How to In­flu­ence Zon­ing Changes

Here are seven steps you can take to in­flu­ence a zon­ing change in your com­mu­nity.


YYour fa­vorite rid­ing ar­eas could be at risk for clo­sure, due to threat of de­vel­op­ment. If you’ve re­ceived a no­tice of a pro­posed zon­ing change, com­monly known as re­zon­ing, or you’ve seen a re­zon­ing sign posted on a prop­erty, you may be won­der­ing what you can do to in­flu­ence the out­come of the re­zon­ing ac­tion.

In­flu­enc­ing a re­zon­ing re­quest can be as easy as ask­ing for what you want. It can take some time, but it can go a long way in help­ing to en­sure that your com­mu­nity re­mains horse-friendly.

While there are of­ten com­plex­i­ties re­lated to lo­cal or­di­nances, plans, maps, and le­gal re­quire­ments, keep in mind that your lo­cal plan­ning staff and an or­ga­nized com­mu­nity are your best re­sources to keep­ing pub­lic land open and ac­ces­si­ble to horses.

Here are seven steps you can take to in­flu­ence a zon­ing change in your com­mu­nity.

1 Re­view a copy of the re­zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tion. This will give you the name of the ap­pli­cant, how to con­tact him or her, and pro­posal de­tails. Get a copy of a site plan if one is in­cluded. Find out whether the ap­pli­cant is bound to that site plan after zon­ing changes are ap­proved or whether the plan is only con­cep­tual.

If the re­zon­ing pe­ti­tion is for a spe­cific land use or a spe­cific site plan, and there are con­di­tions or spe­cial ex­cep­tions ap­plied to an ap­proval that run with the land, you may ex­pect an ad­di­tional level of cer­tainty. If the re­quest is for a gen­eral or spec­u­la­tive re­zon­ing, you can as­sume that any­thing per­mit­ted within that zon­ing district is a po­ten­tial use of the prop­erty. Find out what you’re deal­ing with so you can best in­flu­ence the out­come.

2 Un­der­stand the codes, plans, poli­cies, and tech­ni­cal is­sues. Start with the zon­ing or­di­nance, the lo­cal laws gov­ern­ing land use. Call your plan­ning of­fice, and ask the plan­ner han­dling the re­zon­ing re­quest to ex­plain the or­di­nance to you. Un­der­stand which land uses are per­mit­ted under the pro­posed zon­ing and which ones are per­mit­ted under the cur­rent zon­ing.

If your com­mu­nity has a com­pre­hen­sive plan or a small-area plan that makes rec­om­men­da­tions for the area, un­der­stand what those rec­om­men­da­tions are and whether the pro­posal is con­sis­tent with any adopted rec­om­men­da­tions and poli­cies.

Iden­tify any is­sues that may be of con­cern to the horse com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing storm-wa­ter runoff, traf­fic, noise and light pol­lu­tion, loss (or gain) of recre­ational land, loss (or gain) of buf­fers be­tween horse lands, and po­ten­tially in­com­pat­i­ble land uses.

3 Talk to the ap­pli­cant directly. Some­times, an ap­pli­cant is re­quired to hold a com­mu­nity meet­ing to dis­cuss pro­posed changes with neigh­bors. Or, an ap­pli­cant will hold a com­mu­nity meet­ing vol­un­tar­ily in ad­vance of a pub­lic hear­ing.

If there’s a com­mu­nity meet­ing, be sure to attend. If there isn’t, talk to the ap­pli­cant to learn about his or her in­ten­tions and to share your con­cerns and sug­gested changes. The ap­pli­cant can of­ten be­come your ally. Be aware, how­ever, that a gen­eral re­zon­ing re­quest may not have bind­ing con­di­tions and that some of what an ap­pli­cant of­fers may be non­bind­ing.

4 Or­ga­nize your peo­ple. Start net­work­ing within your equine com­mu­nity. De­cide who’ll rep­re­sent your col­lec­tive voice through­out the process. Cre­ate an in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing net­work so ev­ery­one stays in­formed. Then you can present a strong, uni­fied voice for your con­cerns and help with fol­low-through be­fore, dur­ing,

and after a re­zon­ing process. Iden­ti­fy­ing and en­gag­ing al­lies out­side of the horse com­mu­nity will strengthen your cause.

