Local New York State governments establish rules and zoning regulations about how land in their jurisdiction can be used. Most people are aware that there are limits such as what can be built in a residential area versus what can be built in a commercial area. However, there are many other zoning factors you should consider before buying cheap land in New York.
Understanding the zoning regulations and requirements are imperative before you purchase any land. You don’t want to find out after you purchase that you can’t do what you had intended with the land. Read on to learn more about what you should watch out for!
Zoning Regulations 101
The planning department divides land up and determines how it may be used. The ultimate goal is to create economically viable areas that work for all types of land uses. They aim to create spaces for residential, commercial, and agricultural uses. Planning boards will often subdivide these zones further, R1, R2, etc. These subdivisions further determine what can be built. For example Only detached, single-family homes or multi-family units. Townhouses, condos, apartments, the number of stories, manufactured homes, etc.
Special Circumstances & Variances
As with anything, there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are seeking an exemption, you will need to present your case to the planning board. They will review your plans and reasoning and determine if you will be allowed the special permission you are seeking. If they do not approve, you typically will have the right to appeal (and improve) your case, but you will have to decide if pursuing the matter further is worth your time and money.
Also, you will notice that there are exemptions for buildings that were erected before an area was zoned a specific way. For example, you might see a house in the middle of a business district. This doesn’t mean that you will be able to build a house there too.
Divide and Conquer?
If you are buying a large land parcel, and are thinking about sub-dividing and selling the lots individually for a profit, there are a few things you should know. There are additional rules that typically apply in these situations and we strongly suggest you work with the county closely and consult a New York land professional such as Surplus Asset Specialists, Inc. before your purchase with the intent to divide the land. This is a strategy used by New York land investors who have a good grasp on the market, they can see the value in the individual land lots before the area becomes developed.
Manufactured Homes, Tiny Houses, & Shipping Containers
If you are looking to put up an alternative style home, you should make sure it will be compliant with ALL of New York’s zoning regulations. Check to see if a pre-fabricated home is permitted and then take it one step further by contacting the planning board and sharing with them what you would like to do. You want to cover all bases and be fully compliant should a complaint arise. Once you have a go-ahead, it is safe to purchase the property and build your structure. Tiny houses, shipping container homes, and other alternative domiciles are becoming increasingly popular. However all too many people don’t have the proper clearance to put such a home on a piece of land, and unfortunately, they get stuck moving the home and being burdened by additional fines and fees.
NYS Department of State: Division of Local Government ServicesThis NYS Division of Local Government Services publishes many guidance materials that are available on their website. Topics covered include general local government, building code, and property maintenance, legal memoranda, planning, and land use regulation, resource protection, local government efficiency, and other publications of interest.
NYS Department of State, Office of Planning and DevelopmentContains links to NYS planning resources including Model Local Laws to Increase Resilience
NY DEC Climate Smart CommunitiesThe program provides guidance to local governments on best practices for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
RPA Regional Planning AssociationRPA operates in the interconnected 31-county New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region
Scenic HudsonScenic Hudson uses “land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the [Hudson] valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources.”
APA New York Metro Area ChapterPlanners post-RFPs (Request for Proposals) and on this website so it is a good place to see which municipalities are looking to revise some part of their planning code, comprehensive plan, etc.
APA New York Upstate ChapterPlanners post-RFPs (Request for Proposals) and RFQs (Requests for Qualifications) on this website so it is a good place to see which municipalities are looking to revise some part of their planning code, comprehensive plan, etc.
Source: Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Legal Research Guide: New York - Pace Law Library