Zoning is inherently a complex subject that has many competing interests that must be protected such as property rights, enforcement of city regulations, protection of property values, discontinuing nonconforming uses and structures, and of course safety and aesthetics. In New Jersey, each municipality has their own zoning laws that can dictate the permitted uses, bulk regulations (minimum lot size, height, density, setbacks, etc.), and certain exterior modifications. The City of Plainfield is the authority on all zoning matters and the below information is subject to change at any time. This FAQs section is only a general guide and may not apply to your specific situation. In order to know for sure, you should schedule an appointment with the Assistant Zoning Officer, Ronald Johnson by calling 908-753-3603 or email.
if my zone Changes, will i be able to continue using my property for a use that predated the new zone standards?
If you are located in an area that has had a recent zone change, your existing use of the property may be eligible to be grandfathered in. This depends on if your property has a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) that was ever issued for the use that you wish to continue. Most properties in Plainfield have a prior CO. The most recent CO is the legal use of the property despite the zone changing and may continue. If you do not have a CO for your current use, you have one (1) year to come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to request a Certificate of Nonconformity (CN). A CN will grant approval for the use to continue in the event your use is no longer permitted in the new zone. However, a CN is only an option if the use was permitted in a previous zone at any point in history.
How do I know if the use on my property is a legal use?
You may check out the list of permitted uses in your zone by clicking here. To find out what zone you are in, you can click here. If the list of permitted uses does not include the use that is on your property, then your property can possibly be "grandfathered" into the zone. Grandfathering is only an option if your property has a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from any year prior to the zone changing for the use you wish to have on the property. If multiple COs were issued on the property prior to the zone changing, the most recent CO is the document that will take precedence and will be considered the "legal" use of the property. All prior COs will be considered void and abandoned if the use has not been on the property for a long period of time and there is no indication of interest in continuing it before the newest CO was issued.
What is the difference between a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) and a Certificate of Compliance (coC)?
A CO is a document issued by the Construction Official certifying the use of the property and ensuring the property is safe for the designated use. A CoC is issued by the Code Enforcement Office to ensure the property meets the standards in the Property Maintenance Code. The CofC is required if you wish to rent, sell or buy a property. All properties require a CofC upon change of ownership/lease and require an inspection by a Code Enforcement Officer.
If I am replacing an existing fence, do I need to have a zoning permit?
Yes! All fences, even replacements, need a zoning permit. The reason for this is because zoning laws may have changed since your original fence was constructed. For example, chain link fences were permitted in front yards prior to 2002, however the current ordinance does not permit chain link fences. Therefore, someone who previously had a chain link fence would not be permitted to replace it with another chain link, but would have to change to another fence type (vinyl, wood, wrought iron, etc.).
I received a zoning violation, what do I do?
If you've received a zoning violation, the first step is to contact the Assistant Zoning Officer prior to the compliance date specified on your letter. You have the option to either remove the violating item/improvement on the property or apply for a zoning permit. If you believe the section of the ordinance that was the cause of the violation does not apply to you, or it was issued in error, you may also appeal the zoning violation by submitting a letter of appeal to the Assistant Zoning Officer stating why you appeal. You will be required to go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) so they can determine if the section applies to your specific improvement/item. In the event the ZBA decides the section does not apply to you, the violation will be dropped. If they decide the Assistant Zoning Officer correctly cited the ordinance and the violation is valid, you will be expected to comply with the violation notice. You may also apply for a variance from the ZBA if your improvement does not conform to the Land Use Ordinance and cannot be granted a permit by the Assistant Zoning Officer. The application for the ZBA can be found here.
I think I see a violation in the city, what do I do?
Call the Assistant Zoning Officer, Ronald Johnson, at 908-753-3603 and report the possible violation. All calls/emails are anonymous and you will not be expected to give your name or contact information.