Nothing can be done before buying a house to completely protect against zoning changes to adjacent property, but there are a few places prospective buyers can look for hints about the future direction of an area. For starters, while checking the zoning rules for the property they're looking at, homeowners should also examine the ordinances that cover neighboring areas. Just because a tract of land is being used as a horse farm doesn't mean it can't legally hold, say, a shopping plaza. In addition, home buyers should read the municipality's comprehensive plan, if it has one. It may show that the town eventually intends to approve high-density, low-income housing in an area that is currently zoned agricultural, or to turn the edge of a neighborhood into an area of mixed industrial and retail use. "The vast majority of the time, the town's future is communicated in the master plan — whether it's leaning toward industrial development, historic or agricultural preservation, or residential development," says Quincy enforcement office White.

If after taking these precautions homeowners still find than an unanticipated zoning change will cost them money or headaches, there's one more thing they can do: "Get as many people together as you can and yell as loud as you can," says David Callies, professor at the University of Hawaii's Richardson School of Law. Even if the rezoning can't be stopped, concessions can be won. For example, Morris's neighborhood organization was able to get the developer to agree to leave 250 feet of woods as a buffer between the homes and the warehouses and not to disrupt a stand of trees along a nearby creek. The developer also promised to plant hedges and trees to screen the roads entering the industrial complex.

If there is one recurring theme in all zoing issues it is that being prepared — is the most effective strategy for preserving a property's comfort and value. Ignorance, experts say, is the worst excuse for making a mistake. "When it comes to zoning, homeowners do have rights," says Callies, "but they have to take positive action to know them."

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