Lending a Helping Hand: What Planners Can Do to Turn Around Distressed Properties

Zoning Practice — December 2009

By Dwight Merriam, FAICP


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There are opportunities with distressed properties to turn them into beneficial uses, but in most instances some type of zoning relief will be necessary. It is axiomatic that distressed properties are likely to be older properties that are physically, functionally, and economically obsolescent in some form.

Along with such obsolescence typically comes the unhappy status of being a nonconforming use. And along with that comes the inability to expand or alter the use because one or more of the dimensional requirements at the site have been exceeded or the use proposed is simply not permitted. in short, these older, distressed properties are trapped inside zoning restrictions that preclude attempts to reposition them in the marketplace and return them to profitability.

This issue of Zoning Practice explores how rezoning, converting nonconformities into permitted uses, variances, and overlay districts can loosen the joints of zoning while still respecting local plans and neighborhood character.


Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 1, 2009
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Dwight Merriam, FAICP
Dwight Merriam, FAICP, a lawyer and land use planner, is a Fellow in the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, a Fellow and Past President and of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Past Chair of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, a Counselor of Real Estate, and the Connecticut member of Owners’ Counsel of America. Dwight taught for 40 years as an adjunct professor in several law schools. He has published over 200 articles and 13 books, including co- authoring the casebook, PLANNING AND CONTROL OF LAND DEVELOPMENT, and co-authoring the treatise RATHKOPF’S THE LAW OF ZONING AND PLANNING with Prof. Sara Bronin. He is the author of CONNECTICUT LAND USE LAW and Practice 4th. Dwight served as an active duty and reserve Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, including three Vietnam deployments, retiring after 31 years as a Captain. UMass BA (cum laude), UNC MRP, and Yale JD. www.dwightmerriam.com