As a Buyer or Seller, Be Aware of the Importance of Early Site Assessments

Whether you are a buyer or a seller in the commercial market, knowledge of the municipal code for the specific zoning of a property is extremely important. While not necessarily intentional, zoning codes can sometimes be ambiguous, especially when discussing what is not allowed.

Conversations with municipal officials may be very helpful in the early stages of a project; however, the disclosure of a certain buyer or type of project may be confidential, so any early inquiries to municipalities should stay very general in nature. No matter the type of project, the municipality will have their say at some time as to the project or the potential uses. Early meetings in the conceptual stage can be very helpful for these reasons.

Many municipalities write or amend codes based on the codes of other communities, rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Because special situations can be encountered when a project is presented for approval, codes change over time. Knowing the latest code is helpful but here are things to consider:

  • Some zoning districts also have certain uses which require conditional use permits.
  • While a specific part of the code may appear to be clearly stated, some communities add verbiage such as, “or at the discretion of the engineer” (or plan commission, or the council). This can lead to hidden requirements not specifically spelled out which can cause delays or impact costs or even leave parts of the code open to interpretation.
  • Be aware of possible public improvements that may be necessary, either directly for the needs of your project or as deemed necessary for the public good.
  • Some verbiage may say “to the highest and best use” or “to the maximum extent possible.” These are very ambiguous clauses, open to interpretation, and should promote further discussion with officials or staff.
  • Have knowledge of the Owners’ Association restrictions. These may be more restrictive than the municipality. These associations may also have approval authority over the project.

In summary, protect yourself and your client by conducting the most comprehensive due diligence investigation possible. A professional with this type of experience can do the proper investigation to make transitioning from vacant land to a final project successful. JSD has performed due diligence and site assessments for projects and clients nationwide. Contact us with questions at or 608-848-5060.