5 Un­der­stand the process. Un­der­stand the pub­lic-hear­ing process, who to talk to, and when and where to show up. Con­tact your plan­ning staff, and ask them to ex­plain the fol­low­ing:

• What the ap­pli­cant is ask­ing for (the zon­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion, any spe­cific land use, any spe­cial con­di­tions, and any spe­cial vari­ances or ex­cep­tions).

• Whether the re­quest is gen­eral (no bind­ing con­di­tions) or con­di­tional (ad­di­tional re­quire­ments that the gov­ern­ing board may put on an ap­proval).

• When any rel­e­vant pub­lic hear­ings or com­mu­nity meet­ings will be held.

• At which meet­ings you’ll have an op­por­tu­nity to speak.

• To whom you should send let­ters of sup­port, ob­jec­tion, or con­cern (zon­ing board, tech­ni­cal re­view board, plan­ning com­mis­sion, city coun­cil, etc.).

• What hap­pens fol­low­ing ap­proval or de­nial of a re­quest.

Some com­mu­ni­ties have sev­eral lay­ers of ad­min­is­tra­tive re­view be­fore and after a re­zon­ing re­quest, in ad­di­tion to pub­lic hear­ings. If your plan­ning depart­ment is­sues a rec­om­men­da­tion or writ­ten staff re­port, re­quest a copy.

6 Speak up! Us­ing your or­ga­nized group of sup­port­ers, speak up at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity — not only in op­po­si­tion, but also in sup­port when ap­pro­pri­ate. If you’ve used all of your re­sources and have worked to in­flu­ence a pos­i­tive out­come, speak in fa­vor of the re­zon­ing re­quest. Make sure the de­ci­sion-mak­ing board mem­bers hear your sup­port, if it’s war­ranted, so they’re aware of the is­sues as they’re tak­ing ac­tion and the strides taken to­ward com­pro­mise aren’t lost.

7 Fol­low through the en­tire process. Usu­ally, if a re­zon­ing pe­ti­tion is on a pub­lished, ad­ver­tised agenda for ac­tion by a board or com­mis­sion, it re­quires ac­tion by that board or com­mis­sion. That ac­tion could be ap­proval, de­nial, con­tin­u­ance, or with­drawal of the re­quest. Don’t as­sume a re­quest is ap­proved, de­nied, or with­drawn un­til there’s of­fi­cial ac­tion on the part of the board or com­mis­sion.

Once of­fi­cial ac­tion is taken, find out the next steps, and what con­di­tions, vari­ances, or spe­cial per­mits might be con­sid­ered or re­quired in the fu­ture. Also find out who to con­tact if you be­lieve that an ap­proved plan or re­quest isn’t be­ing prop­erly ex­e­cuted.

(For more on plan­ning and zon­ing for eques­tri­ans, visit­ser­va­tion-re­sources/com­mu­nity-land-use-plan­ning.) TTR

Horse­woman Chris­tine Hughes is a se­nior plan­ner with the city of Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, Plan­ning, De­vel­op­ment, and Trans­porta­tion depart­ment. Prior to mov­ing to Wilm­ing­ton, Hughes was a plan­ner with Gwin­nett County, Ge­or­gia, and a pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor at The Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. A mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Plan­ning Association and the Amer- ican In­sti­tute of Cer­ti­fied Plan­ners, she serves on the Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil of the Equine Land Con­ser­va­tion Re­source.

The Equine Land Con­ser­va­tion Re­source is the only na­tional not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­vanc­ing the con­ser­va­tion of land for horse-re­lated ac­tiv­ity. ELCR serves as an in­for­ma­tion re­source and clear­ing­house for land and horse own­ers on is­sues re­lated to equine land con­ser­va­tion, land-use plan­ning, land stew­ard­ship, best management prac­tices, trails, li­a­bil­ity, and equine eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. For more in­for­ma­tion, call (859) 455-8383, or visit

DEB BALLIET PHOTO Stay­ing alert to de­vel­op­ment in your area will help to keep land open for equine recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties. In­set: Keep alert for no­tices on pub­lic meet­ings for pend­ing de­vel­op­ment in your area.

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