Commercial driveway in a residential zone

by Joe
(New Jersey)

Visitor Question: I live in a small town on a block that is adjacent to the retail district. Zoning is r-3. On my side of the street there are only houses. On the other side are the backs of some businesses.

Recently I found out that the owner of the house adjacent to me is selling his property to a business owner who plans to knock the house down to provide access to trucks to reach his commercial property in the rear. This will strongly affect the value of my house as, previously, this side of the street was only residential.

What are my arguments to fight this?

Editors Reply For purposes of this answer, we assume that the house next door to you also is zoned residential. In that case, start checking right now with whoever is in charge of enforcing the zoning ordinance in your town. The question should be whether they are going to allow a commercial driveway in a residential zone.

In well-run municipalities, the answer to that question should be no.

The person buying the property in question might argue that our characterization of the proposed land use as a "commercial driveway" isn't accurate. We think this is the correct way to think about the situation, however, if the purpose of the acquisition of the adjoining lot is to provide an easier way for trucks to back up to the loading dock or area of the business.

So we suggest asking boldly and loudly whether your zoning official is going to allow this kind of use. That person may say that his or her hands are tied, that the zoning ordinance does not address using residentially zoned property simply for improved ability for trucks to turn around or back into a loading area.

If this is what happens when you ask the question, then we think you have to ask your city council representative to propose a fix to the zoning ordinance. If the council person does not know how to do this, there is almost always a city attorney that they can ask.

In fact, the city attorney might even dispute a zoning official's opinion that business use of a residential lot simply to facilitate turning or loading is allowed under the ordinance.

Since you say you are in a small town, it would be good to approach the city attorney right away also, especially if you are acquainted with that person. Often attorneys are not afraid to offer comments and suggestions to city employees.

Allowing a commercial driveway in a residential zone is not a good precedent. We hope your city will disallow such nonsense.

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