Nonconforming Use

A nonconforming use is something that was legal at its inception under the zoning ordinance that was in effect at the time, but would no longer be permitted under the current zoning ordinance. There are two major types of nonconformities:

  • dimensional nonconformity: includes building setbacks, heights, lot coverage, parking, and other such things
  • use nonconformity: a particular use that is no longer permitted in the district where it operates, such as an auto repair store in a multifamily residential district.
A nonconformity cannot be expanded and if a casualty (such as a fire) occurs it can only be rebuilt or resumed under very specific circumstances. A nonconforming use cannot be changed, unless it's changed to a less nonconforming use (with Planning Commission approval), or to a use that conforms with the current zoning ordinance. 

Cases exist where there’s an interest in keeping a nonconformity as is, or making a “better version” of what exists. One way to accomplish that for commercial buildings/uses in residential neighborhoods is the Adaptive Re-Use Planned Unit Development; another tool to accomplish that for multifamily uses in less-dense residential neighborhoods is the designation of a special status- Nonconforming A. This status does not give the owner any right to expand, but it does grant them the right to rebuild in the case of a casualty. As mortgage companies often will not finance the purchase of a nonconforming property, prospective investors find it challenging to purchase them and existing owners find it difficult to sell. Similarly, significant upgrades to these properties can be difficult, as the owner cannot use the property as equity. Once the property has been granted the special nonconforming status, those barriers to selling/purchasing and maintaining the property are removed.

Many conditions must be met before a property can be granted a Nonconforming A status. These conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • must be in good standing with the City, without any unpaid tax bills, liens, or citations
  • the property has to be in good condition, conforming to the provisions of the Property Maintenance Code
  • the designation has to conform to the intent of the Master Plan
  • must be a multifamily residential use in the CN-Mid or R-1 zoning districts
  • must have begun legally (for instance, a two-family established without permits when in a single-family district would not be eligible)

For the full list, please review the text of the Zoning Ordinance. To apply for special nonconforming status please see the Special Nonconforming Status application.