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Can exceptions be made to zoning restrictions in Delaware?

Under the law, the principle of private property is balanced with the understanding that we must respect the rights of our neighbors, and the desire of the government to organize the shape of our community.

One way the city or county can limit property owners’ right to do what they want on their land is through zoning. Delaware law gives cities and towns the power to regulate land use through zoning regulations. This is to promote public safety and enjoyment of private and public land.

Among the things that land use zoning laws can regulate include:

  • The size of buildings
  • What buildings may be used for
  • How much of a lot can be occupied

Sometimes, the owner of a building or empty lot may wish to do something different with the property than what it is currently zoned for. Fortunately, there is a way to possibly get an exception made.

Sussex County and other local government bodies have boards that hear appeals for zoning variances or special use exceptions. In Sussex County, this body is called the Board of Adjustment. The board has the power to grant a variance from a regulation if it is causing the property owner “unnecessary hardship or exceptional practical difficulties.” Also, granting the variance must not cause “substantial detriment to the public good.”

The process of obtaining a variance or special exception can be complicated. A successful appeal may require the help of an attorney with experience in zoning and other real estate law matters.

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