Rezoning historic home to commercial

Visitor Question: I live in a town of about 17,000 in a semi-rural setting. Our county is almost finished with a community plan update which focuses on rezoning. I worry about our town losing its rural charm.

There is one property that I am really worried about, and that has a historic house now for sale for close to 2,000,000. It is zoned single family residential but I worry that it will soon be rezoned to commercial, which would mean that the historic home could be demolished if a developer decides to do that.

My question is can it be predicted when a rezone will likely occur?

Editors Reply: Let's answer that question in your last sentence first. No, it can't be predicted from a distance when a rezoning would occur. In fact, it probably cannot even be predicted by the keenest observers of your local scene when rezoning would occur.

We have a few observations for you to think about.

A community plan update is generally a good thing for a community if your local government has made adequate allowance for real public input. You say the focus of the plan update is rezoning, but it may just be that the potential for rezoning is what is generating the most conversation and most press or social media coverage. It is possible that the plan update was undertaken to provide an excuse for a comprehensive rezoning that your town wanted to enact anyway, but often that is not the case.

Next you say that you are worried about your area losing its rural charm. That indeed is a concern, and one I hope you have had the opportunity to express as the plan update has moved forward. Even if rural charm is highly valued by both the residents and the elected officials, it can be difficult to maintain if there is development pressure. So we sympathize with that.

From what you have written, we are not sure why you think rezoning of the historic property you treasure is likely to occur soon. There may be conversation or public statements about that already, or you might even have seen a draft of the plan update. If so, your only viable path toward ensuring that does not happen is to join with some other neighbors who feel like you do that this property should not be commercial. Then you might fight against whatever elements of the plan update could be used to support such an action, or against the specific rezoning proposal.

You didn't indicate where you live, but every state in the U.S. has a requirement for a formal public hearing prior to rezoning (usually two actually, one at a planning commission level and one before the governing body that actually makes the decision). You might pick up some specific tips by looking over our population page on rezoning opposition. That might help you feel a little more in control.

Another point that we are a bit puzzled about is why you think that rezoning the historic home to commercial would mean it is likely to be torn down. This may be because we have a pretty picture in our imagination of this majestic old historic home that could be a real asset to your community as a bed and breakfast or destination restaurant. But the reality could be that this home is historic but in poor condition, without much architectural or aesthetic merit. If you have a little log cabin that could not possibly make a charming venue for a shop, restaurant, or inn, your fears could be quite well founded, of course.

In situations such as the historic home that is not suitable for commercial reuse, one option that some communities have used is moving the home to another location. Publicly owned parks or vacant lots are often chosen, but sometimes a residential lot is purchased. While this isn't our favorite way of handling the situation, it may be the best solution available if your local government is determined that the land under the historic home is prime commercial property. With a properly detailed interpretive sign, the historic home can still add to the visual appeal of a semi-rural community and still serve as an education to the town and especially the children about local history.

Lastly, we will just offer our opinion that if you are opposed to any and all commercial use ever of any historic property, you might want to rethink that. In most communities it is unrealistic to expect historic homes to be maintained on their original sites unless some historical society or civic group takes an interest in the home and adopts it for maintenance and maybe even giving public tours or otherwise making it a community asset.

We hope that these comments give you a germ of an idea about how to look at the situation. We applaud your concern for the community's rural character.

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