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If you have been planning to buy or build on a given piece of real estate in Tennessee, you should be sure you understand its zoning.  Zoning restricts the use of land, and this may affect your proposed development.

Authorities often allow grandfathering of existing properties when zoning begins or changes. For this reason, you should not assume that they will permit similar activities in a new development.

Zoning defines the permissible use of land

Zoning is most often practiced in municipalities and metro areas. Areas of a city or town are set aside for uses such as:

  • Farming
  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Office
  • Shopping

Urban planning in previous decades often segregated usage. However, in more recent years, municipal governments have approved “mixed use” zoning, which encourages living, working, dining and shopping in the same areas of town.

However, this does not mean that anything goes. The complexity of mixed use zoning may exceed that of traditional zoning as authorities try to create what they feel is an optimal blend of land usage.

If your proposed use would violate existing zoning, you must seek a variance

Municipal authorities often grant variances if you can make a good case that your proposed land use would not create problems for the community. However, the adage that it’s “easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission” does not apply here.

It could be financially disastrous to purchase property and begin construction if your proposed use does not conform to zoning and you cannot get a variance. Attempting to go ahead with building without getting a variance may make it less likely that a planning commission and/or a city council will approve your request.

You should negotiate for a variance and get your land use approved as early in the development process as possible. Preferably, you should see to this before you purchase real estate, and definitely before you design and build improvements to the property.