Can a city itself apply for rezoning

Reviewed: May 31, 2024

Visitor Question: In our town we have a weird situation. Our city council thinks they can just fill out a rezoning application form and then steamroll that application through the process until it reaches them for approval. Then they intend to just approve it without so much as a nod to the citizens that oppose the proposal.

Is there anything we can do about this, other than vote these bums out of office? Unfortunately, it's another two years before we would have that opportunity. What is your advice?

Editors Comment: Of course a city can initiate a rezoning action on its own. After all, they assigned the zoning districts initially, so yes, they can rezone properties at will. They don't even have to fill out an application form unless your particular zoning ordinance requires that.

However, the city must follow all of the public notice requirements that pertain to any rezoning. Usually these are governed by state law, with the possibility that a local zoning ordinance imposes even more stringent requirements.

Specifically, they will need to send a written notice of all required public hearings to adjoining property owners (within a radius specified in your ordinance) as well as to the property owners themselves. Depending on the size of the proposed rezoning, they may choose to extend the radius further than is required as a minimum in the ordinance.

Then when the public hearing time comes, the city is required to hear from the public, and they should follow the same procedures and rules they follow for all other rezonings. In other words, if they tell you that only two people can speak for a maximum of two minutes each, that should be the same rule for every other rezoning.

Note that in all U.S. states, as far as we know now, a planning commission or similar public hearing must occur before the city council hearing. The planning and zoning commission, or whatever the mechanism may be in your city, then makes a recommendation. If you are in a position of opposing a particular rezoning proposed by your city, you should make the strongest possible case in front of your planning commission and specifically ask them for a strong opinion.

As you may know by now, the only recourse from a rezoning approved by your city council is to appeal to a circuit court (again the name varies from state to state). If the city violates any of its own typical rezoning procedures, this could provide grounds for such an appeal. The next problem would be identifying a person or persons who would be considered to have legal "standing," or the right to file the appeal or lawsuit.

This is the general answer to your question; local and state laws govern. But it is not at all unusual for a city to initiate a rezoning on its own. Try to speak with your city councilperson to understand what is behind this move.

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