Development in the Tampa Bay region is still booming. Local governments are struggling to keep pace with the influx of development activity. Land inventory is low and market demand is high. This is causing a renewed interest in rezoning property of all types, across the spectrum of uses throughout the region.
In the urban areas density is increasing and infill development opportunities are becoming more attractive. In suburban areas, large land assemblages are being rezoned to create mixed-use developments, designed to mimic the urban core by providing walkable work, live, play opportunities. The demand for single-family homeownership is outpacing the supply, which is putting pressure on the conversion of agricultural land for single-family development. Meanwhile, land previously entitled for single- family developments is converting to allow more intense housing products, such as townhomes and paired villas.
In many instances, the rezoning process is uneventful and routine. If a proposed use is consistent with the local government’s comprehensive plan, staff usually supports the request and it proceeds to approval without much difficulty. However, there are some common roadblocks that developers and owners encounter that can be avoided with preparation and forethought.
One common roadblock is the lack of awareness of an overlay district or design standard that can conflict with a planned design or unexpectedly increase the costs associated with development. These overlay districts and design standards often include additional landscaping requirements, building scale and building placement requirements, unique design features and off-site improvement requirements (e.g. new sidewalks). Once discovered, some applicants try to avoid the unexpected requirements by asking for waivers from all the requirements that were not expected. However, this approach seldom works. Typically, a balance is required. An applicant has a much higher likelihood of success with both the staff and the elected leaders if they try to comply with these standards and only ask for those waivers or exceptions when necessary and justified.
There are also some procedural roadblocks that can get in the way of re-zonings. Many jurisdictions have a set schedule for filing applications each month. Applicants assume that if they make the filing deadline the application will be processed in that hearing cycle. However, with the large volume of applications that are being processed now, waiting until the last day of the cycle or even last week of the cycle can lead to a delay of a month or more, because either the hearing docket is already full, or it is overloaded to the point that not all cases can be heard. Because the applications are scheduled in the order they are received, it is advisable to give your consultants as much lead time as you can to prepare the application as far in advance of the deadline as possible to ensure that the approval time-line that you mapped out for your project stays on track.
The most prevalent and formidable road block for rezonings comes in the form of community opposition. One of the best ways to avoid delays caused by opposition is to try to anticipate when opposition is likely and take steps to mitigate the opposition prior to the hearing. Always ask your consultants and the local government staff if there is any history on the property and try to determine what land use trends and policies are important to the local elected officials. In addition, if you anticipate that there might be transportation or drainage concerns in the area, be pro-active and hire professional consultants who can provide expert testimony that the decision-making body can reasonably rely upon at the hearing to help sort through the concerns raised by the opposition.
If you know that you are likely to have opposition, it is advisable to meet with as many people as possible before the hearing to try to come up with solutions to address the community concerns. Even if you are not able to resolve all the concerns, meeting before the hearing will better prepare you to explain why you are unable to resolve the outstanding issues. Although, the decision makers are sitting in quasi-judicial capacity in a rezoning, they are not judges. They are politicians with the primary purpose of serving constituents. A lack of sensitivity to this fact can be detrimental to the approval of a project.
Fortunately, many of these roadblocks are avoidable, with the right amount of sensitivity to policy issues, preparation and reasonableness. Most local governments in the Tampa Bay area encourage growth and economic development. If you are willing to become part of the community and are not out to solely maximize the profit of a project to the detriment of the community, it is possible to overcome these common roadblocks and successfully rezone property throughout the Tampa Bay Region.
Kami Corbett is of counsel and business lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP. She is a member of the firm’s Real Estate Practice, and provides general real estate, land use and workout services to a national client base.