Zoning Ordinances 101: What is the “35% Lot Coverage Ordinance” and How Does it Affect Property Values?

Since 1941, when the first Long Beach Building Zoning Ordinances were adopted, there has always been a quantity defined as allowable lot coverage. This limits the percentage of the lot that can be covered by a structure. From conception to 1941, allowed lot coverage stood at 35%. When homeowners began installing swimming pools on their properties, the percentage changed to 25%, with pools and accessory buildings only allowed to be 10%. In 1969, the 35% rule was reinstated, but only buildings and pools were included in the calculation of coverage by a structure.   In that same year, the term “structure” was first defined as “any single self-contained unit”. In 1970, the term did not appear in definitions but is mentioned in “Lot Coverage” as follows:

Property Development Standards section (14.3 E),” maximum lot coverage by buildings and structures shall not exceed thirty-five (35%) percent of the total lot area”.

In 2002, the definitions were revised to include almost everything as a “structure”. This Ordinance, however, singles out driveways and sidewalks stating they are to be included. Why was a separate phrase used expressly including driveways and sidewalks if they were already considered a structure in the previous Ordinance? Since there was no record of this change being discussed or approved prior to the adoption of the Ordinances of 2002, it was assumed that the term “included” was an error and the original term “excluded” was what was intended to remain in effect. For the next 10 years, therefore, permits and inspections were routinely based on the understanding and historical practice of driveways and sidewalks being excluded in the 35% calculation. This means that all homes built during this period did not count driveways or sidewalks toward the 35% permitted for structures.

The situation was not recognized again until 2012, when a review of the existing ordinances revealed this situation. Some construed this as a typographical error when New Ordinances (2002) were finalized and adopted and was meant to state “excluded”. This Ordinance, as thus construed, remained in effect until 2016, when the current Board changed several things. The definition of “structure” was again expanded to include anything man-made (including flower beds, berms of dirt, retaining walls, swing sets, etc) and the 35% lot coverage restriction is now based on this all-inclusive definition, which now includes driveways and sidewalks.

Consequently, almost every property lot upon which a home is built in Long Beach, is now “Legally Nonconforming” according to the definition in the 2016 Ordinance. This would include some members of the Town Board. No new building permits which would increase the percentage of square foot lot coverage above the all inclusive 35% can be issued without petitioning the Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance, and the Zoning Board of Appeals is controlled by the Long Beach Alliance.

For anyone wanting to build, rebuild, improve/remodel/add on, etc., to abide by the side and front setbacks, three automobile parking spaces, height restrictions, area for septic system and the all inclusive 35% rule, will make it a near impossibility to conform and a petition requesting a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals (“BZA”) at approximately $1,000.00 per hearing will have to be filed.   Of course, if you are affiliated with the Long Beach Alliance your variance might be a little easier and cheaper to obtain. Witness the four hearings that were scheduled for the benefit of the Alliance in June, for each of which the fee was waived, a situation virtually unheard of.

Every homeowner in the Long Beach community will be affected by the changes made by the current administration and the Long Beach Community Alliance, in their effort to control everything that is built and to assure that it meets their extreme environmentalist specifications. If they don’t approve, you don’t build or repair, and the result will be the subsequent lowering of your property values. Welcome to activist government in Long Beach!

(My thanks to Dr. Robert Angelo for assistance with the historical and technical aspects of this article – M.L.McFadden)

Mary Lou McFadden

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