Take your zoning verification request and…

Literally the bane of almost every planner I know, zoning verification requests (or letters) are a lender’s way to cover their ass by expecting planners and planning departments to drop everything they are doing at a moment’s notice and grind out a generation’s worth of background data on a specific site or project so it can be sold or refinanced. Even more fun is the fact that the buyer and seller’s agents never communicate, so you often have two separate requests for the same property. Lop on the fact that they will often submit the request just days before closing on the property and you have fun, frolic, and mayhem written all over these joyful tidings.

Source: deadline.com

Source: deadline.com

While a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  request can be required for more complicated requests, the lenders (or their minions) will routinely ask for everything under the sun unless you tell them it will cost money. Then and only then will they back off from some of the more ridiculous aspects of their request, such as a conformation that every single aspect of a 40-year-old project remains in compliance with every modern nuance of your Code. Yeah…right! I’ll go out with a measuring tape and check all 400 of those parking space dimensions buried under 12 inches of snow right now.

The sad thing is, if lenders had just been doing their job (a.k.a. due diligence) all along instead of approving so many shoddy loans in the 2000s, perhaps the rest of us would not be suffering so often for their prior bad behavior. Seems to me that the naughty ones ought to be feeling the pain versus treating the rest of us to it. Zoning verification requests tend to be particularly common just before the end of the year, but I know I have prepared them in virtually every month of the year.

Yeah – I am kind of ranting here, but there must be a better way. Any suggestions on how to reduce (or even end) the bane and suffering of zoning verification requests are certainly welcome.

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13 Responses to Take your zoning verification request and…

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Rick, you have a right to rant about that issue. I’ve run into numerous requests to “certify” that a property is outside a FEMA-designated 100 year floodplane (flood hazard area) and when I point out the fact that only an in-state registered professional engineer or registered professional land surveyor can put that fact IN WRITING (considering the legal implications of me putting that in writing and some freaky “surprise” flood situation occurs…), they always say, “anyone can see its not in the floodplane”, we still inform them that only an engineer or land surveyor can SAY that in WRITING to hold credibility with a lender, they go away disappointed that, damn! They’ll actually have to PAY someone to provide them the statement they lust after….

    • Rick Brown says:

      I agree with you, Basil. They seem to always want the cheap and easy response. Glad you are standing your ground.

      • basil berchekas jr says:

        Appreciate this, Rick. I definitely sympathize and empathize with you. I’ve had developers also say that some small consulting firm can “turn around” population and economic data to justify their project faster than we can generate the same information, and why couldn’t “we’ do it? When I point out that yes, they can, on a FEE basis, project by project, and that’s basically all they do, while we’re writing grants, reviewing zoning requests, variance requests, subdivision plats, etc., and we could only fit in their specific request for FREE when we can, they end up turning around and leaving and saying “have a nice day”… if they say anything…gee whiz, if we charged item by item, we could “turn it around” right away ourselves…then their little private sector friends that turn it around “quickly” would complain to our bosses that we’re “competing” with the “private sector”, charging less than they could because we’re publicly supported. Heaven forbid!

      • Rick Brown says:

        I feel your pain.

      • basil berchekas jr says:

        Gotcha, Bro!

  2. Erik says:

    Sounds like your own Occupy movement waiting to happen. Get a bunch of planners to go picket!

  3. Julie McLean says:

    I work for a municipality near Calgary Canada and we have similar issues. We also had been getting consultants doing environmentsl site assessments sending requests for us to dig through land files for any information that might indicate that there could be an environmental hazard or issue with a property. First of all, I am a planner not an environmental scientist… Then I explained to one consultant that this was all public information that could be viewed at our office. Her response “well that wouldn’t be cost effective now would it?” Many of these requests were being made under Alberta’s Freedom of Information Act and we believed we had no choice but to accommodate them. Then I took a seminar on the Act held by our municipality’s law firm and asked for help. Our lawyer pointed out a section of the Act that says we don’t have to “provide” information that is readily available to the public. We now have a standard fo letter saying we do not have the staff to accommodate this type of request, but our land files are public information and can be viewed during office hours. Most of the time we don’t hear anything further from them.

    Unfortunately we have yet to find a cure for the Letter of Compliance requests. These are letters that indicate that all structures on a site meet setbacks as per our Municipal Land Use Bylaw. For some reason lawyers and banks have decided that every real estate deal should be conditional on one of these and yes the request does always seem to come in two days before closing… The thing is, these letters are kind of meaningless as they only deal with setbacks, not the land use itself, safety codes or anything else so the property could get a Letter of Compliace and still have all sorts of issues. I believe it is time that bankers and Real Estate agents in particular educated themselves and started earning those exorbitant fees that they are collecting every time a property changes hands.

  4. Guys, I don’t really have the background to understand this topic well, but I’m basically with you on it.
    Basil, I just want to say about the flood plain (not “floodplane”) issue, speaking from my B.A. in Geography, if I were looking at a property with this question, with no conferred legitimacy to comment as an expert, for one thing I’d want to check the soils map, which usually sheds light on the flood history of the land. Also topography. Eyeballing as well as USGS topo quads. Natural vegetation also can indicate flood history. Finally, if the property were so close to the edge of the 100-year flood plain that there were all these questions, I’d urge decision-makers to act as if it IS in that flood plain. Better to err, literally, on the side of caution. All the certifications in the world won’t protect a property from the “bigger one” my Geomorphology professor taught us is always possible.

    • basil berchekas jr says:

      Jean, I appreciate this insightful comment. I apologize for mispelling “floodplain”. I should have known better. Plus, your suggested further examination to look for hydric soils and so forth is appreciated. Thank you!

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