March 23, 2009

ISSUE:    Creating an overlay zone is a process by which local, county or state governments create specific land uses within established boundaries.

BACKGROUND:    Over the years there have been a number of bills that have sought to establish specific overlays upon lands to meet specific goals of government. For example, "source water protection" overlay zones and "excellent groundwater recharge areas" represent overlays that create very specific requirements for property owners that have lands within these zones. Overlays often are created for environmental purposes to protect a water or land resource from further development, and are also used for zoning segregation.

    DAR believes overlay zones can be beneficial if used in either a market or environmental purpose, so long as the overlay is properly noticed to those affected in the overlay, does not diminish the value of the properties and does not have an adverse impact on adjacent property owners.

IMPACT:    Citizens must be aware that if overlay zones are used to regulate land use without their notice or agreement, their private property rights and ability to use their land as they see fit may be compromised.

STATUS:    In the 2008 session of the General Assembly, a bill was introduced that would allow counties to create overlay zones that did not meet any uniformity requirements currently required by state code. This means the counties could create overlays on individual homes or blocks of homes and treat those properties differently from their neighbors property. The legislation allowed these overlay zones to be created without proper notice. DAR worked with DNREC and interested parties to address our concerns about notice and impact on property owners. The session ended before a revised version of the legislation was introduced.