Construction business operating in residential area

by gail
(vanc, Wa)

Visitor Question: Is a construction business with trucks, boats, and earth moving equipment allowed in a quiet residential neighborhood?

Editors Reply: At its most basic level, the correct answer to your question in most parts of the USA is that it depends on whether your property lies within a municipality, township, or county that has a zoning ordinance.

Based on the information you gave us, it would appear so, but we can't be sure.

If you live in an area covered by land use zoning, you need to contact the city or other level of government that has the zoning. Try to make an anonymous complaint about your neighbor and see if you can convince the zoning enforcement people to take a look at the situation.

Note that the governing factor in whether they can do anything will be the zoning district in which your two properties are located. Many people have thought they live in a quiet residential location, which indeed is quiet but not zoned for residential land use exclusively. So find out what land uses are allowed right where you and your neighbor live, and see if a construction office would fall under that list.

If so, there's really nothing you can do because the construction business is operating in a legal manner. There could be some regulations about keeping trucks or boats out of sight, even for residential land uses, so check into that. Also see if there is a noise ordinance that might provide you with some relief if you could document loud happenings.

Now let's suppose that you (and the neighbor in question) live where there is a zoning ordinance, and your neighborhood not only is quiet in your experience but also is zoned exclusively for residential land use, or maybe just for residential and a few other things such as churches and schools.

That is when you have a legitimate zoning complaint and will have to urge your city to persist in investigating the situation. Sometimes a business owner caught up in such an investigation will tell the city oh, this is just temporary. Oh, it just happened once when we lost our lease on the commercial property. They can be very creative with excuses.

Another thing that happens is that the property owner may argue that the number and scale of pieces of business equipment on the property are inconsequential in comparison with the land area. If there is a house on the property, the business owner often will claim to live there and will say that he or she has a plan for moving the construction equipment. They may get more creative too and accuse the municipality of trying to drive out small business, punish the little guy, or just be generally anti-business.

That is why we said above that you will need to encourage your city to keep after the situation. If they do not issue a citation after your first complaint, complain again about every month or so. Send photos with dates and times they were taken, and keep sending a new photo so they realize that this is an ongoing situation.

Now let's suppose one another possibility. Maybe even though you gave us a street address, which we aren't printing, and you appear to live in a city with a zoning ordinance, the property in question is outside of the city limits, and the township or county government does not have a zoning ordinance.

Maybe in this case they will have a nuisance ordinance, although that would be somewhat unlikely, as many of them have been struck down by courts as too vague. But this is another possibility.

If you see anything unhealthful or polluting, such as perhaps gasoline or lubricants leaking out onto the ground, you might be able to make a complaint to an environmental or health department; often these operate at the county level rather than municipal level.

So right away I urge you to call your city government (or county government if you do not live in a city) and ask if there is a zoning ordinance. Ask what zoning district your property is in, and ask about the neighboring address too. Then ask them to send you the regulations for that zoning district, or to refer you to where you can find them yourself online. Read the list of permitted uses and then usually some additional paragraphs describing what is and is not permitted in that district. Many times the permitted uses themselves will have descriptive clauses, sentences, or paragraphs associated with them.

That is the place to start. Then if it seems to you that the neighbor violates the zoning ordinance, file a complaint. The office will advise you about the extent to which your identity as the person complaining can be concealed, if that matters to you.

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Neighborhood Quality of Life.

Join GOOD COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you monthly with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, and rural or small town environments. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.