Nonconforming Building changes

March 20, 2013

In December, the COWncil adopted an ordinance drafted by the Planning staff to revise the rules for nonconforming buildings. The new rules are now in effect.

After discussing the proposed changes in September, October, and November and getting feedback from the Planning Commission, the COWncil voted unanimously to alter the rules for legal nonconforming uses and buildings in the Municipal Code. As most COWs know, many of the lots and buildings in Town are considered “nonconforming” since, for one reason or another, they do not meet current code. And, as everyone knows, if your property is nonconforming, it is a real headache any time you have to deal with the Town to do anything to your property, whether you’re a homeowner or commercial landlord.

The new rules are intended to create a process that will allow a change of the use of a nonconforming structure. The new use would have to be in line with the current Zoning Code, General Plan, and not impose a burden on nearby properties. The rules also help clarify the definitions of nonconforming uses and structures and define allowable additions to nonconforming structures.

The definition of a nonconforming structure or building is now as follows: “A structure or building which was lawfully established and maintained but which does not conform to the current regulations for the zoning district in which structure or building is located.” A nonconforming use is “The use of land, a building or structure which was lawfully established, but which does not conform with the current use regulations for the zoning district in which it is located.”

The COWncil spent hours of discussion trying to avoid inadvertently creating new problems and pitfalls for property owners. For instance, there were concerns expressed that the new rules might cause problems for some homeowners due to conflicting language with regard to building height. This was cleared up so that both nonconforming “alterations” and “additions” will be now both have a 17-foot height limit instead of treating them differently.

Other changes in the law include clarifying that alterations to nonconforming structures can’t “increase or create” new nonconforming attributes on the structure, with a few exceptions noted in the rules. In CC zoning districts, nonconforming structures or buildings may similarly be altered to accommodate any permitted use, or conditional use allowed in that district.

If a new use is proposed for a nonconforming structure, the new use is not allowed to “negatively impact development potential on adjacent properties.”

If a nonconforming use of a property has ceased and not reestablished for more than 24 months, it will be considered abandoned and cannot be reestablished, with the following exceptions: agricultural uses, barns, churches, manufactured homes, open space and conservation uses, residential care homes, single family dwellings, and certain accessory uses listed in the code.

We applaud the COWncil and staff for their serious consideration of this important issue. The ordinance looks to us like it will be a substantial improvement. You can read the new version of the ordinance here. Please let us know if you run into problems when these rules are applied. !

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