It's not unusual that a property owner does all the right things and is still not in compliance with zoning laws. It takes patience, dedication, experience in property and zoning law—and a lucky bit of detective work—to find a way through such a conundrum so all parties are happy with the outcome.
In the case of this recent zoning matter for a rural township in Bucks County, the new owner cleaned up the exterior of a longtime commercial building that residential neighbors and the municipality had viewed as an eyesore for decades. Everyone was delighted, until it came to the new tenant leasing the nondescript block building at the end of the short driveway. Then the township powers that be cried foul, saying the custom cabinetmaker was not an allowed use for the former junk yard-slash-antique fire apparatus storage area.
Representing the new landowner, Gavin Laboski located old records and other evidence in the municipality's own files that clearly established a "grandfathered" nonconforming use for the parcel dating back to a prior owner in the '60s and '70s.
"The township ordinance permits a property owner to change one nonconforming use to another nonconforming use through a special exception," explains Gavin. "Once we proved that the old nonconforming use was allowed, we could apply to the township's zoning hearing board for a special exception to switch from 'storage yard' to 'crafts.'
"My client's testimony and a stack of letters from neighbors saying how much they loved the work my client had done convinced members of the ZHB to approve the special exception."
Thus, the new owner's exterior upgrades hadn't been for nothing, his tenant could remain, and the neighbors and township administrators got what they wanted. Everyone wins.