Q: My question is on zoning. We moved and are selling our home and the .4 acre land lot next to our old house. We lived there for 19 years.

Our neighbor wants to buy the house and the land and keep it natural, which we like. We don’t want to sell to a builder unless we have to do so. But our neighbor wants to make sure that if he ever moves he can sell it to a builder.

He has found out that somehow our lot has become an R20 zoning which we didn’t know. That surprised us. What we don’t understand is how our lot could be zoned R20 if the minimum lot requirement for R20 is .5 acre and our lot is only .4 acre?

Also, how could the zoning have been changed without our knowledge? How do we go about getting it changed back to R15 or would we have to a variance?

We also have two builders who are begging to buy this lot from us. If our neighbor backs out will this zoning issue turn off the interest from the builders?

A: It seems to me that somewhere along the line, your village or city hall decided to change the zoning for your area. I’m not familiar with what R20 and R15 mean in your neighborhood, but I’m going to guess that it’s been downzoned. That essentially means that the requirements were changed to require larger lots for homes in your neighborhood.

But if you have a .4 acre lot and the minimum lot for an R20 is a .5 acre lot, then you have what’s known as a “non-conforming” lot. You probably would have the right to build a new house on the lot, but with some restrictions. You might have to stay within the boundaries of the current house. Or, you may be able to take the footprint of the current house and move it to another part of the lot.

You may not be able to change the zoning back to what it was, but you may be able to get a variance. But, in some places, if you get a variance, it might have a time limit attached to it. For example, a variance might only be good for a year and then you’d have to renew it or get another one.

To find out more about this, you can go to your local city, town or village hall and spend some time with the folks in the building department to track back when and why the zoning was changed in your neighborhood and what that means. You can share this information with your neighbor, and then decide what you want to do.

One thing I think you won’t want to do is guarantee to your neighbor that someday, down the road, he will be able to sell to a developer. That’s a risk your neighbor is going to have to take. And, I wouldn’t necessarily give him a discount on the price in exchange for that risk.

You’ve got two developers who are chomping at the bit to buy the property now. Knowing what they can do with the property today will probably affect the sales price. But since there are two of them competing for the property, you should get a very good offer out of it.

Once you know where the price is going to end up, you can ask your neighbor what he wants to do.

Your letter is a perfect example of why homeowners should stay involved in their community. By going to village board or local zoning board meetings, or reading the minutes online, you would have known that this change was coming. With some research, you could have decided whether this would be good or bad for your community and mobilized your neighbors into taking action.

In a smaller community, municipal officials are sensitive to community involvement. By bringing a bunch of angry, but well-spoken neighbors to a few meetings, you might have been able to prevent the rezoning of your neighborhood.

March 14, 2006.