by ellen shaughnessy,
November 2016: In my over 15 years of selling real estate full-time, I have definitely heard my share of gripes about ‘zoning’, city red tape, and codes. Local statues, ordinances, zoning and codes are there to protect the local environment and ensure general public safety.
When you purchase or lease real property, you have the right to Quiet Enjoyment: Quiet enjoyment is a right to undisturbed use and enjoyment of real property by a tenant or landowner. This is tempered by the local government that protects the health, safety and welfare of the general public.
Since Easton’s Chief Planner Carl Manges joined the city in 2014, he has been championing an effort to streamline code interpretations and make them more consistent across properties. When a property owner sells in Easton,
it’s the sellers’ obligation to get a new Buyer Notification inspection report from a city code inspector, when the property transfers.
Properties have permitted uses, according to the zoning district the property is located in. There are many zoning districts in each municipality – for instance in Easton you have DD (downtown district), WW west ward district, SS south side district, CH college hill district, Industrial, etc. Also pertinent is whether it’s located in an ‘overlay zone’ where a commercial /mixed use might be allowed.
Many mixed-use investment (resi + commercial) or commercial properties require a ‘Change in Use’ for things like a pottery firing business, where there was last a professional office, or where there is today a hotel, and tomorrow’s new tenant / owner wants to open a childrens’ science museum.
‘New Use’ is a magical term that kicks off a process where city zoning and planning committees evaluate that new use and give an opinion on whether it is allowed or granted a Special Exception. Easton also offers a quicker, less involved and free ‘tech review’ meeting.
For those that do need to go through the New Use process, the zoning and planning committees each meet once per month, so if you DO plan to change a use, you will need to bring the plan before 1) the planing committee and then once granted – they kick that opinion on to 2) the zoning committee for their approval. When timing is important; maybe you want to get your business open asap — then one should get on their agendas in advance.
Easton’s Chief Planner, Carl Manges took the frustrations many have endured with the ‘new use’ process to heart. Carl spearheaded an effort to streamline some of the common / already approved and established new uses, and is cutting out any duplication of effort in the interest of expediting new businesses that have already been ‘vetted’ and accepted for a zone.
New and Improved Special Exception Process:
Carl and his team proposed a new plan that tackles duplication of the ‘special exception use’ process in the street corridor overlay zones. Prior permitted uses should now be able to enjoy more of a ‘fast track’ through the process for approval. This amendment was introduced to the planning commission a couple months ago. “The commission asked for a few changes, and we’re submitting a final version that we hope to have approved soon,” Mr. Manges optimistically mentioned.
If you are opening a business that will be a “New Use” you might consider investing in an attorney with local zoning experience, in order to save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run. Or, just be sure to make the city your partner and do the required groundwork.
What’s Carl’s advice to someone opening a new business in Easton? Before you settle on the property or even sign a lease – once you have the site please fill out a zoning permit application – it’s $50.00 and we are here to help, or let you know whether it will not be an allowed use, or what the process is in order to make it an allowed use. You can find more on zoning info, forms, etc on the city website: easton-pa.com/zoning/
Here are some handy updated demographics by area in the Lehigh Valley.