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What’s the “fairly debatable” rule in zoning issues?

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2020 | Real Estate

Zoning issues can be the bane of just about any new development project. They can also become a problem when an existing project tries to expand past its original plan. But what if the zoning decision made by the local authorities seems like it’s merely arbitrary and without foresight?

On a practical level, that probably won’t matter if you head directly to court. The courts use a very low standard when assessing whether or not a zoning decision should be upended or upheld. Called the “fairly debatable rule,” the rule essentially says that any zoning decision that is “subject to controversy or contention” or even merely open to disputes and questions is, by its very nature, fairly debatable. Since the local zoning authority enjoys rather broad power over land-use decisions, the logic goes, anything but the most absurd decisions shouldn’t be overturned by the court.

What does this mean for your development or expansion project? While exceptions abound, it means that you’re usually better off working toward a solution on a zoning issue that doesn’t require you to engage in a court battle unless absolutely necessary.

It’s sometimes said that the best work done by attorneys is often invisible. That’s because a lot happens before a case ever moves in front of a judge. An attorney’s real goal, whenever possible, is to avoid getting to that point.

Because zoning issues can be incredibly complex and prone to pitfalls, it’s far more cost-effective to have experienced legal advice on any real estate development or expansion project from the very start. A lack of foresight on these kinds of issues can be a costly mistake.