In land development, navigating the maze of government regulations is undoubtedly one of the most challenging aspects; however, it is essential to your success. Here are some tips to help you simplify and conquer the zoning and permitting process.


Whether this is your first go-around with legal zones and permits or if you’ve done it for several properties, it can always be beneficial to use the services of an experienced general contractor. We recommend hiring a reliable contractor to handle all aspects of your project, including planning, obtaining permits, and zoning or rezoning as necessary. You can rely on Rubicon Contractors to make the entire process easy for you and eliminate any guesswork.


To determine whether a property is worth pursuing further, you’ll need to do some preliminary research. You should begin by asking the seller or the seller’s agent all the questions on your list, and if everything checks out, you should contact the city zoning and permitting officials who can provide more information. Generally, you should wait to spend money on investigations until after your offer is accepted. Then, include the remaining questions as contingencies in your proposal.

Begin your investigation with the seller or the seller’s agent. The first thing to check is whether the lot is buildable, whether there is a well with adequate flow rate, and if there are utilities nearby. Next, determine if any issues will restrict your ability to build on the lot. If a survey report is available, ask to see the boundary markers. After that, walk the boundaries to see what you’re buying and identify potential problems.


When determining whether a lot is buildable, the Building & Planning Department is usually the best resource. You will be in a better position if you involve the zoning, permitting building, and health departments early. Our tip is to approach them respectfully and ask for their guidance and advice. Typically, they will most likely oblige you and can be your greatest asset when completing your project.

Check out the zoning map and permit regulations of the city. Your property’s zoning law may regulate the dimensions of the structure and lot. These restrictions can include minimum lot area, off-street parking, public entrance locations, the number of buildings on the lot, and the number of dwelling units permitted within a particular site. Afterward, schedule an appointment with a building inspector or health department official (for wells and on-site sewage). Ask them if they anticipate any problems with the construction you are planning. If possible, get written responses or opinions from city officials. Do not enter into any contract until all zoning has been researched and confirmed.


Surveys are essential for land that is not part of a development. Check to see if a recent survey has been completed and recorded at the city or county registrar’s office for vacant land. A historical survey is helpful if the property lines are not marked. A survey may also determine existing structures and improvements on the property, floodplains, and other legal concerns. You may be required to get an updated survey by your lender or title company if your offer is accepted. If a survey is not needed, you may choose to obtain one to be on the safe side.


What if your building site is ideal in many ways but has some tricky zoning and permitting issues? You need to decide if proceeding will be worth your investment of time and money. You must also evaluate the risk that you could fail, even after spending time, money, or even purchasing the lot. You can resolve many minor zoning problems with a variance granted by the town that exempts you from one or more zoning rules.

However, you should determine the feasibility and the costs of your efforts before moving forward. You take on a considerable risk if you purchase a piece of land without written assurances from the city and a legal review.

In some cases, even if a lot is buildable, you might decide it’s not worth the time and effort to build it and the risk of future problems. A new lot will always come up for sale.