Will the Zoning Commission Approve Your Greenhouse Project?
If you are expanding your greenhouse operation or building a new one, you will need zoning approval. In some communities, especially smaller ones, this may be easy to obtain. In others, it may require a considerable expenditure in time and dollars. It usually depends on how well prepared you are, the complexity of the regulations and the feelings of your neighbors toward your business.
Many people don't think of greenhouses as part of agriculture but they are usually included under the definition of agriculture in State Statute. This is important as most communities that don't have a special zone for agriculture attempt to include them under a commercial classification. Considering greenhouses as agricultural allows them to be built in most zones including residential.
Applying for a zoning permit
When applying for a zoning permit, do your homework. First, educate the zoning enforcement officer and the zoning commission members about what a greenhouse is and what you grow. You will probably find that most members have never been in a greenhouse.
Second, provide the information required by the regulations. If you meet the requirements in the regulations, it is very difficult for the commission to deny your application. Zoning deals with land use. The information that can be required includes a site plan showing the location of the greenhouse on the property and its relation to other structures and property lines. You may also have to address traffic flow, parking, buffers, signs and chemicals to be used and stored.
The site plan, generally prepared by a surveyor, should show contours and all physical features including ponds, streams, wetlands and the flow of runoff.
The present buildings and the proposed new greenhouse should be shown. Including areas of future expansion on the plan has saved some grower's considerable time when the next phase of expansion occurs. As commission makeup changes frequently members may consider subsequent phases as having already been approved in concept by the previous commission.
Third, don't try to intimidate the Commission. These are volunteers that serve the community without pay. They spend their evenings attending meetings to oversee the orderly development of the community. Having served as a member of the local Planning and Zoning Commission for over 30 years, I have seen many applications presented. Commission members are much more receptive to a proposal that is concise and addresses the issues as they relate to the regulations.
A public hearing may be required to get the permit. At the hearing interested neighbors may voice concerns that they would like to have addressed. Try to anticipate these questions and have a prepared answer for them. Typical questions raised include:
How will the proposed greenhouse affect property values?
Will traffic increase?
What pesticides will be used and what is their persistence?
How will the runoff from the greenhouse and additional parking be handled?
Will there be noise pollution from fans, trucks, materials handling equipment, etc?
What are the hours of operation?
Approval or Denial of your application
If your application is approved, you are ready to apply for a building permit.
If your application is denied by the Commission they should cite the reasons for denial. You can then appeal this to the court. The court will review the denial to see if there was an error in the procedure or interpretation of the regulations. Generally the court will uphold a Commission decision if they followed the requirements in their regulations and they made a reasonable judgement.
Where the court will generally find for the applicant is if the Commission has violated the procedures. These include failure to post the notices in a timely manner, failure to file for public view of information pertaining to the application, failure of a member with a conflict of interest to disqualify himself or herself and other requirements that have a time period or filing procedure.
Once the application is processed and the public hearing, if required, completed, the Commission has a defined time period in which to act.
A variance allows you to develop your property in a manner prohibited by the zoning regulations. It allows a "bending of the rules". Hardship has to be shown and it can't be self-created or financial. Typically variances may be issued to allow a building to be built closer to a property line than the normal setback, allow a greater percentage of the lot to be covered with greenhouses than is allowed by regulation and the use of land that was too wet for a subdivision to construct a nursery or greenhouse
Planning and zoning commissions have considerable power and duties to uphold in enforcing regulations related to land use. Working with them can help your project win favorable approval.John W. Bartok, Jr.
Natural Resources Mgt. & Engr. Dept.
University of Connecticut , Storrs CT