Help with Zoning / Permitting - North Fort Myers

5 Replies

I own a quadplex with a huge end unit I am considering converting into 2 smaller units for additional cashflow. 


Bit of background - The property is in a commercial area and I believe at one point in time was a hair salon.

Given this is my first rental and my inexperience I reached out to a couple contractors and one of them told me to start at the permitting and zoning office. My questions for BiggerPockets is:

-What questions should I be asking the zoning and permitting office to make sure this is ok/legal to do?

-Should I expect push back? If so what should I be prepared with to combat?

-Should I expect anything ....unexpected....when going from a 4 unit (residential) to a 5 unit?

Any additional insight would be appreciated!!! - Pasquale

This isn't specific to your area, but generally the answers are likely the same:

-What questions should I be asking the zoning and permitting office to make sure this is ok/legal to do? Does my property support creating a fifth unit based on the density or use category for the property? Zoning is generally structured either as the number of units per parcel or 1 unit per SF of property i.e. 1 unit / 1,000 SF on a 6,000 SF lot would allow a total of 6 units. 

-Should I expect push back? If so what should I be prepared with to combat? It depends on the answer above, if you are zoned for it then probably not. If you are not zoned for it then there really isn't any pushing back....unless you get off into future long range planning, re-zones and land use ammendments ect....and those are generally at the discretion of the decision maker, so they are very regionally specific. BUT it is likely not worth it for 1 more unit as those kinds of things can easily run costs up in the six figure range.

-Should I expect anything ....unexpected....when going from a 4 unit (residential) to a 5 unit? Biggest thing is usually the potential to need to meet certain standards that didn't exist when the original property was built. Locally we used to built 1 parking space per unit, now it is often necessary to have two. So going from a 4 unit to a 5 means adding not one space for the fifth unit, but adding six....two for the new unit, and four for the 'missing' spaces on the remaining four.

You also mentioned commercial...so clarify if a residential use is even allowable in the zone. It may currently be an 'existing non-conforming use' (grandfathered) but any 'intensification of use' i.e. adding units, would not be allowed. To clarify a commercial zoning designation is not the same thing as a five unit building being a 'commercial' building for lending. The commercial designation for zoning means actual commercial or business activity use. In zoning residential means places where people live no matter the number of units....so you have a four unit residential building, and you want to have a five unit residential building, in what may be a commercially zoned parcel. That could be the hard sell. 

There is an off chance there is an allowance for a variance or a waiver for the existing building to add a unit as long as you don't increase the SF. This would be something to ask about but will be completely on the specific city municipal code as far as what is allowed. And this is probably only an option if the answer to your first question is yes the zoning can support residential, if the answer is no then this isn't an option most likely.

Depends on a lot of factors.

1. You have to get hold of a zoning map and determine what the particular plot is zoned for. Yours appear to be mixed use, with it's own complexities.

2. If it is zoned for no more than 4, then you would need a variance. Where I am, a variance requires a public hearing and a vote by the zoning board. The public is invited to attend. For the long time, such variances had been denied where I am because of over crowding in the local schools, where school starts at 7:00AM and end at 6:00PM, student had to attend in shifts. If you talk about pushback, they'll tell you if we approve it for you, we have to approve it for everyone else. Other reasons is local traffic, inadequate power grid, inadequate water and sewer capacity.

3. I had problems converting 2 to 3's because the building standards are different. Architects should know the local standards.

The most efficient way is hire architects, or expeditors who are architects, some years back, I pay them $150.00 to do a walk through. Expeditors deal with zoning issues, and they usually could tell you if you are going to have a hard time or not. I had a rental with an illegally converted garage, hired an architect who is also a local expeditor, but I'm told there's no problem getting a variance because several are already granted in the neighborhood, including one across the street. In fact, neighbors within 200 feet are notified of public hearings when variances are requested, and I recall receiving notice of the house across the street when they requested one. So I know there would be no pushback. The problem he pointed out to me is the windows for the converted bedroom is too small, and does not open out for rental use, and the breezeway lacks footings. These had to do with building standards.

The free way is to visit "city planning" where zoning is a part of, and they can check for you. My wife worked for city planning some time back, and answer these inquiries. 

The building and zoning dept will typically have a Land planner available to sit down with you, just for these things.  It will take about 10 minutes to find out if it is allowed, and procedures to follow if it is.

As an update - I talked to a Planner in Zoning and he says its a no go. I've got a little over 1/3 of an acre and am in a "suburban zone" which is 6 units/acre so the density wouldn't allow my to have a 5th unit.