Many of the changes for the new ALTA Survey require additional detail, but the requirements for a surveyor to provide zoning information have actually become less restrictive.

As part of the 2016 new ALTA survey standards, if a client elects to include optional zoning information for Table A item 6, a zoning expert must provide the surveyor with a zoning report or a zoning letter. The most comprehensive type of report is a commercial zoning report, which is something entirely different from a survey.

Detailed zoning reports are vital for land transactions

The overall intent is for the surveyor not to have the burden of providing a client with zoning advice or consulting. However, detailed zoning information is essential for any acquisition or land development project and should be as accurate as possible.

Detailed zoning reports not only convey vital information relating to land use and adherence to municipal codes, but lenders often require them prior to provide financing for an acquisition or new development.

Relying on public records for the compliance status for existing structures can be risky, since there is no assurance that all the improvements have been entitled or are conforming. Zoning is a specialized field of expertise, and only land use attorneys or consultants who specialize in land use are qualified to produce a commercial zoning report.

The changing nature of zoning codes

Assessing zoning for new projects can be complex, particularly since many municipalities continually update their codes, and many districts around the country are now included in special overlay districts that include density bonuses, use restrictions and special requirements relating to parking, mass transit and other ancillary requirements.

Table A and zoning information

If a client provides zoning information to a surveyor, it must be included in Table A item 6 of the report. The zoning information in Table A item 6(a) denotes essential zoning information, including:

  • Table of current zoning municipal requirements.
  • Copy of current certificate of occupancy.
  • Conforming status as provided by the municipality.
  • Outstanding violations for zoning, fire and building codes.
  • Zoning maps and indication of special overlay districts.
  • Zoning designations for neighboring properties.
  • Notice of applicable variances/special permits/exceptions/conditions.
  • Information relating to setbacks, height restrictions, parking requirements, lot coverage and curb cuts/site circulation.
  • Indication of any nonconforming uses.

In item 6(b) a surveyor must graphically depict any setback requirements that relate to the zoning report but only if a third-party zoning expert provides it.

In instances where there is a non-conforming use, lenders will generally require a damage threshold that limits their exposure with regard to reconstructing and/or eliminating the project elements to bring a property into conforming use status.

For many owners and lenders the specter of adverse legal action is the single greatest risk involved with a prospective transaction. Mitigating risk through a meticulously prepared zoning report is highly advisable when it comes to preparing an ALTA/NSPS land title report.

Millman National Land Services provides customers with meticulously detailed ALTA/NSPS land title surveys. We can advise you about what you need to know about zoning for your acquisition, along with other pertinent issues relating to performing a survey tailored to your specific needs.