A nonconforming use is a use of property that predates the zoning code or, after enactment, was initially permitted, only to have the code subsequently changed. The nonconforming use is allowed (O.R.C. 713.15) to continue because of the unfairness in forcing one who has invested in building in reliance on former law to be forced to cease operation and due to the fact that enforcing the new code against the “grandfathered” use may not be legal for constitutional reasons. A nonconforming use may not be expanded. Additionally, zoning codes typically provide that a use discontinued for a period of time acts as conclusive proof of the intention to abandon the use.
A landowner may apply for an exception to an established zoning classification and this is called a “conditional use.” One example might be permitting the construction of a church is an area zoned residential. The proposed use most people would say is not out of character with a neighborhood. The applicant petitions the local zoning board or planning commission and argues that his/her proposed use should be allowed and will not adversely affect nearby landowners. Notice is given to neighbors and public hearings are held on the application. Conditional use permits provide flexibility to what would otherwise be a rigid system of land use planning.
A second “relief valve” from rigid planning requirements is the zoning variance. An area variance might be applied for, for instance, where the configuration of a lot, or its unusual slope, would otherwise prevent or make exceedingly difficult the construction of a residence without a change in the set-back requirements.
A use variance is similar to a conditional use permit in that the applicant requests a change in the permitted use in the zone in question. The use should not be totally out of character with the neighborhood and should not benefit unfairly the applicant, otherwise a charge of “spot zoning” might arise. Spot zoning is the improper allowance of a use at variance with the original planning for the zone in question that harms existing rights of established landowners, while manifestly benefiting the applicant.
Amendments to zoning ordinances may be initiated on motion of a township zoning commission, upon a resolution of the township trustees, or upon an application filed by a property owner (O.R.C. Sec. 519.12). Public hearings are to be held after notice to affected property owners. If the trustees adopt a proposed amendment, it goes into effect, unless within 30 days after adoption, a petition, signed by 8% of the number of voters who voted in the most recent general election for governor, is filed requesting the matter be put on the ballot for referendum. Zoning amendments need be judiciously considered so as not to compromise over-all land use plans in a community.