wisconsin has a fairly rigorous set of standards that must be met before a variance can be granted.

    I would contact them for more information on it.


  5. #5

    Lot sizes through the ages...

    This is one thing that you must be aware of when the zoning ordinance gets overhauled. Thou shall not create non-conforming lots by doing away with zones for smaller lot sizes.

    I've worked with communities that wanted bigger residential lots. Their thinking was that bigger lots = richer population. In doing so they made half of all existing residential lots non-conforming. Believe me, I tried to explain the hardship they were creating for themselves. Screaming Commision meeting, one city commissioner actually quit and walked out, resigning his office. He wanted no lots of smaller than 1 acre, in the city.

    So anyway, once the lot is of record, it is there to be delt with. Try to include a zone for older lots, even if you don't want to have the zone used to create new lots.

  6. #6
    We treat the lots as nonconforming and buildable. However, we require that the structures meet current setback requirements. Needless to say, they either replat/vacate the lots or get variances. We have subdivision that were recorded before the 1940's with very small lots, making them legal lots. The sudivisions also were mostly not developed, but still have the roads, which are county right-of-ways.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  7. #7
    Mod Gedunker's avatar
    Aug 2003
    The Wonderland Way
    Our ordinance notes adoption of the zoning classification as the date prior to which the lot had to be "of record". The waiver only applies where single-family is permitted, and only applies to single-family. The ordinance waives the lot area and lot frontage requirements but all other development standards apply. As Plan 9 stated, this creates verifiable hardships and avoids takings. It's clumsy, but it works.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Somewhere between the mountains and the ocean.
    Is this what you were looking for?
    Footnotes to Schedule of regulations:
    (2) A residential lot that was legally recorded as part of a plat on December 14, 1965, and which was a buildable lot under the Zoning Code at the time of recording, shall be deemed a buildable lot even though it may have less area and/or width than the minimum zoning lot size per unit set forth in this subdivision. If such lot size dimensions are less than required in this subdivision, then the minimum yard setback applying to that dimension may be reduced to, but may not be less than, the following:
    a. For lots with less than the required lot width, side yard setback shall not be less than five feet;
    b. For lots with less than the required area, setbacks shall not be less than the following:
    i. Three feet to the rear line;
    ii. 15 feet from the street line abutting on the long side of a corner lot, provided that detached accessory buildings erected not less than 60 feet from the front street line may be erected not less than three feet from the side line, and provided further that a detached accessory building erected on a corner lot may be erected not closer than 15 feet to the side line of the street other than that upon which the dwelling on that lot is faced; and
    iii. 25 feet from the front line, provided that when 25 percent or more of all the frontage on the same side of the street between two intersecting streets has been built up with permanent dwellings, the average setback of the dwellings shall be the minimum setback line between the intersecting streets.
    The only other problem is we have minimum square footage requirements, and if a property does not have enough area within the building envelope as indicated by reduced setbacks to meet that minimum, and not exceed our 25% maximum lot coverage requirement... then no, we do not deem it a buildable lot.
    If you want different results in your life, you need to do different things than you have done in the past. Change is that simple.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Planning Fool's avatar
    Jun 2005
    Northern, VA
    1. If a lot was recorded prior to March 1, 1941, or if a lot was recorded prior to the effective date of this Ordinance, and said lot met the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance in effect at the time of recordation, then such lot, either as a single lot or in combination with other such lots pursuant to a Building Permit, may be used for any use permitted in the zoning district in which located under this Ordinance even though the lot(s) does not meet the minimum district size, lot area, lot width and/or shape factor requirements of the district, provided all other regulations of this Ordinance can be satisfied.
    This provision shall not apply to any such lot which, subsequent to the effective date of this Ordinance, is rezoned at the request of the owner or his agent or is subdivided by the owner or his agent, except for:

    A. A subdivision resulting from a voluntary dedication by the owner or a condemnation or acquisition of a portion thereof for public purposes by any governmental agency; or

    B. A subdivision for a minor adjustment of lot lines, which may be permitted by the Director in accordance with Chapter 101 of The Code and the following:

    (1) Such subdivision shall only be to consolidate land area of contiguous lots, or to rearrange lot lines in order to reallocate land area between contiguous lots such that the reconfigured lots contain either the same lot area as existed prior to the adjustment of the lot lines or a greater area than existed prior to the adjustment of the lot lines which results in a reduced number of lots; and
    (2) There shall be no additional lots or outlots created, no increase in the maximum density and the resultant lot lines shall not create any new or aggravate any existing noncompliance with regard to minimum lot area, lot width, shape factor or minimum yard requirements.

    2. A lot that did not meet the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance in effect at the time of recordation may be used for any use permitted in the zoning district in which located under this Ordinance, even though such lot does not meet the minimum district size, lot area, lot width and/or shape factor requirements of the district, provided that:

    A. The lot is described or depicted in a metes and bounds description or on a subdivision plat not approved by the County, which description or plat was recorded among the land records of Fairfax County prior to March 25, 2003; and

    B. The lot described in the metes and bounds description or on the unapproved plat was identified as a separate lot on the Fairfax County Real Property Identification Map and was taxed as a separate parcel on or before March 25, 2003; and

    C. The lot contained a principal structure on March 9, 2004 that was:

    (1) Occupied or had been occupied at any time within five (5) years prior to March 9, 2004; or
    (2) Under construction pursuant to a Building Permit and a Residential or Non-Residential Use Permit is issued within twelve (12) months after March 9, 2004 and

    D. Except for the minimum district size, lot area, lot width and shape factor requirements of the district, all other regulations of this Ordinance shall be satisfied, including but not limited to the bulk and permitted use regulations of the zoning district in which located.

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