Property rezoned after purchase

by Ryan
(Central GA.)

Visitor Question: I purchased a 1 acre piece of property in west central Georgia on 7/6/2018 through the Property for Sale-Georgia State Properties Commission SPC via online auction. The property was a forestry office owned by the State of Georgia and has a 580 square foot office on it.

The brochure / invitation to bid stated "County - No Zoning." The sign at the property advertising that it was for sale stated "commercial property."

Prior to entering a bid I contacted the zoning commissioner and explained my intended usage in detail. He gave me a verbal green light to bid on and purchase the property.

Since the purchase I have upgraded the entire electrical service and well pump. We also terminated a property lease (for the travel trailers) that was used for 10 years in the same county.

Some time after my purchase the County changed the zoning to R-1. I did not receive any notification of this change.

I wanted to use the property (and building) as a common area for a private hunting club for my family and 4 friends. I lease over 500 acres of timberland that is directly adjacent to the 1 acre that was purchased. We moved some travel trailers onto the property and within 2 weeks of that I received a call from the County Manager that we would be receiving a letter advising us of violation of the County zoning ordinance's provisions on usage of the property. Although I have not received the letter yet it was alluded to that we will have to move the travel trailers.

There is one residence directly across the street from our location, and I think they complained to the county about the usage. The next nearest dwelling in over 1000 feet away. Most of the surrounding properties are agricultural.

Any advice as to our rights and or precedence would be appreciated.

Editors Respond: You do have a messy situation here, and it looks like two governments did not perform at their best.

First, we have to note that we think you gave the wrong purchase date, since it was a date after you submitted the question. So we don't know how much time had elapsed between when you bought the property and when you learned that it had been rezoned. But let's leave that aside for the moment.

First, the state of Georgia didn't do very well on this. When they stated the property was in the county and had no zoning, it sounds like they were wrong. And if they thought there was no zoning in place, they shouldn't have labeled this commercial property, especially in light of the mostly agricultural nature of the area. But that too is a side issue unless you decide you want to sue the state of Georgia, which probably would be more expensive than any damages you might receive if successful.

Now let's look at your county. They should not have rezoned your property without notice to you, and in fact there usually are two different notices for public hearings. The one exception to this might be if the county never had any zoning before and the R-1 was the first zoning classification assigned upon adoption of the county's first zoning ordinance.

If you want to pursue this matter further with the county, ask them if they send their zoning public hearing noticed by certified mail, which is very common. If so, have them check to make sure your letter was delivered, and if was sent with a signature required, find out who signed for it. If certified mail was not delivered or signed for, you could have an argument for the county allowing you to waive a fee for an application for rezoning back to a zoning district that would allow the use you want to establish.

We should pause here to say there really is no legal remedy for the county making a clerical error in sending out notices; we don't know of any court decisions that say a local government holds some financial responsibility for such a thing. (Incidentally, we think a court is unlikely to award damages for the errors of state employees in putting together bid documents or signs.)

Returning to the topic of applying for rezoning, of course there is no guarantee it will be granted, since whichever neighbor complained probably would come and speak against the rezoning. In your favor though is your ownership of the adjacent 500 acres of timber.

So regardless of whether the county was negligent in not giving you notice or not noticing that your notice was not properly delivered, you may want to try for a rezoning. We think you might have a reasonable shot.

Ask the zoning administrator (who may or may not have given you really bad advice prior to bidding) what zoning districts would allow what you want to do. If there are more than one, ask which one of those districts is perceived to be less intense, or maybe which one the administrator would consider to be more compatible with residential uses. Then try for rezoning to that district.

If you do not want to go through the hassle and expense of the rezoning process, or if you are unsuccessful, then you would have to comply with the regulations of the newly assigned zoning district.

Your alternative is to try to sue one or both of the governments that gave poor information or advice. Only you can decide whether the expense is worth it.

If it were our money on the line, we would choose to venture a lesser amount of money to try to obtain a rezoning as opposed to the more expensive and drawn out process of filing a lawsuit and waiting to see if you can obtain a judgment.

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