One of the duties of government is to protect the individual’s right to their pursuit of the American dream. In many respects, this means providing a fair regulatory system that promotes the conditions favorable for economic vitality while balancing the goals and priorities of the community. Cities and towns are comprised of real property and city planners have a vested interest in the safe, orderly, and equitable use of real property.
In the real world, city planners work very closely with real estate investors/flippers. We talk on a daily basis, we discuss future plans, and yes, we do occasionally disagree over the application of the ordinances. But the key thing is that we communicate in a non-adversarial manner because after all, we need each other. However, we usually first meet each other when things aren’t going so well for you…
We have compiled a number of things that I think city planners want real estate investors to know and remember:
1. We appreciate what you’re doing! Many times you are taking on a property that is not in an ideal situation. Your blood, sweat, and dollars are being expended in an effort to upgrade the existing housing stock instead of simply plopping down new homes in sprawling neighborhoods. Thanks!
2. Your desire for the American dream allows others to live theirs. Housing (owner-occupied or rental) is a human right. Whether you’re building on a vacant infill lot, or rehabbing the neglected house on the block, you’re securing permanent housing for somebody.
3. You help stabilize property values in disinvested neighborhoods. Blighted areas are not good for anyone. Neglected, run-down properties suppress property values in the area. You are part of the solution!
4. You are spending money in the community (or you should be). You use local contractors, laborers, supplies, and you’re increasing property values. All very good things!
5. Planners and city officials are not trying to derail your dreams. The zoning ordinance and building codes are there to serve a very important purpose: protect the health, safety, and prosperity of the community. These same regulations (and those responsible for them) are going to serve to protect your investment.
6. We recognize that you’re going to have issues with your property. Setback issues, fences, accessory structures, nonconformities, etc.. We’re here to help as much as the code allows us.
7. We understand that you’re probably in it mostly to make a profit. Nothing wrong with that. But we want you to consider your neighbors. Take the blinders off. If you have to rezone or get a variance, they’ll know. They’re not your enemies, they are your future buyer’s or tenant’s neighbors. They’ve lived there for years, you haven’t. You don’t live in their neighborhood, so please, be respectful of their concerns.
8. The comprehensive plan is your friend. Learn it, know it, and use it to make your case if you need to. We use it as a guide for our recommendations to appointed and elected officials. Want to be viewed more favorably in your dealings with Council? Be able to recite the vision of the community!
9. Please don’t violate the code and then ask for forgiveness. This doesn’t help anyone. Seriously, I’ve worked with planners that were visibly upset about having to recommend denial of a variance because it meant the owner (who was flipping the house) had to pretty much tear down the structure. We don’t take pleasure in having to enforce the code after it is broken but the public expects us to do it. The code is a public record and we're here to help.
10. Variances are supposed to be hard to get. Don’t be quick to demand one. Hardships must be present, and cost is not one of them. We’ll do our best to see your situation from all angles, but in the end, we before we recommend a variance, we need something that will set it apart from other properties. The code applies to all properties, even the cheap ones.
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