These considerations aren't absolutely essential, but I'd rate
them pretty high.
You might be surprised how much zoning law controls the use of land.
Of course most zoning will permit the construction of a single family
home on a residentially zoned property, but what else do you have
in mind? Zoning, coupled with fire safe regulations require that
buildings be setback from property lines. Laws control the use of
accessory buildings, pools, trailer parking, and much more. Regulations
set the rules for livestock activities and many other activities.
Check with the local
Planning Department, which administers zoning laws.
If you are coming from the flatlands, then be careful with this
one. The slope of the land can be real deceiving. Steep slopes make
driveways difficult and houses lopsided. They make construction
much more expensive. If you're familiar with slope measurement by
percent of grade, I would recommend that your driveways and building
sites be on slopes of less than 20% (falls 20' vertically for each
100' horizontally). Thirty percent is about the very limit of what
will work for roads,
houses, and septic systems. Drive around and look for homesite construction
on parcels with similar slopes for an idea of how the lot improvement
will look. If you're not sure, consult a civil engineer, architect,
or a qualified building designer or land use planner. They can assist
you in dealing with topography. An engineering contractor can assist
you with estimates for driveways and pads.
Buy a parcel with a good provision for road maintenance and you'll
be avoiding one of the number one complaints about rural living.
There are many, many private roads out there with no such provision.
If you front on a City or County maintained street, that's the best.
You pay the bill through your normal horde of various taxes. If
you're in a private road maintenance agreement, then its up to you
and your neighbors to pay the freight and organize the work. Typical
agreements require monthly, quarterly, or annual payments to the
treasurer of the private road maintenance or homeowners' association.
Maintenance occurs when a majority of participating owners decide
it's necessary or according to a pre-approved schedule. A committee
or designated homeowner seeks bids and awards a contractor for any
maintenance. Sometimes the road maintenance agreement only covers
a portion of the access road. Your title company can help you confirm
the extent of such an agreement. Another mechanism for road maintenance
involves a combination of annual homeowner payments and County or
City maintenance. This mechanism may be called a County Service
Area, a Permanent Road Division, or have another official title.
Your title company can help you check for such special districts.
Contact the agency that administers the district for details on
how it works. If there is no maintenance agreement or mechanism,
it may not be a "love thy neighbor" neighborhood, although some
areas function quite well informally without an agreement. It depends
on the personalities. Under California state law, a majority of
residents can force remaining residents to pay their fair share
of road maintenance costs, often in small claims court. Consult
an attorney or small claims court for details.
Most people buy land in part because of its surroundings: the other
homes, the woodland, the convenient location next to shopping, schools,
work, or the remote location. Take a good hard look at your surroundings.
Have you experienced them under all conditions? Weekends, workdays,
evenings, holidays, rush hour, early
morning? Could there be a noise maker, an inconvenience, a nuisance?
Don't forget that most rural dwellers have more small gas engines
than Tim Allen on Home Improvement: chain saws, weed eaters, leaf
blowers, and lawn mowers. How about 10 or 20 years from now? Will
the area be subdivided, logged, commercially developed, mined, or
will it contain a new highway or airport? Your County or City General
Plan and Zoning will give you a glimpse into the future. A general
plan is required in every California jurisdiction. The plan includes
a land use map and circulation plan to guide future development.
The zoning must be consistent with the plan. Zoning is in the form
of an ordinance established under the police power of the County
or City to avoid conflicting land uses and to generally protect
us from our ourselves and each other. Zoning sets the type of land
use that will occur and the minimum lot sizes that subdivisions
can propose. Maybe you can subdivide the
land you're buying, if you can pay for the required improvements
and mitigation fees. See the Subdivision and Development sections.
DANGER! WARNING! General plans and zoning can and do change. This
is particularly tricky if you are an absentee land owner. While
such activities usually get good local press, there is often no
requirement that you be notified of any changes. Also, any citizen
can petition his County or City to amend the general plan and zoning.
If he does, it is up to you to evaluate his plan and make your feelings
known to the Board of Supervisors or City Council. A qualified land
use planner can help you understand land use regulations and make
an educated guess about the future.
Schools and Buses
The County Superintendent of Schools Office can assist you in determining
the School Districts that you're in. Call them with the assessor's
parcel number and street address. Once you've identified the school
districts, contact them directly for information on bus availability
and schedules. Some districts charge for bus service. Many rural
schools are impacted from growth. Many charge a mitigation fee on
new residential construction, paid just prior to issuance of the
building permit. Ouch! You can thank Proposition 13. In the good
old days you were just taxed later, year after year. Contact your
school district for information on mitigation fee requirements.
Gone are the
days when you had to take your rural trash to the landfill or transfer
station in your pickup truck. Well, at least in some areas. We have
standard urban trash collection and recycling collection on our
rural parcels, but maybe it's not available further out. Your Realtor
can help you check with the franchise hauler based on your property
Wireless/Land Phone and Data
are sketchy in rural areas, especially in hilly country. Be sure
to put your wireless devices through their paces. DSL services are
reaching out to more rural areas, but often speeds are slower than
in urban areas. Cable is typically not available in rural areas,
except in major subdivisions.
California Rural Homesite Index
Nevada City Engineering Home Page
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