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Paid to rezone then city did blanket rezoning

by Virginia
(BC Canada)

Visitor Question: I paid to have my property zoned for a secondary suite. Then the city arbitrarily did a blanket rezone and established the same zoning for all, without having to pay zoning fees. Can I sue the city and get a refund?

Editors Reply: We definitely would not suggest suing the city, although an attorney can give you better advice based on your local jurisdiction and precedents. Also you would want to calculate the amount of attorney's fees for filing and pursuing a lawsuit compared to the amount you paid.

A more constructive suggestion would be to ask the city in a polite, non-confrontational, and business-like manner to refund your money. Just explain in a letter what happened, giving dates and amounts paid.

Those who write for this website put our heads together, and we think the likelihood of success with this tactic really is based on the length of time between the time you paid to file a rezoning application and the time that the city gave notice of its intent to rezone numerous properties. If that time is a month or so, all of us planners would like to hope that our city employers would give you back your fee. If we are talking about six months or a year or more, we think it is unlikely.

Our advice would be to follow up your letter to the appropriate person, which would be a city manager or mayor if there's no manager or administrator, with sending a copy of that letter to your local council person. In a larger city, you could just start with the planning director.

In many cities the city council or board is elected on the basis of geographic districts, and if so, send a copy of your letter to the appropriate administrative official to your specific representative.

We understand this could be aggravating. Yet every day people buy cars the day before a huge discount is offered, or they buy houses without knowing that if they had waited a week, the seller was prepared to drop the price by thousands of dollars. Those examples no doubt are of no consolation to you though!

Just for readers who may be confused about the concept of a blanket rezoning, cities can and do undertake rezoning of an area on their own, without having any property owners request the rezoning. When this happens, the city itself may be considered the applicant, so of course the city doesn't charge itself an application fee. Application fees typically are charged to offset some or all of the cost of legally required advertising, and most are not high enough to cover the cost of all the staff work and signs required.

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